City knocks down East Side library
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/648-3154 October 24, 2012 5:54PM
Work continues to clear the site after a former library building was torn down along 5th Avenue near Carolina Street in Gary, Ind. Wednesday October 24, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 26, 2012 7:17AM
GARY — Local preservationists are mourning the loss of the historic East Side Library building, demolished this week by the city as part of a citywide effort to stabilize neighborhoods by removing rundown buildings.
Designed by architect Joseph Wildermuth, the library, at 725 E. 5th, opened in 1930 and was meant to serve the Emerson school neighborhood. It’s located two blocks north of Emerson.
Today, the Gardens of Carolina, a three-story 39-unit senior affordable housing building is being constructed just south of the former library site.
All that remained of the Art Deco library on Wednesday was a mound of sand. The library, which was part of the Gary Public Library system, was clad in Indiana limestone, according to historic records and featured a frieze with a carved lamp on the front of the building with the words: “Knowledge is Power,” according to photographs.
“It was just a nice little piece of architecture and history,” said Chicago architect Bill Latoza, who lives in Miller.
He said his firm at one time was contacted about restoring the library for use by the former Gary Urban Enterprise Association but the project didn’t materialize as GUEA became tainted by scandal.
“Although the building had sat vacant for a long time, it still had relatively good bones. With all the other buildings in dire need, I don’t think that was one that needed to come down first.”
Cedric Kuykendall, demolition coordinator for the city Redevelopment Department, said the library was targeted when the city did a neighborhood stabilization assessment. Several structures along 5th Avenue, Rhode Island, Georgia and Carolina streets, were torn down because they were deplorable condition, he said.
Kuykendall said the library had no roof, had been completely stripped, and the city couldn’t keep it boarded up. “It was an eyesore, so we moved forward with demolition.”
Kuykendall said the city followed state guidelines and received the proper approval from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. Documents showed the approval was granted for demolition on Feb. 24 along with 17 other properties. Kuykendall said it cost $22,570 to demolish the library and the city used federal Community Development Block grant funding.
He said the city also did an environmental assessment of the site and no asbestos was found.
Under the Rudy Clay administration, the City Council approved an ordinance establishing an Historic Preservation Council but its members were never appointed.
The city also wanted to knock down the St. Johns Hospital, a 1929 structure at 28 E. 22nd Ave. built for black patients who weren’t allowed at most public hospitals, but the state rejected the request. The building is on Indiana Landmarks “Most Endangered” list.