Founded in 1906 as a company town for U.S. Steel, it once had the nickname "The Magic City". More recently, it has been described by writer Jessica Hopper as "the Pompeii of the Midwest, a city of ruins where life can seem to have just suddenly stopped".
Gary is both famous and infamous. It's the "just one place that can light my face" and "home sweet home" effusively described in the song of the same name from the 1957 musical The Music Man. It's the childhood home of Michael, Tito, Jermaine, and the rest of the Jackson family. It's also home to an unattractive and often industrial-smelling stretch of highway east of Chicago, and has repeatedly ranked first in the nation among large cities for homicides per capita.
When designing the city, the U.S. Steel Corporation bragged that its engineers "took for their guidance the motto that hangs in the office of the big company's chief executive, "It can be done," and made Gary at least an attractive, if not a beautiful, residential town," and posited Gary as evidence that "management has always shown its realization of the fact that "not by bread alone does man live"; that the mere paying of employees a living wage is not sufficient, and that even the least educated worker has an aesthetic sense, even though often uncultivated, that should be developed and pandered to within reasonable limits if the best good of the worker and the employer is to be achieved." As U.S. Steel began to struggle in the late 1960s, the city's economy followed, and it has yet to recover.
Two casinos, legalized in Gary out of sheer desperation, make it a destination for gamblers on short trips and locals on pay-day . Its crumbling architectural heritage also makes it a favorite — and dangerous — destination for urban exploration.
The Gary/Chicago International Airport is located at the northwest corner of Gary and is currently served by a single airline, SkyValue USA, operating as a scheduled charter.
The nearest Amtrak stations are both 10 miles away in Dyer and Hammond.
Take the Indiana Toll Road from Illinois ($3 from Chicago) or Ohio to exit 14A (Gary West) or exit 17 (Gary East). Exit 17 intersects with Interstate 65 and U.S. Routes 12 & 20.
Greyhound Buses stop in Gary. Their offices are at 100 W 4th Ave, Ste. 106 in Gary; tel. 219-886-3041.
Lake Michigan and the Grand Calumet River are nearby.
There is a limited local bus service. The depot is two blocks west of the baseball stadium. However, while visiting Gary, use of a car is strongly advised.
Gary was once a thriving city, and it has the architecture to prove it — intact or otherwise.
The Ingwald Moe House (669 Van Buren) and The Wilbur Wynant House (600 Fillmore) were designed by master architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1910 and 1916, respectively. The Wynant House is in rough shape, with several years of start-and-stop restoration work and changes in ownership.
For more Prairie-school action, head to Marquette Park for the Marquette Park Pavilion (tours Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) and The Gary/Chanute Aquatorium (tel. 219-938-8081) , designed by George Maher in 1922 as The Gary Beach & Bathing House. An aquatorium is, evidently, a place where one can view — not swim in — water, so don't show up in your bathing suit. There's a major display dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen.
The old Gary Post Office (Sixth and Massachusetts) is missing a few things, most notably the US Postal Service and a roof, but it's still there; built in 1936, the interior is now off-limits, but fans of tree-in-building shots who can't make it all the way to Angkor can catch a glimpse of several saplings behind the teller windows.
The Gary Memorial Auditorium (Seventh and Massachusetts) and the City Methodist Church (Sixth and Washington) are former city landmarks, in ruins after a fire in 1997.
The Gary Mural Project redecorates boarded-up storefronts along Broadway.
The Gary Children's Museum (273 Cleveland St; tel 219-882-7061) is in town.
The West Side Theater
The Morning Bishop Theater Playhouse
Gary Steelheads, One Genesis Center Plaza (Genesis Convention Center), ☎ +1-(219)-883-3000 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +1-(219)-883-3543), . Minor league basketball team. Tickets: $5 - 50.
Gary SouthShore RailCats, U.S. SteelYard Stadium, ☎ 219-882-2255. Home games are played between mid-May and early September. Northern league (minor league) baseball team.$10 per ticket, parking free.
Marquette Park is a beloved outdoors area.
There are two casinos along the lakeshore, both of which have plenty of fake-Vegas glitz and few traces of the city outside.
Majestic Star Casino and Hotel, 1 Buffington Harbor Drive, ☎ +1-(219)-977-7932 (fax: +1-(219)-977-7811), .
Indiana University Northwest has a campus in Gary, with about 5,000 students.
Ivy Tech Community College is also in the area.
The Market City Flea Market (4121 Cleveland) is open Friday Saturday and Sunday, 9am-5pm.
Arman's Dog House, 5875 Melton, 219-939-1000. M-Sa 10AM-10PM. Also known as Dawg Fish Grill, has plenty of meat and no qualms about frying it up for you.
Eat Your Heart Out, 487 Broadway; tel. 219-880-2636. M-Sa until 5PM. Cooks fresh with a Southern tilt; favorites include jambalaya and sweet potato pie.
Bennigan's, two blocks west of the baseball stadium. A bland pub-chain with outlets all over the Midwest. The one in Gary, however, claims to be the World's Largest Bennigan's. If that's noteworthy to you, then there's a little something extra to enjoy alongside the burgers and fries. At least it's likely to be open later than most other restaurants on Gary.
Juice Garden, 2700 Fifth, tel. 219-881-0212. M-Sa 8AM-6PM, with breakfast until 11AM. A grocery store and health-food restaurant that serves organic grub because they believe God wants it that way. It's run by a local minister and his family. It's vegan-friendly (but not exclusively).
Miller Bakery Cafe, 555 S. Lake, tel. 219-938-2229. Lunch Tu-F, dinner Tu-Su. This is as upscale as dining gets in Gary, with contemporary American, Asian, French and Italian dishes, a nice location, and a sizable wine list. Call to confirm hours and for reservations.
Rooms are available in the Majestic Star Casino (see above).
As above, Gary has repeatedly ranked first in the United States for murder rates per capita, so take care. Due to the economic depression, many businesses close in the evening, so call ahead to confirm that wherever you're going is still open, and don't set out at night without a destination in mind. If you're tempted to do some urban exploration, bear in mind that the poverty of the city means that much more potential danger from people squatting in abandoned properties. Make sure someone knows where you're going, and check in with them as you go.
Methodist Hospital Northlake Campus, 600 Grant St, tel. 219-886-4000.