Home > Abandoned - Explained, Amazing, Churches, Creepy, Explained, Financial, Gary Indiana, History > City United Methodist Church of Gary, Indiana

City United Methodist Church of Gary, Indiana

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Perhaps one of the most iconic abandoned structures in Gary, City United Methodist Church was once the pride of the community. Built in 1925, the classic Gothic edifice was the result of an ambitious priest backed by U.S. Steel dollars. But the huge structure would burden the church with enormous maintenance costs for decades, and when Gary’s population declined in the 1960s and 70s the church struggled to make ends meet.

When the parishioners left town, so too did the dollars. Now one of the most photographed churches in Indiana, City United Methodist sits exposed and crumbling since it was abandoned nearly forty years ago.

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City Church, 1929

City Church, 1929

Seaman’s City Church

Gary’s first Methodist church was established in 1906. In October of 1916, Dr. William Grant Seaman became pastor. Seaman relished his role in the growing congregation, but he had bigger dreams; he wanted to build a new church to serve the social, cultural, and spiritual needs of the town’s citizens.

Seaman wanted to offer a religious oasis in the midst of a neighborhood dotted with saloons and brothels at the time. His vision and the financial assistance of U.S. Steel Corporation resulted in the erection of the new City Church at 6th Avenue and Washington Street (map). The steel company donated the site on which the pastor wanted to build and agreed to pay for nearly half the total cost of construction.

The pastor planned for the main sanctuary to accommodate 950 parishioners; shows and events in adjacent Seaman Hall could seat another thousand. The church took 21 months to build and cost the Methodist Church $800,000. Architects Lowe and Bollenbacher were hired to design the structure. The plans called for the main sanctuary to accommodate 950 parishioners; shows and events in adjacent Seaman Hall could seat another thousand.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

City-Methodist-Groundbreaking-1925 City-Methodist-Cornerstone-1925-2 City-Methodist-Cornerstone-1925

Judge-Gary-OrganHundreds would attend the groundbreaking, a grand event held on January 25, 1925 (above). Methodist Bishop Frederick D. Leete (standing) presided over the ceremony while Seaman (seated at left) ceremoniously turned the first shovel of dirt on the site of the new church.

Introduced as City Church, it was a grandiose structure and one of the true Gothic churches in the country at the time. The great vaulted sanctuary was supported by massive pillars while the chancel and altar were carved from oak.

Judge Elbert Gary, namesake of the town and chairman of U.S. Steel personally donated an ornate, four-manual Skinner organ to the church (pictured at left).

The second building constructed on the property was known as Seaman Hall. This building contained four stories and a basement. Seaman Hall also had an oak-paneled fellowship hall, corporate offices, Sunday school rooms, a gymnasium, and a large kitchen and dining room.

The acoustics were excellent, and the stage was well-equipped for first-class productions. Films could be shown on a huge theater-sized screen. On the third level there was a gym for activities and interactive play.

City-Methodist-Service-1930s

On Oct. 3, 1926, Pastor Seaman conducted the first services in City Church. There was no shortage of celebration for the grand opening; the next seven days had nightly Thanksgiving celebrations, eulogies, and dedications.

The exuberant pastor proclaimed the opening events to be the climax of his ministerial career and the beginning of a revival of faith and brotherhood for Gary.

Gary-CityMethodistChurch-1929-cathedral City-Methodist-Congregation-1930s City-Methodist-Choir

Church-Gym-1930s-2 City-Methodist-Christian-Adventure-Week City-Methodist-conference-room-1930s

Historic images courtesy DePauw University & Calumet Regional Archives

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Built to Excess

Despite its beauty, the building had its fair share of detractors; Gary was still young and the building was constructed at great cost and stature for a congregation and town that size. Maintenance costs were immense and would create a financial burden on the church for decades.

Immediately after opening, some were already labeling the structure “Seaman’s folly.”

Gary-CityMethodistChurch-1929-courtyard

Others complained the ornamental design smacked of popery and was Seaman’s monument to himself. Envious ministers of other faiths feared competition, as did an influential restaurateur who stalled completion of the church’s planned cafeteria as to not hurt his own business in town.

Not all of Seaman’s plans would come to fruition. His wish for a bowling alley went unfulfilled, and the rooftop garden on Seaman Hall was never finished.

Ornate fireplace then and today. Now reads “Burn them”

City-Methodist-burn-them-before City-Methodist-burn-them-before-2 City-Methodist-burn-them

By 1927, the pastor’s 1,700-member congregation had a paid staff of six, including an assistant minister, directors of athletics and Christian education, a music master, and a secretary. Interested in cultural affairs, Seaman recruited lecturers to speak in Seaman Hall, suggested scripts to the dramatics club, showed travel films, and sponsored interfaith pageants. The music program was said to be one of the best in the country.

William Seaman’s enigmatic approach failed to consider efforts to integrate the minority population of Gary, however. City Church failed to broaden its white middle class constituency. The congregation did not put forth effort to open its arms to blacks, Latinos, or eastern Europeans. Worse, Seaman’s messages and methods were starting to rub his parishioners the wrong way.

Gary-CityMethodistChurch-1939 City-Methodist-Church-1960s City-Methodist-Church-1960s-2

In September of 1929, these dilemmas led to Dr. Seaman’s removal; disgruntled parishioners had him transferred involuntarily to an Ohio church. Ironically, Seaman’s successor was so unpopular detractors later wished the “old founder” was back.

When William Seaman died in an automobile accident in 1944, his body was cremated and returned to City Church to be interred in the sanctuary.

Gary-CityMethodistChurch-1955

City United Methodist Church, 1955

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Peak & Decline

The Great Depression was a difficult time for the church; a lack of financing reduced the resources available to City Church pastors in the following years. For additional income the church leased space in Seaman Hall to Gary College, which offered a satellite campus in the offices of the building.

City-Methodist-cathedralDespite continual financial problems, the church would enjoy some success. A $50,000 support grant would provide for long-overdue maintenance to be performed on the building in 1945. Around this time the Indiana University Center began its occupancy of Seaman Hall, and its presence would grow; by 1949, Indiana University Northwest occupied 3-floors of the annex.

After World War II, Gary enjoyed a religious revival and by the early 1950s membership eventually surpassed 3,000. A small restructuring during the 1950s would see the church named changed from City Church to City United Methodist Church.

The church and adjoining Seaman Hall were centers of cultural life in Gary for decades, with Seaman Hall hosting plays, musicals, and pageants open to all city residents.

The church’s congregation rapidly declined during the 1960s and the church was forced to shut down several community programs to keep the doors open. (see a 1967 City United Methodist Church Directory).  Seaman Hall would stay open and be home to Gary Children’s Theater and Gary Music Theater during the 1960s and into the 70s.

City-Methodist-arch City-Methodist-bracing City-Methodist-Cathedral-2

By 1973 the membership had fallen to 320, and with a median age of 62 and a disenchantment of the inner city by the white congregation rising, only a third of the members attended service regularly. Ex-City United Methodist choir member Donald Housekeeper shared:

“It got to be too dangerous. We had a wedding where the father of the bride’s car was stolen during the ceremony. People were afraid to come down to anything unless it was in the daytime and only in the middle of the daytime, so there was no evening programs.”

Offerings weren’t enough to even pay the utility bills, much less repair the antique organ, leaking roof and failing boilers. Church leadership attempted to find a congregation interested in the structure, but no group wanted to take on the expense of maintaining the enormous church.

After nearly 50 years of service to Gary, the City United Methodist Church finally closed its doors on October 5th, 1975.

Top: Seaman Hall before & after. Bottom: the stage today

Seaman-Hall-before Seaman-Hall-after

Seaman-Hall-Stage

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Abandonment & Salvation

After the Methodist Church abandoned the building, it was later sold to Indiana University which continued to make use of Seaman Hall as a satellite campus.

Over the years several attempts were made to renovate and re-appropriate the City Methodist church, but none would come to fruition before October of 1997 when a large fire ravaged downtown Gary. The fire destroyed most of the roof, exposing the interior to the elements and accelerating decay.

It wasn’t until 1999 the city finally put up a fence around the long-abandoned church to protect it from vandals and drug dealings.

methodist-church-back-hall methodist-church-arches methodist-church-offices

In June of 2005 the city announced plans to demolish the Gary landmark. With no developers or private investors interested in the building, the Gary Housing Authority couldn’t think of a use for it that would justify the cost of rehabilitation.

The city was planning to raze the church and create a parking lot for the senior citizen residents of the neighboring Genesis Towers.

methodist-church-exterior-2

In July of 2005, the ailing church would find an ally in David Wright, Gary’s new city planning director. Wright proposed to keep only the Gothic sanctuary, allowing the space to grow into a garden-like ruin. He envisioned City Methodist becoming a small, landscaped park surrounded by the tower limestone walls.

The rear part of the building, office space, and Seaman Hall would be demolished – but only after the limestone, decorative masonry and other fixtures were sold off to finance the project. Early estimates for the project ranged from $100k to $300k, but Wright hoped to get $50,000 or so from sale of the fixtures.

As long as the church tower doesn’t leave our skyline I look at it as a victory,” said Wright.

methodist-church-exterior-1 methodist-church-exterior-3

Unfortunately, scavengers had the same idea. City workers found the building robbed of stained glass and ladders propped up inside the church, left behind by thieves. What materials were left were not of enough value to finance a renovation, so the project was reluctantly shelved.

City-Methodist-last-standing

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The Future

Long-time Gary residents remember the City United Methodist Church as one of the north side institutions that welcomed everybody. It was one of the “big three” – the YWCA, Memorial Auditorium, and City Church – where residents could all come together for various events.

Today the church still stands, but most of the complex is beyond repair. There isn’t much left of the gym; after the 1997 opened up the roof, it later completely collapsed in 2010 (below). Nearly every window in Seaman Hall is missing, and the building is crumbling inside and out.

City Church gym: then, 2010 pre-roof collapse, and today

Church-Gym-1930s methodist-church-gym-2010-before-collapse Church-Gym-Roof-Collapsed

The cathedral might be missing parts of its wall and roof, but otherwise it appears to be sound. When the city planned to turn it into a ruins garden in 2006, engineers confirmed the 80 year-old church was still structurally safe. As long as the city lacks the necessary funds to take action, the church will continue to be safe from man as well.

A member of the final congregation reminds us William Seaman’s ashes are likely still buried in the church sanctuary. Will Seaman and his classic Gothic cathedral still be at the corner of 6th and Washington in 2026 for the church’s 100th birthday?

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

desk garyb08 methodist-church-exterior-angle

City-Methodist-Church-Detail methodist-church-mural Methodist-church-in-the-snow

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City-Methodist-From-Ambassador-Apts

City United Methodist as seen from Ambassador Apartments, 2013

pictures courtesy the Idiot Photographer except cover photo, courtesy Tabula Rasa

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Sometimes Interesting has teamed up with the Idiot Photographer to bring the reader a rare and unique insight to the history of Gary, Indiana. Over the course of this month we will feature various structures around Gary and share their history.

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  1. June 16, 2013 at 22:08

    The vanity of those who believe in the supernatural story called religion. Buying a place in their imaginary afterlife. Sad really…

    • truebeliever
      July 9, 2013 at 18:08

      We will see how vain you think it is when it is your turn to face our creator. What is really sad is that you are apparently a parent with that kind of attitude about God.

      • June 17, 2014 at 14:41

        Ugh. He could bee the most faithful person in the universe, but you wouldn’t know it as you are less than a minister of the word, and certainly not of the spirit. What he says is obviously true. What you regurgitate is man, not spirit. Be gone vile emissary.

  2. hoah
    June 17, 2013 at 05:45

    Fascinating article! I’m loving what’s turning into a Gary-focused series!

    • June 17, 2013 at 18:29

      Thank you. The original idea was to do a single post, but Gary has so much to offer we realized we couldn’t possibly limit the project in such a way.

      It’s an ironic blessing that Gary’s financial misfortune has also been the driving force of preserving these buildings and their history; if the town had money, these structures would have been demolished a long time ago.

  3. sprub
    June 17, 2013 at 11:34

    Superb article, as always, but kudos to the Idiot Photographer, her (?) best work here to date, especially “bracing”, “back hall” and “last standing 1″.

    • June 17, 2013 at 18:23

      Thanks, and she will be happy to see your comments as well. :)
      Last standing is excellent, one of my favorites from the set.

    • June 17, 2013 at 19:04

      Why thank you very much for the kind words! Last standing was my heartbreak moment where I went to take a photo of the upper balcony seats and found that in the 5 months since I was last there someone had removed almost all of them.
      “Her” is indeed the appropriate pronoun, last I checked ;)

      • June 17, 2013 at 19:10

        Oh, and “back hall” is actually a photo from 2008! (Also known as the year I didn’t have a clue)

        • sprub
          June 18, 2013 at 11:07

          With a good morning or eveniny sun, that place must be HDR heaven.

          • June 19, 2013 at 17:21

            Pretty much any time is HDR heaven here, doesn’t matter how little or of what quality. The textures are so amazing and the subject so fascinating. I could easily lose myself there.

      • Lytenygyneurbexploration
        June 28, 2013 at 12:51

        Scrapers !!!it made me mad too also to see someone broke the last surviving window in the back of the hall. Since 2009 my first visit much has changed for the worse by visitors or scrappers

        • June 29, 2013 at 08:35

          I wonder, has anyone taken photographs from the same location inside or outside the church each year after closing to visualize the deterioration?

          • June 14, 2014 at 16:00

            I have a shot of the main hall from pretty much every year dating back to 2008. There are a couple of other spots too, it is amazing how little things have changed though given how bad this past winter was I suspect we may be losing some more roof this year.

            • June 18, 2014 at 08:54

              You know we could put them up sequentially here to show a slow, time-lapse of the condition of the building? (that is if you weren’t already doing as much on your blog ;-)

              • June 19, 2014 at 21:10

                I’ll put something together this weekend, but so far there isn’t much to show other than more graffiti.

  4. June 18, 2013 at 04:23

    Interesting history on this building and powerful images! How I would have loved to walk through that decaying building. Great job again… To the both of you.

  5. tabularasa88
    June 19, 2013 at 10:55

    Forgive my lateness in checking out your latest post! As always, nice work. It is most affecting seeing old photos of this building, as we are about as familiar with it as our own homes. I had to stop and stare at the fireplace. It’s still grand today, just in a differnt way…

    • June 19, 2013 at 22:21

      This man is the photographer responsible for the cover photo, ladies and gentlemen.

      Thank you sir for capturing the beautiful structure so well! The words might tell a story, but the picture grasps.

  6. Lytenygyneurbexploration
    June 28, 2013 at 08:27

    Nice! but a couple corrections.Seaman was transferred to a Lancaster Ohio Church due to the oppostion to some of US steels labor practices.Some say no such as James B Lane.but Seamans son said that was the reason in later interviews.Seamans ashes were removed from the chancel see “Resolution in closing City church” file DePauw univ archives case 58.The only ashes in the church are those of Seth Thomas see “Seth Thomas Memorial”an urban explorer whos pictures were subbmitted into the Depauw archives.Building was sold in 1980 to a Black Baptist congregation.2 older churches that survived “Christ Episcopal”(on right of last picture)and “First Presbyterian” both just recently just occupied.Both were major players in the Saga.City church closed due to a failed merger with First Presyterian.see” Where do we go form here” report of the state of city church 1973…….

    • June 29, 2013 at 08:33

      Wow, thanks for the information. My access was limited to what DePauw and others have online, which obviously isn’t everything. I appreciate the additional insight from someone who’s been there. Thanks for the comment.

  7. June 29, 2013 at 06:47

    The church also had a large school, gymnasium and an auditorium named the Seaman Hall where the city would hold community meetings, plays and musical events.

  8. Lytenygyneurbexploration
    July 2, 2013 at 13:46

    Living not too far I took pictures everytime I go starting in 09 i have a thousand pictures the place has changed so much the first year as far back as 1991 it was descibed as having been physically devistated in (At home in the city)James Lewis

    • July 13, 2013 at 23:06

      You should set up a timeline of photographs of the same spots to show the progress of the decay over time. That would be a very interesting thing to see!

  9. davejohnsonphotography
    July 13, 2013 at 07:34

    Is it true that the building is slated to be torn down later this month or summer?

    • July 13, 2013 at 23:05

      It’s hard to say because there have been so many false reports of demolition over the years; it’s one thing to have plans, but another to have the funding to execute. Most recently it sounded like they wanted to turn it into a ruins garden, which would be cheaper than demolition. If there’s any money to be spent I’d wonder if that would be the result rather than complete demolition?

  10. lytengyneurbanexploration
    July 19, 2013 at 13:51

    It is too late for the ruins garden the whole structure will need to come down in my opinion .The mayor and her staff make money though by charging the film makers a fee to shoot movies in and around the church…. easy pocket cash so i don’t think its coming down anytime soon.I also was told by more than one explorer that they were asked for a permit that must be purchased at town hall to shoot pictures for 50.00 in and around the city .Someone recently cut down the forest in front of the building and installed a sign by the corner .but the website or researching it leads to a disconnected number.Also crime in the city and suburbs of Gary increased this year 30.homicides this year alone My opinion it is getting dangerous making outsiders exploring as easy target for trouble . Not only that but it is dangerous getting around in the church easy to get hurt or fall through floors etc.

  11. Bill Shirey
    July 27, 2013 at 17:47

    Wow! Talk about a stroll down memory lane! I was baptized at City Methodist Church (born at Methodist Hospital in 1943) and was confirmed at CMC in 1955 by Rev. Allan Rice. I learned to swim at the YMCA, attended Ambridge School and then Horace Mann. I have fond memories of Memorial Auditorium and Marquette Park. My family moved out of Gary in 1958, but my childhood memories are of Gary. Anyone out there from the Horace Mann graduation class of 1961?

    • July 31, 2013 at 21:15

      Thanks for stopping by Bill, great to hear from alumni! Did you see the post on Horace Mann? You might find it interesting as a former student: http://sometimes-interesting.com/2013/06/28/the-horace-mann-school/

    • Pastor Bob and Sandy Turton
      September 18, 2013 at 11:54

      Two items: #1 – This is for Bill Shirey, Is there any possibility that a relative of yours may have been married or is married to Betsy Shirey (or Beth / Elizabeth) whose maiden name was Ross ? If there is any family connection, please contact Pastor Bob and Sandy in NJ by e-mail: GospelWorkers@aol.com and FreshPonds@aol.com or you may write to them at P. O. Box 175, Hightstown, NJ 08520–0175 THANK YOU.
      #2 – Yes, it is very sad to see the pictures and learn of the fate of what had been City United Methodist Church in Gary, IN. From what we read, it is not clear if it had begun as a Methodist Church, or what it “undenominational” in the beginning and later became a part of Methodism? While I am especially interested in architecture, particularly church architecture (although not professionally, just admiringly so), it is encouraging to understand that according to the Bible, God’s presence is not limited to or confined to structures built and dedicated for sacred purposes. Worship of God and the witness of the Word in the fellowship of believers, whether it be a gathering in a home or in a storefront mission, are still the venue for many vital encounters between the Lord and those who love, trust, worship and serve the Almighty and merciful God as revealed in our Savior Jesus Christ, Who promised when even a two or three assemble in His name, He is in our midst. Much of our awareness of the Holy Spirit is in such little meetings, as well as in our personal sense of God’s grace and truth in private and family prayer and study of the Scriptures.
      May wisdom and resources be obtained for the decision-makers to know and do what will prove most appropriate for the buildings and grounds portrayed there in Gary, Indiana. This information was forwarded to us by the organist at our historic Fresh Ponds Chapel in South Brunswick Township, NJ, which was built in 1840 as the Methodist Episcopal Church at Fresh Ponds. On October 6, 2013, we celebrate the chapel’s 173rd anniversary in the original building, which became a part of the Gospel Mission Corps in 1963, along with its adjacent one-room schoolhouse and cemetery surrounding three sides of the chapel. After some necessary repairs ten years ago, the facilities are in excellent condition, although they are not elaborate, they are appropriately serviceable
      for ongoing meetings and ministries in both English and in Spanish in a rural part of Central New Jersey.

    • Tom and Virginia Preston
      October 31, 2013 at 08:03

      Bill Shirey,
      Good to read your words here. My wife, Virginia Bland and I were 1961 graduates of Horace Mann and have been committee members for many of the reunions. We are the keepers of the spreadsheet of class members’ addresses. It would be good to read an email from you. Our email address is horacemann1961@sbcglobal.net.
      Tom Preston

  12. Bob Locke Emerson Grad.1952.
    August 30, 2013 at 17:46

    Baptized there. Married there by Allan Rice. All five of our children baptized there also. It makes me sick to view these photos.

  13. Lytenygyneurbexploration
    September 5, 2013 at 07:40

    Oct 5th is coming around again which marks the anniversary of when the church was organized and discontinued .Traveling downtown anymore is just a dumb idea.We explored “Gary Nut and Bolt factory ” only to come out and have 4 Lake County cops in bullet proof gear all sporting “Gang Unit Identifiction Tags” surrounding the car .They asked us if we realized how dangereous it was to be there.

  14. Terry
    February 2, 2014 at 07:03

    I have always been courious about the Methodist church in Gary. Even though I wasn’t a Methodist. Thank you for the history on that grand icon of Gary. Old buildings and their history have always fascinated me no matter where they are. I am originally from Gary as were my parents and a lot of people I know. I hope pastor Seamens remains can be Inturned in a more peaceful and respectable resting place if he hasn’t been already. He is a man of God and a man of peace and he deserves a better place of rest.

  15. Edgar Blake
    February 15, 2014 at 15:18

    A committee of Nine was appointed to oversee the disposition of the building and its contents .a date was set of Oct 5 1975 to close the church.The committee also arranged for the transfer of Seaman’s ashes from the chancel 9 see committee of nine minutes Jan 5,Sept 11,Sept 22 1975( Resolution in closing City church folder Case 58 Depauw University archives

  16. Arianne Campbell
    June 20, 2014 at 22:27

    I am a Gary native. I was born in the early 80s so all I know are the decaying states of the iconic landmarks that serve to remind me of what my city once was and what it has become. These pictures always make me a mix of proud and sad, because they are beautiful, apparently able to still be sound despite time and lack of maintenance, and symbolic. But my sadness is not only for the community around it but for any beautiful thing that is allowed to fall apart. I may also be thinking selfishly as I am planning my wedding and realize that it probably fits perfectly what I would envision as the location for the ceremony. Perhaps that is the direction that any future renovations on dilapidated buildings like this should take, assuming any renovations ever ever ever occur: capitalize on the architecture, history, and aesthetics of such structures and rent them out as banquet halls, meeting venues, and low priced office spaces to encourage local businesspeople, with the city taking a percentage to help fund public works and maintenance of the grounds. Most undoubtedly a pipe dream for more reasons than I dare count or go into at this time, but still …

  17. denise
    July 18, 2014 at 06:55

    This is my first time reading this article. I am a lifelong Gary resident. I was born in ’67 and I have always wanted to know the history of City United Methodist Church. I always thought it was a Catholic Church. When I was younger I remember the beautiful stained glass windows. I often wondered about how it looked in the beginning. This article was great. The pictures were awesome. We have lots of historical areas in Gary. I look forward to more articles from you.

  18. Martha Mann
    August 17, 2014 at 19:54

    These pictures are haunting. I grew up in Miller until we moved to Hobart in the early 60s. Are there any pictures of downtown Gary from the mid 1960s? My mother didn’t drive so we would take the bus from Miller to downtown Gary weekly. I have vivid memories of the downtown area, especially Goldblatts, the lunch counter/soda fountain at Kresgees, a bank and Sears. Also taking the South Shore to Chicago. Started kindergarten at Wirt until Marquette was built. Only went there 2 years before we moved. Also remember the Congregational Church in Miller with the Tastee Freeze across the street.

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