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Home > Abandoned - Explained, Americas, Creepy, Explained, Financial, Gary Indiana, History > The Ambassador Apartments of Gary, Indiana

The Ambassador Apartments of Gary, Indiana

Ambassador-Apartments

There certainly isn’t a dearth of classic early twentieth century architecture around Gary, Indiana. Another fine example is that of the Ambassador Apartments at 574 Monroe Street. Finished in 1928, the luxurious building featured views and amenities no other place in town could match. Initially it would cater to Gary’s high society, but decades of economic decline and neglected maintenance would take its toll on the building.

The Ambassador Apartments would serve Gary for nearly six decades before it succumbed to economic and structural failures. Today it still stands, abandoned for over 25 years and crumbling beyond repair.

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ambassador exterior

Construction

During the 1920s the population of Gary would double. In order to attract and keep good leadership, U.S. Steel needed quality housing available for its managers. Plans were soon conceived for a 68-unit apartment building near the heart of Gary and not far from the Gary Works steel plant.

The building would be named the Ambassador Apartments, and architect William Stern was asked to provide the design. Construction began in 1927 and the building was ready to accept tenants the following year.

At eight stories tall, the Italianate structure was one of the tallest residential buildings in Gary. The Ambassador was lavishly trimmed in sculptured, cream-colored terra cotta. The swanky domicile was a proud structure, constructed with nicer amenities than provided to the blue-collar steelworker of the day.

Ambassador-Apartments-1930

Ambassador Apartments c.1930

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Fall From Grace & Abandonment

Ambassador-Door-To-SkyThe Ambassador Apartments served the gentry for decades, but it was not immune to the struggles of the steel industry and white flight of Gary.  When racial integration swept Gary during the 1950s and 60s, the proud Ambassador was one of the last apartments buildings in town to integrate.

Once Gary’s first black mayor was elected in 1967, the occupancy rates dropped. By 1970 the building hadn’t been maintained for almost a decade. During the early 1970s the apartments were converted into low-income housing.

But the building would still not be maintained, and would further deteriorate.

The building would continue to serve the low-income community of Gary until 1985, when structural and maintenance costs finally became too expensive to keep it operational. When the walls started to crumble, safety inspectors condemned it.

After the final tenant moved out, the 58 year-old building was abandoned.

After it closed in 1985, the Ambassador enjoyed a temporary revival when Gary’s underground moved in. Homeless would stake claims in rooms and prostitution arrests around the building were common. Thieves salvaged piping and vandals broke windows and left graffiti murals on walls.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

Ambassador-5th-floor-tree Ambassador-armchair-fireplace Ambassador-chair

ambassador-falling-down

In 1990, residents noticed a drive-thru drug business operating from the building. Buyers would place orders and pay in front, then circle down the alley to pick up their purchase.

As the property tax bills on the abandoned property accumulated, the Lake County Board of Commissioners eventually assumed control.

The County Commissioners Office tried to sell the building at auction, but because the property included a large outstanding bill to the city, it had a negative value. Despite several attempts by Lake County, it never sold.

Ambassador-Bathroom Ambassador-Couch Ambassador-Coffee

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New Hope

Ambassador-FireplaceIn 1993 the Lake County Board of Commissioners donated the property for redevelopment. A group of investors spearheaded by the Jefferson Park Community Development Corp. put together a proposal to renovate and re-open the apartment building.

The joint venture also involved the city of Gary along with private investment groups Agee International and Florida firm Ocwen Financial. A combination of federal block grants obtained through the city and state income tax credits would offer $4.5 million in financing for the project.

Arnold Giles, Chief Executive of Agee International, announced the renovated structure would now have 5,000 square feet of commercial retail space on the bottom floor.

Housing would be affordable, with sixty-six 1- and 2-bedroom apartments planned to lease between $350 and $500. The top floor would be converted into two family-sized penthouses.

On November 29th of 1994, Jefferson Park Community Development Corp. announced it was ready to begin construction on the Ambassador Apartments. They reported the final part of financing for the deal had been put in place just a month before by Mayor Thomas V. Barnes.

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There was a kid about to throw a brick through one of the windows. We stopped him and told him we were trying to fix the neighborhood. He put it down and asked how he could help,” said Jefferson Park President Otis Sibley. “The kids will follow if they have good leaders.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

Ambassador-Dont-Die Ambassador-Crumbling ambassador-facade-2

Ambassador-fallen-pyrobar Ambassador-Floor-Tiles Ambassador-Graffiti

The project had now grown to an estimated $4.7 million in cost, but now it had committed funds from the Community Development Block Grant’s 1995 budget.

The community celebrated the news and held a dedication ceremony for the renovation. A lavish reception ceremony was held nearby at the First United Presbyterian Church.

Ambassador-Interior-1

Ambassador-Sinking-In Ambassador-Stairs Ambassador-Wall-That-Gave-Up

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Gary’s Consolidated Plan of 1995

Ambassador-FacadeIn 1995 the city of Gary released the Gary Consolidated Plan with proposals to distribute funds to different projects around the city in an attempt to begin rehabilitation around the city. Local architect Phillip Johnson was tasked with the renovation.

As part of Gary’s “One Year Action Plan,” a feature bullet point stated:

“Ambassador Arms rehabilitation. The Jefferson Park Community Development Corporation will receive a loan of $650,000 in CDBG funds to rehabilitate the Ambassador Arms Building, which will have 78 apartments available to low- and moderate-income persons.”

While it was designed with noble intentions, the idea was optimistic. By 1995 the plan’s total estimated cost to renovate the Ambassador had ballooned to $5.5 million dollars.

On December 30th of 1995, architect Johnson announced the project was proceeding and should be completed in 12 months. He then shared that workers had already begun demolition of the interior.

However the workers would not get far before the project stalled; for reasons not made public, the expected funding had failed to materialize. When questioned about the deal, Agee, Ocwen, and the city all had no comment.

Ambassador-gaping-holes Ambassador-Graffiti-2 Ambassador-Graffitisaurus

Ambassador-Hall-Face Ambassador-Decayed-Fireplace Ambassador-Side-Entry ambassador-entry

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Grim Future

The failed redevelopment attempt was the last hope for Ambassador. The late 1990s witnessed a dip in real estate values which compounded the problems for Ambassador and cash-strapped Gary.

By the turn of the century, the building was in terrible shape and beyond repair.

Ambassador-Stairs-and-Chair

In March of 2005 Mayor Scott King announced he was soliciting bids for demolition of several buildings around Gary, one of which was the Ambassador Apartments. This too, would fail to achieve the necessary funding and nothing became of it.

For another seven years various articles would claim the building “would soon face the wrecking ball,” but it managed to avoid the proclaimed fate every time. In the summer of 2012, the city was forced to block off the area around the building because debris was falling onto the streets and sidewalks (below).

Ambassador-Sidewalk Ambassador-Sidewalk-2

More recently, a November 2012 report again stated the city finally had the money for demolition. But as of this post, the building still stands – albeit just barely. The Ambassador Apartments have been left to slowly decay.

Exposure to the elements has taken its toll on the unmaintained building; sections of exterior wall have completely fallen off the building and a gentle breeze frequently sends pieces of terra cotta to the ground below. Yet, despite the decay the building still manages to project an image of majesty from a bygone era.

If Gary doesn’t tear the building down soon, mother nature might beat them to it.

Ambassador-Lobby Ambassador-Looking-Down Ambassador-no-walls-only-doors-2

Ambassador-no-walls-only-doors Ambassador-crumbling-corner ambassador-penthouse

Room with a view

Room with a view

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Ambassador Apartments on Google Maps

ambassador-from-rooftop

photos courtesy the Idiot Photographer

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

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  1. June 26, 2013 at 20:30

    Room with a view indeed! There are several, just be careful to not put your foot through the floor boards like I did, twice.

    I had no idea that there were thoughts of renovating this building as recently as 1995. Given the amount of damage and decay it has suffered I had thought it was well abandoned totally earlier than that. Of course, it does explain the flamingo pink bathroom tiles with bright blue trim… I’m not sure you can get more 1982 than that.

  2. hoah
    June 27, 2013 at 06:35

    Excellent post!

  3. June 28, 2013 at 08:01

    Great in-depth detail. Thanks for sharing!

  4. George Elischer
    August 15, 2013 at 18:43

    In the early 60’s I spent a lot of time there with my girl friend, as one of my aunts had an appartment on the 5 th floor. when she went out of town my girl friend and i would move in until the day before she got back.

  5. August 23, 2013 at 05:09

    It’s so sad that they let buildings like this go to waste. Not just in Gary, but in major cities across America. I live in Grand Rapids MI and for the last few years the city has decided to do something with the old buildings, and it is finally starting to look more like it used to, other then they now contain apartments instead of businesses.

    • August 26, 2013 at 19:29

      That’s good to hear, Steve. One would hope once-great cities like Gary and Detroit can see a similar fate.

  6. lita brown
    December 11, 2013 at 22:42

    what is up with this building. once again they could,nt clean it , or tear down. and start from ground zero. what good is it.

  7. March 3, 2014 at 02:39

    The ambassador apartment it need to reconstruct it and get back it’s beauty.

  8. March 3, 2014 at 02:58

    The gary Indiana apartment is a disaster and if they build again i hope. The apartment will regain it’s beauty. Thanks for sharing.

  9. April 18, 2014 at 00:12

    omg this makes me so sad– these kind of buildings were all over in Indianapolis, many still in use, usually not this grand. I hope that EVERYTHING is salvaged to reuse

  10. Valerie
    June 20, 2014 at 11:23

    I read most of your stories in this series and I thought they were great. The pictures are amazing. My dad lived in the Ambassador apartments back in the day and graduated from Horace Mann. Thanks for the wonderful history lessons and great pictures!

    • June 22, 2014 at 19:54

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Valerie. That’s pretty neat to hear about your dad, sounds like he enjoyed Gary in better times. :)

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