The Palace Theater of Gary, Indiana

Another icon of Gary is the majestic Palace Theater, opened in 1925. One of the finer examples of Atmospheric theater design, it was the crown jewel of a northwest Indiana theater conglomerate. The theater would be the longest-running in Gary, and served residents for nearly 50 years before succumbing to crime and financial difficulties.

It has been abandoned for nearly 40 years, and today the Palace is one of five remaining Atmospheric theaters in Indiana. But without financial support, how much longer will it cast a shadow on Broadway?

cover photo courtesy the idiot photographer


The Palace Theater after construction with original vertical marquee


Young & Wolf Enterprises

In the early days of Gary the theater business was booming. Entrepreneurs V.U. Young and C.J. Wolf formed Young and Wolf Enterprises and would grow their business to encompass more than 30 theaters throughout the Midwest. In Gary, they would run some of the most famous theaters in town.

Young would be the driving force behind the Majestic Theater on 5th and Connecticut opened in 1909, the Orpheum Theater on 8th and Washington, the Star Theater on Broadway, south of 9th Avenue, and the Cosy Theater at 9th and Jefferson – each of which were opened in 1910.

John-EbersonYoung and Wolf then opened the Art Theater at 620 Broadway, which introduced the first pipe organ to Gary. In 1915, the duo opened the Gary Theater on Broadway just north of 5th; it was acclaimed as Indiana’s most beautiful playhouse. All of the Young and Wolf theaters were successful, but none as grand or distinguished as the Palace Theater, built ten years later.

The Palace was the creation of distinguished movie theater architect John Eberson (right). An authority of classic Atmospheric-style movie theaters, Eberson designed over 500 theaters during his career.

Young hired Maximillian Dubois’ construction company “Max and Sons” to build the theater, and in 1924 groundbreaking began. Construction would finish a year later, and when the Palace Theater opened in 1925 it was hailed as a civic jewel.

The classic structure at 765 Broadway (map) featured live stage shows and vaudeville acts. Acts at the Palace could entertain up to 3,000 guests, seated on multiple levels. The Palace was luxurious, ornate, and brought a class to Gary not previously seen at the time.

For decades the Palace Theater was a top destination for entertainers coming to Gary. Over the years the theater would transition with the times; vaudeville shows fell out of favor and movies would become rapidly popular.

The Palace then specialized in first-run films for the Northwest Indiana area after they played their engagements in Chicago. When movies at the Palace were 50 cents, it was a hit with the youth.

Exterior of Palace Theater today


Closed By Crime

Gary theaters would experience a boom in the 1930s and 40s, but decline after. In 1944 citizens could choose between eleven theaters in Gary; by 1964 there were eight, and the number would decrease nearly every year thereafter.

The fortunes of the Palace Theater were no different. When domestic steel experienced an economic decline, violence in downtown Gary would escalate as unemployment increased. The Palace Theater was centrally located to the depressed region and bore the brunt of those who turned to desperation.

Repeated attacks and muggings would be reported in and around the theater. Throughout the 1960s crime steadily increased; eventually the area became so dangerous citizens refused to set foot on Broadway at night.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

On April 14th, 1968, festivities at the Palace Theater would come to a halt when Roosevelt High School 10th grader Aldrid Black was killed after a movie. Four hundred spectators watched as the 15 year-old youth was stabbed to death in the crowded lobby after a showing of “Bonnie and Clyde.”

The death of the teenager was the final straw for the citizens of Gary; if it wasn’t before, the Palace Theater was now radioactive. Despite regular police presence, violent incidents continued to occur at the premesis. For the next four years it would struggle to draw crowds.


By 1970 the once-glorious Palace Theater had become an afterthought in Gary. It no longer featured premier traveling acts or vaudeville shows. It was no longer the place young men took their dates, or parents caught a matinee show.  Now, the only time citizens would read about the theater is when a crime was reported in the paper.

Perhaps wishfully, residents recited rumors for years the theater would shut down. By 1971 the Palace had been reduced to a haven for crime and drug-dealers. The theater itself had not been maintained and no longer enjoyed its original splendor.

When a young woman was attacked in the ladies room of the lobby in January of 1972, the town of Gary had enough; the Palace Theater was immediately shut down.


photos courtesy the idiot photographer


The Star Palace Theater

In November of 1975, the Palace re-opened as the Star Palace Theater. Local businessman Carl Williams led a group of investors in an attempt to resurrect the landmark. The Star Palace showed movies and hosted community theater.

Williams leased storefront space on the first floor to tenants, and soon the entire building was alive once again. The celebrated rebirth was short-lived, however, when the first-floor store owners complained Williams neglected to turn on the building’s heat. The tenants chipped in $150 a week to pay for oil for the furnace, but the plan quickly fell apart when water service to the building was shut off for past-due bills.

The tenants left and the theater closed once more.


photos courtesy the idiot photographer

In the summer of 1976 the theater was reorganized and reopened as the Star Academy of Performing Arts and Sciences. A government grant helped the theater produce a series of children’s plays and musicals.

In the evenings, adults in the community were invited to participate. Residents raved about the group’s performance of the musical Mame.  But despite enjoying a renaissance of the arts, the cash-strapped theater would run out of money and close again later that year.

The theater would be abandoned once again for the next ten years.


The Ghandi-King Corporation

Gary-Palace-Theater-exterior-main-entranceIn January of 1987 Mayor Richard Hatcher announced plans to renovate the old Palace Theater on the corner of 8th and Broadway. The Ghandi-King Corporation, a group of prominent doctors led by Dr. William Washington II, announced plans to breathe life into the building which had been abandoned for 15 years.

Along with Washington, Dr. Keshavd Aggarwal and Dr. Shreyes Desai purchased the property at a tax sale in August of 1986 for $30,000. The three planned to invest between $500,000 and $1 million to renovate the old theater and storefronts. In addition, the doctors would open a restaurant on the 8th Avenue side of the building to supplement income from the theater operations.

The optimistic Ghandi-King Corp. shunned the national trend of viewers toward multi-screen theaters in shopping malls, video rentals, and cable television. Instead, they banked on the theater’s history adding value to the movie-going experience. The doctors also believed they were at an advantage since there were no other movie theaters in town.

Despite the claims, progress would not come as fast as hoped. By June of 1988 the four Broadway storefronts of the Palace Theater were still vacant. Office and apartments above the storefronts also sat empty.

Gary-Palace-Theater-interiorPart of the problem was the condition of the units; the doctors had neglected to repair or remodel the structure. As an incentive, Ghandi-King decided to offer one-year leases to tenants for free. In exchange, the tenants would have to make repairs and pay utilities.

The free rent plan to attract tenants was a success, and by the summer of 1989 the first floor of the Palace Theater building was once again lively. The store spaces were leased and now the neon signs of a new 148-seat restaurant named Colors glowed throughout the day. The full-menu restaurant was open for breakfast and lunch and was open seven days a week.

The novelty of a sit-down restaurant on Broadway quickly wore off as crime continued to permeate the downtown area in the late 1980s. After several months the restaurant was forced to close its doors, despite the luxuries of operating rent-free.

The doctors never finished the restoration of the theater, and when the businesses left they abandoned the project.

Seats in the theater: 1980s (top) & 2013 (bottom)

Gary-Palace-Theater-interior-seats-shortly-after-closing Gary-Palace-Theater-main-floor*

Miss U.S.A. Pageant

In the years since, the Palace Theater’s east and south walls began to sag. The once-proud marquee which proclaimed “Open for Business” was now missing letters and seemed to lethargically whimper “Ope or bus.”

A leaky roof and vandals have combined to strip away much of the decorative plasterwork inside. Scavengers have stripped the copper dome from the tower that faces Broadway, and the terra cotta fixtures have been robbed leaving gaping holes.

In February of 2001, Mayor Scott King announced an agreement with Donald Trump to bring the Miss U.S.A. pageant to Gary. Suddenly, the entire town needed to undergo a makeover before television crews would arrive.

Gary-Palace-Theater-new-facadeNeighborhood Service Company of Chicago was hired to paint murals on boarded up buildings along Broadway. NSC was tasked with dressing up the facade of Palace Theater, and in the spring of 2001 they installed fake windows and painted human silhouettes. Trump’s organizers also had them install a new marquee which read “Jackson Five Tonite.”

While this made for great photos, it is misleading; the Jacksons are from Gary but they never performed at the Palace Theater.


In advance of the pageant, the city barricaded all doors and windows to keep the public out of the building. The front entrance was continually padlocked as well, but every time the lock was broken off and trespassers would find their way inside.

With insufficient resources the city was unable to keep scavengers out.


Deterioration & Last Hope

Over the years, scavengers and vandals have had their way with the building. By September of 2002 the balcony’s rear fire escape door had been forced open and the rear exit door of the auditorium had been completely broken off.

Vandalism and water damage have claimed most of the original ornate plasterwork. On the stage of the old theater still looms the exotic, painted backdrop depicting Morocco (below), left over from the Palace Theater’s last production.

Palace Theater stage backdrop

Gary-Palace-Theater-piano-2In August of 2004, city officials announced the Palace Theater had made the shortlist for demolition. Odds were in the theater’s favor, however, as there were over 40 properties on the list and the city didn’t have the money for any of them.

In March of 2005 preservation groups protested the city’s inspections for demolition. Engineering advocates for preservation of the structure revealed the cost to stabilize the ailing building was $50,000, about how much the city was going to spend to tear it down.

Gary-Palace-Theater-second-stairEventually, city officials agreed to stop demolition plans and instead pay to keep the structure standing – but only if the preservationists could locate a developer willing to buy the theater and restore the site. The enthusiastic group agreed and began to line up investors.

The city would receive two bids to renovate the Palace Theater: one from Gary-based Bauer Laterzo Studio and another from Chicago-based Thornton-Tomasetti. However by June of 2006 the developers had not followed through and plans had stalled once again.

Gary-Palace-Theater-tickets-bwCity officials announced while they had no plans to demolish the structure, they were no longer going to pay to stabilize it. The building would be abandoned again.

When Gary native Michael Jackson died in 2009 plastic signs reading “Jackson Five Forever” were placed on both sides of the Palace Theater’s marquee, but they were quickly lost to the elements or thieves.

Today the marquee sits blank, only the shadow of “Jackson Five Tonite” still visible.



photos courtesy the idiot photographer


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 town and tell their history.



    • I just don’t understand how people could just vandal like they do. This was quite a place.
      First date with Hubby 1954 was there one Sunday afternoon.

        • It’s a matter of respect. In all fairness to those who ultimately tore up the Palace, Seaman Hall, etc., they have seen the people of the US with a generalized disrespect for anything considered ‘old’ or ‘historic. It may surprise many but there are few places or things in the US that date to the 18th century. We have cemeteries with tombstones made out of slate that can still be easily read. It’s difficult to walk the streets of downtown Atlanta and find a building that predates the Civil War. Other countries namely Great Britain and France, among others have done much better at respectfully preserving their heritage. We can take the mantle upon ourselves right now and prevent the decay of the future as we’ve all, and a bit tearfully, seen the decay of our past and present.

  1. I love this series, across Indiana there’s a lot of spots where you see things like this, but nowhere has experienced decay like Gary. I love the pictures, and understanding a history we hoosiers liken to a black spot on the state map.

  2. With each post, I get more sad. All these buildings have followed a similar arc, from hope and grandeur, later decline, and later still poorly executed attempts at renovation. Now, they all wait for the (eventual, theoretical) wrecking ball. All we can do is take pictures before they’re gone…

  3. I long remember this Palace when I was in high school my girl friend and I went to see a movie one afternoon while school was in. After we went next store to the walgreen and were getting a soda when in came our enlish teacher. we were busted. I would do it all over. we lived in glen park. on broadway was the Glen, it was opened in the winter, it had heat. Around the corner was the Ridge, it was opened in the summer it had air conditioning. But there was no place like the Palace.

  4. My sister used to take my brother and me to the Palace and yes we walked a mile or so with no fear….sorry to see the ‘animals’ got to it, but the good memories are remembered, thanks..

  5. Great story about the Palace. Although I’m from the Netherlands and never saw the Palace (been to Gary once in 1997 and visited 2300 Jackson Street :-), it’s a BIG shame that buildings like this, with history and such beautiful ornaments, felt in hands of vandalism. The people of Gary should be proud having such a treasure like the Palace. Hopefully the building can be kept and will never fall down….

  6. The last movie I saw at the Palace was Bonnie and Clyde in 1968. Thankfully, was not there for the stabbing.

    • Hi Jeff, you should do it – especially before many of these structures fall apart or are torn down (the Sheraton Hotel was demolished just last month).

      I believe access is straightforward but you might want to ask the photographer directly to be sure. I’d recommend asking the Idiot Photographer or Tabula Rasa over at The Sublime League of the Holy Lens ( for a better answer to your question. 😉

  7. Does anyone know if the Palace Theater is still standing or has been demolished? Just wondering… thinking of going down to explore and take pictures with some friends later this week…

    • Savannah, I am not nearby or else I would double-check, but I would guess it is still standing. The city of Gary has dozens of structures that are in worse condition and need to be razed before the Palace Theater, and the city’s budget prevents most necessary demolition from occurring (for example, the Sheraton Hotel was a demolition goal for nearly two decades before they were finally able to take it down very recently.)

      Beyond that you have local groups fighting for preservation of the Palace Theater, so developers likely won’t envision new projects on the property unless it would be some sort of revival – and that’s if you can lure a developer to Gary in the first place.

      I’d bet it is still standing.

      • The Palace Theater is still standing. I live in Gary In. right off ridge rd. I remember as yrs ago how it looked. I am 70 yrs old. most people do not remember the glen theater that was owned by the same people. Also the Y&W drive Inn, out door movies. The glen in the winter, the ridge in the summer, there was a movie theater on 5th Ave. Now gown. As kids we would go there also. Let me know if you want more info.

  8. All the segments of the story seemed to have one common thread – crime and fear for public safety.

  9. I am from Gary, born and raised. Growing up, I would hear about how great Gary USED to be, and all I had for proof were the remaining crumbling landmarks and sprawling city boundaries to indicate a once much busier and more populated urban area. But I grew up in Gary after the white flight of the 70s, which seemed to be the time frame when most of the citywide decay appeared to either start in earnest, take place, or accelerate. I grew up surrounded by the ruins. I was a child and wondered how anyone could abandon such beautiful places, that I thought belonged only in movies or fairy tales. I remember eating at Colors once as a little kid; my parents took me and my siblings and talked about the history of our town. I remember thinking, with all the wisdom of – what was I? – a 1st grader, that everything was going to be ok, someone was going to finally fix the Palace. It was exciting because this was the closest I had been to the Palace since I was born, unless you count driving by it on Broadway. I think we tried to go back again a few months later, but by then it was closed. I couldn’t believe it!
    Years and years later, I think it was around November or December 2015, I accompanied a friend of mine as part of a film crew shooting an independent film in both the abandoned Palace and City Methodist buildings. I went along more than anything because this was the first, and likely only time, that I was going to see the inside of either of these iconic buildings, even if it was at night. We went back stage, which I am not sure I would ever do again just because the stability back there is probably much much worse than the auditorium – there were no accidents or injuries, thankfully, but we knew we had to be very careful where we stepped. But what shocked me most was that, even after all this time, there were still film canisters back there, loads of them! I do not remember if I saw any titles, I feel like I did and knew them to be OLD. I cannot imagine the atrocious state any of them could possibly be in after all this time of exposure to the elements. But it dismays me most because, of all the talk about saving the theater and what a monumentous task that would be, how has something that seems relatively easy by comparison, such as removing old film canisters, not come up? They seem to be as much a part of history as any building, maybe almost more so since so many recordings of the earlier days of film are already lost….

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment bobomafo. It’s a shame you never got to see Gary in its prime. I enjoyed when you said “I was a child and wondered how anyone could abandon such beautiful places” – As an adult I still wonder these things myself! 😉

      Same with your comment about the old film reels. Your question is what my immediate reaction would be: Why couldn’t someone have taken these when it shut down? I wonder what the reason was that smaller effects like that were left behind? I’m glad to hear you stayed safe on your visit, those old buildings can be dangerous (RIP Richard Nickel).


  10. I am a writer of day to day books on rock ‘n’ roll stars of the 50s and 60s. I can tell you that Carl Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes) played the Palace in Gary in July, 1956. Fats Domino (I’m Walkin’) played the Palace in Gary in December, 1952.

  11. Just wondering . . . if you were back here in 1960, knowing what we now know about ‘end results,’ what would YOU do differently? What would you hope ‘others’ would do differently? What do you think was the first ‘nail in the coffin?’

    • Bob great questions & discussion material my friend, thank you for the comments. Hindsight is always 20/20 of course, but I think a good start might have been an honest attempt to attract more & different industries to Gary. A huge crutch was relying on the steel industry for the majority of the town’s fortunes. Try to attract other major industries with tax incentives and discounted long-term leases. This might not have guaranteed success but it would have been a great start. And for all I know city officials back then might have tried this, but if they didn’t I would probably point to that as being either the first or biggest nail in the coffin.

      • I agree. Hindsight will always be 20/20. I also wonder if the commercial diversity of Chicago, had rubbed off onto Gary, would the plight of Gary’s infrastructure have been a little different? Along with other cities, its apparent how risky it is for an infrastructure to be so heavily leveraged toward a homogenous industry. I’ve also wondered if the economic downfall of Gary could have been hedged or buffered, if city administration maintained a diverse leadership, coming out of the 1960’s; whereby business investment relationship development could have been better facilitated?…

        • Good questions. For all we know city officials did try these things, or perhaps were not equipped to do so. I know it can be difficult to keep services funded while your tax base is dwindling. It’s a snowball effect, decreasing services leads to population flight, which leads to less taxes to pay for services, which suffers when people leave. Fortunately the city did not completely die – it will be interesting to see what happens in the future. There has been some good progress, demolition of older buildings, some stabilization of some neighborhoods, etc. So, hope.

  12. Funny thing about all this; when I graduated from Wirt High School in 1979, you would still be able to buy pretty much anything that you needed in Gary, whether it be groceries, clothing, sporting goods, jewelry, pharmaceuticals, auto parts, etc. Gary didn’t die with the Hatcher election, although in the memories of many, it is presented that way.
    My father, Herbert Campbell, had a trash collection business, Neu View Disposal Service, which was in operation until around 2011, two years after he and my youngest brother died in 2009 from unrelated illnesses. I am now the pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, the oldest church in the region. It was established in 1870, but has baptismal records dating back to 1863.

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