Sometimes Interesting has teamed up with the Idiot Photographer to bring the reader a unique insight to the history of Gary, Indiana. Over the coming weeks we will feature various structures and tell their history.
Today we detail the life of the 85 year-old building known at various times as The Mahencha, Mahencia, and Hatcher Apartments. Despite being a favorite of photographers and urban explorers in Gary, there is little compiled anywhere about Mahencha; we wanted to fix that.
It is one of the most recognizable structures in town and like most abandoned buildings, it reminds of Gary’s better days. Can the beautiful architecture be preserved before demolition?
cover photo courtesy Tabula Rasa
Often referred to as The Mahencia Apartments, the 4-floor Mahencha building was constructed in 1928.
It was a grand structure designed to celebrate the Renaissance Revival, boasting a Spanish-inspired façade complete with asymmetrical tower.
The U-shaped complex was built with red brick and stone trimmings, and featured a beautiful courtyard in the rear.
Located at 1900 West 5th Avenue across from Horace Mann High School on Gary’s main drag, Mahencha was majestic and considered one of the more prestigious addresses in Gary.
The apartments were built to house U.S. Steel management and city officials, with 31 units featuring every amenity of the time.
For decades the prestigious apartments would house some of Gary’s elite; Mahencha boasted former Gary mayor Martin Katz as a one-time resident.
Ownership would change hands over the years, but during the 1960s and 70s it was owned in a trust, concealing ownership information.
(Click thumbnails to enlarge)
The Hatcher Era
Former Gary mayor Richard Hatcher and his wife purchased the Mahencha Apartments from the trust in 1978.
Mayor Hatcher would rename it The Hatcher Apartments, however most in Gary would still refer to the building by its original name.
The Hatchers would run the apartment building for only six years. The unattended structural issues had worsened and Hatcher was either unable or unwilling to invest additional money into the structure.
This, combined with a lack of profitability, forced Hatcher to finally scuttle operations in 1984.
The last residents of Mahencha Apartments told of the building’s demise in its final years of operation.
Reports of water damage, mold issues, and fixtures falling off the walls were common. Faulty old wiring would leave residents with sporadic power issues.
Under the Hatchers, the building deteriorated rapidly. In 1985 a former employee accused the owners of neglecting the apartments since 1979, letting the building languish and never maintaining it.
A dispute over the size and value of the property left the mayor embroiled in a dispute with city tax assessors for years.
Reports would surface of Mayor Hatcher failing to pay property taxes on multiple properties around Gary in addition to Mahencha – including two homes and several vacant lots.
In March of 1987 Richard Hatcher acknowledged he had not paid taxes on the Mahencha property since 1983, but added the taxes were not paid due to an on-going appeal with the city tax assessor – and that the taxes would be paid from the proceeds when the property was sold.
Hatcher later admitted he had been unsuccessful in trying to sell the property.
By 1988 the Mahencha Apartment’s outstanding tax bill had eclipsed $38,500. The city of Gary would try to sell the building at the Lake County treasurer’s tax auction.
The auction was substantial; 9,600 properties owing over $20 million dollars in back-taxes were to be offered in the first such county auction in over two years.
Unfortunately Mahencha did not receive a bid in the 1988 auction.
In 1989 the Hatchers filed for an injunction to block the city from seizing the property citing their ongoing property tax reassessment appeal. Then, In 1990 the Hatchers filed suit against the Indiana State Board of Tax Commissioners over the dispute.
With Hatcher still unable or unwilling to pay, the city continued its plans to seize the building and send it to the next county auction in 1991.
The Beginning of the End
After the apartments had been abandoned for six years, new residents moved in. The homeless and drug abusers found a new home.
Prostitution was a recurring problem along with vandalism and theft: windows in every frame were broken, every fixture removed, and robbers had stripped the piping from the building for salvage.
Over the years the building would become a thorn in the side of Gary’s building code and enforcement department. Numerous $5,000 code violation fines went unpaid and added to Hatcher’s already growing bill to the city.
Local residents reported seeing the Hatchers board up the structure numerous times, but the homeless and vandals would just tear the boards down and re-enter.
The same would happen with trash clean-up attempts; the Hatchers would have a crew spend all weekend picking up trash around the property, but a week later it was again desecrated.
Eventually the Hatchers stopped trying.
A report of County records released in 1990 showed the Hatchers owed more than $56,000 in taxes and penalties for the Mahencha building from 1983 through May of 1990.
Despite Hatcher’s appeals over the property tax dispute, the city still seized the property in the early 90s.
In the mid 1990’s the city of Gary donated the property to the Horace Mann-Ambridge Neighborhood Improvement Organization (HMANIO) in hopes the non-profit would be able to renovate the decrepit building.
Executive Director Finnis Springer, along with HMANIO president Rosie Thomas and acquisitions specialist Yvonne Anderson, worked with the city of Gary’s planning and community department to give the building a complete makeover.
Plans went forward, and in October of 1997 Springer announced:
“There will be nine one-bedroom units, 12 two-bedroom and six three-bedroom units. And the first-floor units will be accessible to those with disabilities.“
The renovation, estimated to cost $3 million, was slated for completion by December of 1998.
HMANIO was also expecting to receive low income tax credits, a historic tax credit, and $750,000 in tax-exempt housing funds from the Redevelopment Commission through city-issued bonds.
The funds were scheduled to be repaid through the monthly rental fees of the apartment units in the building, estimated to average $430.
Unfortunately, the financing did not come together as planned and HMANIO’s attempt would fail. In 1999 the Gary City Redevelopment Commission approved the sale of Mahencha to the Tree of Life Community Development Corporation (CDC).
After Tree of Life assumed control of the building, executive director Bettye Brooks applied for financial assistance to the Indiana Housing Finance Authority Rental Housing Tax Credit Program.
The projected renovation cost was $3.4M; the new Mahencha Apartments would have 29 units varying in size from one-bedroom to three-bedroom apartments.
Tree of Life also revealed they expected to secure Federal funds through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
By 2000 the Tree of Life CDC announced they would begin repairs on Mahencha in earnest, starting with the roof, however this initiative also failed to materialize as the planned funding once again fell through.
In April of 2001 over $1M of new funding was announced to be coming through the Gary Board of Public Works and Safety.
Tree of Life CDC announced they would spend $497,954 of their share to renovate the crumbling building. Executive director Bettye Brooks said construction was projected to last 12-18 months, with the apartments estimated to re-open by 2003.
Of course doomed as the building seemed to be, this plan also did not materialize.
Mahencha Apartments Future
Today the building sits in development purgatory, waiting for another mayor to announce development plans and another investor to fund a renovation project. Unfortunately, the poor condition of the building and its outdated infrastructure make a demolition scenario more likely.
Since the edifice is an architectural icon of Gary, we can only hope for the former.
Until then, only the sound of the occasional roof tile crashing to the ground below disturbs the silence that pervades Mahencha.
pictures courtesy Tabula Rasa & the Idiot Photographer