Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Communal Forces

 My new happy place is at church. Not the defined rites and rituals and finery that constitutes church for some, but the ruins of such pageantry. Not a specific building, like the Nazarene Church on NW 39th St of my forebears, but any carapace of character quietly fading into the urban landscape. Dulling beauty.

Whenever we hit up a new town we always search out churches. Pillars of communities, touching so many souls across multiple generations, their residual energy is palpable and exhillirating.

This summer has seen a number of miles chocked up in the AR mobile. From Mobile to Monroe, through St. Louis and Detroit. We visited grand cathedrals and road side chapels. In the Carolinian mountains, along the battered Gulf coasts, on the muddy banks of the Mississippi, everywhere we traveled we found monuments from mankind to their master. Massive architectural icons lining Woodward Ave, Clapboard steeple topped sharecropper churches alongside forgotten county roads in Alabama, modest inner-city structures re-purposed before abandonment and succumbs to decay in all metropolitan areas.

A quiet spot in front of St. Mary's in Detroit, MI

We're tourists, so we should travel. Roaming the ruins of Detroit we found community in  isolation as multiple paths converged one summer Saturday.

The craftsmanship, the thoughtfulness and expression in the design of these buildings is renowned. Their state of neglect and disrepair nearly as so.

The Sherpa is not getting any younger, I'll never see Langston Hughes read in Harlem nor the Grateful Dead play the EastTown, my hope for tickets to a reunion tour by The Ramones has waned. Every day the news brings word another of these great buildings has had demolition permits issued.

The state of the motor city is not lost on us, the depression there is a harbinger of the troubles to plague us all if we allow capitalism and cronyism to run rampant. As America has shown wont to do.

The majority of folks left in Detroit are too poor of resources to move, and sentenced to the fate of the city. Small pockets of vibrant, metropolitan life populate an apocalyptic landscape of razed and overgrown lots, derelict ruins of yesteryear's industry, the sad, gaudy lights and colors of Payday Loan brokers like beacons in seas of broken and falling homes.

 The place is an explorers paradise though, visions of the history and lives that passed through the city, when crowned the nation as a shinier jewel, dance everywhere one goes in the motor city. Derelict and weathered buildings and lands narrate historic times higher on the hog that is the American economy.

Landmarks, icons, monuments to man's love of his creator. These churches sit silently now, deterioration hurried by water and scrappers and vandals.

 Architectural wonders.

 Engineering curiosities.

Internet precursors.

 All wasting assunder.

 Along with their facilities.

 And parsonages.

 And ephemera.



  Amazing and ornate details.

Instruments and stained glass creations await desecration.

Or redemption.

All standing in defiance of abandonment and weather, glorious ruins from substantive times and materials welcome the explorer.

We'll look deeper at Detroit and the histories of these and other abandoned spaces around the city. Until next time, stay off the radar!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Divine Forces

  The First Methodist Church of Gary, Indiana, or City Methodist Church as it was later known, was a testament to the faith, or at least the prosperity of Gary and it's populace. Half of the $1.3 million (1925 US dollars, mind you) was donated by the US Steel Works.
Photo © 2013 Tim Arends Used with Permission*. 

A photo by Tim Arends, of Preserve Indiana, shows the Sanctuary wing from outside in the early 80s.

Twas a Grand House of Worship Indeed. 

Opening in 1926, City Methodist was one of the first racially integrated churches of the time.

An innovative vision of Rev. Seaman,  "To Serve the Present Age," above the equality, he included an attached school,

And retail space at street level, below the educational wing that generated additional revenue for the church through the good times. Another historic photo from Preserve Indiana focuses us on this space, long ago;
Photo © 2013 Tim Arends Used with Permission**. 
The retail spaces originally included in the church's design, are included in it's ruins today.

Re-purposed throughout their life, the litter and ephemera within the retail spaces today obscure most clues to what enterprises operated here through the years.

Rubble pile within a storefront along Washington Street

An auditorium suited to host film and staged productions was included in the design.
Five lonely chairs survive the vandals and elements the church has endured

 Creating an evening and weekend community center, just blocks from the heart of downtown.

Though the house is quiet, a visit to the Seaman Auditorium sets ones imagination afire

  The church was a credit to the Rev Seaman, his networking and fund-raising made this church possible, but this was no small feat. Some corners had been cut to meet budget, others were misplaced by oversight or accident.

The columns lining the sanctuary are one of the engineering oversights. One pair, larger than intended, their size prohibited the quantity of seating inside the church.

Important amenities were made possible through the good Reverend's works. A rooftop garden was included in the design, accessible from either wing via this bridge.

Wandering through the school levels we found a gymnasium on the 4th floor.
Rusty Metal screens fall slowly away from panels devoid of glass in the old gym doors

Most of the gym exposed to the sky and weather, weeds take root and rafters lie across the court.

Or remain propped upon the load bearing external wall

Above the gym a sketchy looking walkway connects the educational wing with the locker room areas.

The home and visitor locker rooms are up a small and winding stairway. The stairs tucked into a secluded corner, and lead to the highest accessible areas of the remaining structure.

Snow and Winter clouds clung to Northern IN this day

From the upper most locker/restroom, little of the roof remains to hinder views of the belfry, reaching nine stories into the Gary skyline.

 If you can find and summon the courage to test the catwalk, you're reward; that skyline view.

And majestic views into the sanctuary as well.

Opaque glass was used in lieu of stained glass in some portions of the cathedral windows as a way to keep costs under control.

 The remains of a stairway central to the church, rectory, school, and auditorium lie hidden deep within the building's ruins. Little light reaches this corner, but with patience one finds the colors as magnificent as any leaded glass piece you might commission.
The frugally commissioned stained glass maintains it's inherent grandeur, where it is intact, through the ruination of this beautiful old building.

Like most churches, this one has many side passages and stairways to explore.

Following them often leads to dead ends whether by design or decay, but the views most always astounding.

Which is not to say this house of worship was not adequately ornate, there were many unique decorations designed and crafted into this church.

Grapes and other signs of artistry decorate the stone and masonry

On a quiet Sunday morning Jezebel kneels in the ruins of the sanctuary as your Garrulous Sherpa provides overwatch
The scars of the abandoned life are unlikely to heal here though
 A fire-side study for the parson perhaps? Interior walls have been removed by vandals while wooden doors have swollen tight into their frames.
After a few hours touring the upper levels of City Methodist in early December, the team returned to the ground floor to find the decorations had been hung with care in this room pictured as we exited below the view as we'd entered only hours earlier.
This visit in March, a few months is an eternity to a ruin exposed to the elements, atmospheric and human, and the subsequent disquiet that follow them, seems eternal at times

Vagrants, addicts, those otherwise homeless, and Urbexers posing for their Facebook friends help the remaining fixtures migrate around the ruins in this old church

Ephemera from original use co-mingles with eclectic odds-n-ends brought into these ruins in this old cabinet space

 For more history and pictures of the City Methodist Church through the years visit the following links, and see more of Jezebel Marie's photography at AmericanRuins on Facebook.





Links and citations below for the Preserve Indiana pictures used in this article. Visit Tim's page, and see how you can help to preserve sites such as this one for future generations to witness and study and appreciate.  As Utah Phillips said, 'Time is an enormous long river, and I am standing in it just as you are standing in it." We're all in this together, help out those whom you find worthy toward a better tomorrow!

Until next time, Stay off the Radar...

The Garrulous Sherpa marvels at the Neo-Gothic architectural details around the Sanctuary space

** Arends, Timothy. "City Methodist Church, Gary, Indiana - commercial office space." Photo. preserveindiana.com undated, 28 Jan 2013 <http://www.preserveindiana.com/pixpages/nw_ind/garypix.html>

* Arends, Timothy. "City Methodist Church, Gary, Indiana." Photo. preserveindiana.com undated, 28 Jan 2013 <http://www.preserveindiana.com/images/downtowngary/methchur.jpg>

Many Thanks Tim Arends for the permission to use the images and your reminiscences of Gary through your years.