photo courtesy of the Northwest Indiana Redevelopment Authority
The Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium
I love being surprised by places. Somewhere you’ve been – or been through – countless times but never stopped to really look around, or somewhere you lived near for years but never knew of its charms.
photo courtesy of Miller Beach Arts & Creative District
Gary’s Miller Beach is one of those places for me. On a recent visit I was traveling down Miller’s main drag, Lake Street, with my Placemaking hat on, busily noting this effort here and that possibility there, when suddenly the road ended and it was just me, a beautiful dunes-y beach, and a clear view across the tip of Lake Michigan to Chicago.
There is at least one group that is not at all surprised by what Miller Beach has to offer: the Miller Beach Arts and Creative District, an eclectic group of passionate residents who see the arts as a catalyst for community regeneration, sustainability and an enriched quality of life.
An excited crowd cuts the ribbon of the newly renovated Marquette Park Pavilion in Gary, Ind.
Photo courtesy City of Gary
A milestone for this community—and the CIty of Gary and Northwest Indiana as a whole—was accomplished May 3 when Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson (among many others!) cut the ribbon on the Marquette Park Pavilion. Out of commission for the past year-and-a-half, the pavilion received a multi-million dollar facelift and has reopened for business as a premier site for weddings, proms and special events. The meticulous restoration was part of the Marquette Park Lakefront East initiative, made possible in 2009 when the City of Gary was awarded a grant for $28,190,000 from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority for planning, design, engineering, and select capital and operational improvements in the 241-acre park along Gary's Lake Michigan shoreline.
Another major milestone will be reached this Friday, May 11, 2012, when the restoration of the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium is unveiled. The Gary Aquatorium opened in 1921 with an arsenal of 5,000 bathing suits for rent. It did a booming business for Northwest Indiana beach-goers until the 1960s, when the area began to decline. The building was shuttered in 1971 and remained closed until 1991, when the Chanute Aquatorium Society formed to rescue the Aquatorium from demolition. More than 20 years later and without having used a single tax dollar, the Society will unveil a renovated beachfront building that honors Octave Chanute, the grandfather of flight (whose original experiments in aviation took place just west of the aquatorium back in 1896), and the Tuskegee Airmen who led the way for the integration of the armed forces in World War II.
The re-creation of the Pavilion and Aquatorium highlight one of Gary's key assets – its lakefront – and helps to re-establish it as a destination.
Miller Beach's first 2012 Farmers Market on May 5 brings energy to Lake Street
photo courtesy of Miller Beach Farmers Market
While change at this scale is exciting, that level of transformation typically requires years of planning and fundraising, multiple sources of financing, and umpteen government approvals. In other words, it takes a while.
So while I applaud the Society for its tenacity over the past 20 years and the RDA and City of Gary for bringing new life to the Pavilion, I am just as excited about all of the lighter, quicker, cheaper means of transformation that the Miller Beach Arts and Creative District has embraced. This year, they are relocating their Farmer’s Market to Lake Street, right in the heart of their district, thereby ensuring that all of the energy from the market spills over into the area they are working to activate. At a recent meeting of the group, ideas were flying fast and furious for ways to expand that energy. My favorite: shutting down Lake Street to car traffic and encouraging a "market to beach" bike ride.
In addition, the District is organizing five Pop Up Art events on Lake Street, in which empty storefronts (available at
no cost to artists) will be transformed with local artwork. Four such events last summer showcased more than 75 artists and attracted more than 1,200 people to the Arts & Creative District.
I recently wrote about the importance of transforming the spaces we inhabit on a daily basis, particularly if they have become vacant, ignored or otherwise overlooked. The Miller Beach Arts and Creative District has begun this key process of experimentation and, bit by bit, is creating a place that feels energized and cared for. The restoration and re-opening of the Marquette Park Pavilion and Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium are important steps in this process. We’re on the edge of our seats, Miller Beach, and can’t wait to see what you do next.