Marquette Park Restoration Wins State Award

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April 28, 2014 — The restoration of Gary’s Marquette Park was recently awarded the Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration by the non-profit group Indiana Landmarks. The following release from the organization describes the project.



As the famous nineteenth-century architect of Chicago’s lakefront Daniel Burnham directed, “Make big plans; aim high in life and work…”  Back in the 1990s, Congressman Pete Visclosky took Burnham’s advice, championing a comprehensive vision, called the Marquette Plan, to reclaim 21 miles of Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline—from the Illinois line to LaPorte County—for public enjoyment and recreation.

Following Burnham’s dictum and the Marquette Plan, the City of Gary restored historic Marquette Park—241 acres along Lake Michigan—with $28.2 million from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.Indiana Landmarks recognized the project with the 2014 Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration, awarded at our Rescue Party on April 26.

Created in 1906 by U.S. Steel, Gary has famously suffered the industry’s decline, along with population loss that has hammered the tax base. Combine constricted city budgets with decades of bitter lakeside winters and you can imagine the condition of Marquette Park in 2010: elegant pavilions deteriorated; concrete steps and sidewalks crumbling; natural areas choked with invasive species.

The bold restoration reached all of these areas and made the park’s historic buildings accessible to everyone.

In 1921, noted Chicago architect George W. Maher designed the Bathing Beach Pavilion, now called the Aquatorium. The Neoclassical building has an open-air second-floor gallery that offers spectacular views of the lake and Chicago’s skyline. After the structure sat boarded for 20 years, the Chanute Aquatorium Society took a 99-year lease in 1991. The society restored much of the building as a museum commemorating aviation pioneer Octave Chanute, who conducted flight tests from the 75-foot dunes in 1890, and the Tuskegee Airmen, a World-War II-era African American squadron that included pilots from Gary.

To make the structure even more attractive—and more financially sustainable—the transformation restored the exterior, renovated the Aquatorium’s north wing, and adapted the west courtyard to accommodate performances, receptions, and parties.

The Recreation Pavilion, also designed by Maher & Son, was built as entertainment center in 1924 with a ballroom and outdoor dance floor. Long-gone original windows, doors, and skylights were replicated, the original color scheme recaptured, and the chandeliers recreated based on historic photos.  With the addition of an elevator, updated restrooms and all new mechanicals, the pavilion is once again a popular site for weddings, proms, and community events.

The project also restored historic footbridges, sidewalks and stairs, and repaired ecosystems, including wetlands and an oak savanna.

Battered by weather and pollution, artist Henry Hering’s 1932 bronze statue of Father Jacques Marquette stood at the park entrance on a stained limestone base flanked by unstable walls. The restored Father Marquette and his environs present a welcoming gateway for park visitors.

“We aimed to restore Marquette Park as a culturally and ecologically significant place,” says Christopher Meyers, who spearheaded the project while he was Gary’s director of planning and development. “The late Mayor Rudy Clay, various city departments, the Lakefront East Advisory Board, the designers and contractors all worked collaboratively, with great respect for the heritage of the park, toward a common vision to preserve and enliven it,” he adds.

The project spanned two administrations, with about 85 percent completed during the late mayor’s administration. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, his successor, wrapped up the project in 2012, extending the life of Marquette Park as a public amenity for decades to come. “The restoration of Marquette Park is one of many powerful symbols that Gary can get things done in a high-quality way. We know our citizens enjoy the park and its refurbished landmarks, and we plan to capitalize on it to draw tourists from throughout the region to our beautiful lakefront,” says Mayor Freeman-Wilson.

Indiana Landmarks recommends a visit. Head for the open-air gallery on the Aquatorium’s upper story at sunset—what a view!

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