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12-16-2007 - NWI

Northwest Indiana








City hopes to create a 'ruins garden' from crumbling structure of once-grand Methodist Church

BY ROB EARNSHAW | Times Correspondent | Sunday, December 16, 2007

Walking through the ruins of City Methodist Church in Gary evokes the feeling of strolling through a bombed-out Europe following World War II.

It's been 30 years since the church held its last service, but the historic structure still draws curious photographers like Jennifer Feeney.

"I feel like we don't have places like this left," Feeney said.

"In Europe, they're proud of their history and they maintain their old structures; they live in the confines of them -- unlike us. We tear them down."

Feeney, an Indiana University graduate with a degree in art history, discovered the church in May while searching for urban photography subjects in downtown Gary.

"People need to see this," she said.

"It's beauty in decay. It tells a story."

The wooded area on the southwest side of the church resembles a scene from a Grimm fairy tale.

The barren auditorium still holds several seats facing a stage, waiting for a show that will never start. Trees grow on the ceiling-less third floor. An old organ is toppled over near the altar under the bell tower.

Feeney said her husband's aunt told him she had a friend who took organ lessons at the church when she was a little girl.

"His aunt said it was the most beautiful church she'd ever seen," Feeney said.

Before he died last year, Hobart photographer Seth Thomas said City Church was one of his favorite places to visit and explore. Thomas would give tours of the church to visiting photographers, some who traveled from other countries to see the ruins.

"It was the usual 'meet-up' spot where he would take fellow explorers," said Nicole Rork, a close friend of Thomas's.

The day after Thomas died, Rork left some flowers at the church in his memory. A week later friends and family gathered at the church to celebrate and discuss his life.

"Regarding Seth's memorial at the church, his friends still do frequently visit and add to it," Rork said.

The city plans to demolish the majority of the church, leaving the bell tower and sanctuary standing. The structure then will be turned into a "ruins garden"-style public park.

Feeney said a ruins garden may symbolize a hope of "rebirth."

"Hopefully it won't turn out to be just another story of something historic going down the tubes," she said.