Marquette Park rehab wins state restoration award

By: Carole Carlson, Post-Tribune

Indiana Landmarks awarded Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration to the city of Gary for the Marquette Park project. Marquette Park is a 241-acre municipal park on Lake Michigan in Miller created in the 1920s.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson accepted the Cook Cup at an event Saturday in Indianapolis.

Created in 1906 by U.S. Steel, Gary has suffered decline, along with population loss that has hammered the tax base. Constricted city budgets, combined with decades of bitter lakeside winters, left Marquette Park in rough shape in 2010.

The restoration, funded with a $28 million grant from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, improved crumbling steps and deteriorated structure and made the park’s historic buildings accessible.

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 once agin present a gateway for  park visitors.

The project spanned two administrations, with about 85 percent completed during the administration of the late Mayor Rudy Clay. Freeman-Wilson wrapped up the project in 2012. Both the pavilion and nearby bathhouse were designed by famous architect George W. Maher.

Now the Aquatorium, the Neoclassical bathhouse sat boarded for 20 years until the Chanute Aquatorium Society took a 99 year lease in 1991. The society restored much of the 1921 building as a museum honoring aviator pioneer Octave Chanute, who conducted flight tests from 75-foot dunes in 1890, and the Tuskegee Airmen, a World-War II-era African American squadron that included pilots from Gary.

The park’s pavilion, also designed by Maher & Son, was built as an 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 historical photos.

Improvements to the pavilion included an elevator, updated restrooms and new mechanical work.

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