Union Station Revival
A nonprofit organization focused on urban exploration, art, and preservation led the effort to beautify an abandoned rail station in Gary, Indiana, with the plan of converting the 4,000 square foot space into a cultural hub and economic driver for the city.
As a city that has lost more than half its population in the last 50 years, Gary, Indiana, faces significant challenges with vacancy and abandonment, including that of its historic Union Station. The Beaux-Arts building was built in 1910, but sat forgotten and left to the elements for nearly half a century. In 2016, a diverse group of friends interested in preservation, urban exploration, and photography saw not only beauty in the site, but the historical significance and potential for catalytic economic development.
The urban explorers formalized their efforts under the name Decay Devils and received nonprofit designation in 2015. In 2016, they received a Transforming Lake County grant from the Legacy Foundation for the cleanup and beautification of the site. The grounds of Union Station were overgrown and needed significant cleanup. The members of Decay Devils were ready to serve as project organizers, but realized quickly they would need help from the broader community.
In 2017 the group began a year-long series of beautification and placemaking events they called “Union Station Revival.” Events took place every two to three months, and this incremental approach helped keep the project manageable while also sustaining momentum and interest from community members. The first event, “Union Station Clean Up”, focused on cleaning up and beautifying the grounds. At the second event, “Union Station Renaissance,” organizers invited the community to watch artists paint 11 mural installations on and around the station. The third event, “Union Station Reincarnated,” focused on the installation of trees, lighting, and a water irrigation system. The final event of the year, “Union Station Rebirth,” was an appreciation celebration for the project’s volunteers, stakeholders, and donors. Through this incremental approach, Decay Devils were able to leverage the original $22,000 grant from the Legacy Foundation to raise an additional $80,000 from sponsors and other supporters.
In 2018, Decay Devils became the official owners of Union Station after the City of Gary donated the property to the nonprofit. In 2019, after a two-year application process, Decay Devils were successful in getting Union Station onto the National Register of Historic Places, which opens up new opportunities for funding and tax credits. The group continues to pursue a permanent reuse of the multi-purpose venue and plans to include space for an art gallery, community retail vendor space, and food and drink retail spaces. Decay Devils launched a capital campaign in 2021 to raise the $5 million needed to restore the site into their vision.
Property Type: Other
Project Type/ New Use: Art – Large Scale (e.g. Sculpture; mural)
Project Purpose: Community engagement; Historic preservation
Duration: Once / Single Day
Initial Cost: $10,000-$50,000
Funding Source: Philanthropy; Private donors
Organization Type: Nonprofit - Arts and Culture
Implementation Partners: Philanthropy; Artist(s)
Community Type: Urban