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H. Gordon and Sons Department Store | Photo © 2020 David Bulit

H. Gordon and Sons Department Store

City/Town:
Location Class:
Built: 1923 | Abandoned: 1995
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places (1994)
Status: AbandonedEndangered
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Protective Order of Elks Lodge Building

The former H. Gordon and Sons Department Store is an abandoned four-story brick building in downtown Gary, Indiana. The building was initially constructed for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks to serve as a lodge. In 1923, architecture firm George W. Maher & Son was commissioned to design a new temple of the Order as they had outgrown their original location on West 6th Avenue and Washington Street. The building was designed in the Prarie School style, with the first floor containing commercial storefronts and the upper floors containing lodge rooms, offices, bars, and banquet halls.

H. Gordon and Sons Department Store
Postcard featuring the Palace Theater and Elks’ Club. c. 1920s

George W. Maher, Architect

George Washington Maher was born on Christmas Day, December 25, 1864, to Theophile Daniel and Sarah C. Landis Maher. He was a prominent and influential architect whose works are considered to be just as great as his contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright. Maher was born in Mill Creek, West Virginia, and soon relocated with his parents to New Albany, Indiana, and later to Chicago in the 1870s. At 13 years old, he found work as an apprentice for the Chicago architectural firm of Augustus Bauer and Henry Hill. In 1887, he joined the office of architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee as a draftsman, where he worked with Frank Lloyd Wright and George Grant Elmslie.

Maher’s early work reflected the influence of Joseph Lyman SilsbeeHenry Hobson Richardson, and Louis Henri Sullivan. He is known for his residential work, which includes numerous houses designed for clients ranging from middle-class businessmen to wealthy society figures. One of his most important designs is the John Farson House in Oak Park, Illinois.

In his later years, he moved on to designing commercial and institutional buildings, including six buildings in the city of Gary, including the Gary Bathing Beach Bath House (1921) and the Marquette Park Pavilion (1923). His last work was the Gary Heat, Light, and Water Company Warehouse (1926). Maher took his own life on September 12, 1926, after several years of declining health and depression.

H. Gordon & Sons Department Store
George W. Maher

Harry Gordon, Businessman

Harry Yaakov Gordon was born in Lithuania on December 13, 1864, to Meyer Gordon and Fanny Jacobson. In his teens, he emigrated to America and settled in Chicago, Illinois. He met Pauline Katz there, and the two married on December 27, 1887. According to Archibald McKinlay, longtime columnist of The Times newspaper, the couple moved to Whiting, Indiana, where Gordon got a good-paying job at a newly opened Standard Oil refinery. He stayed only long enough to accumulate enough cash to open his own business.

In 1897, Gordon applied for a saloon license and opened a bar in the small community of Oklahoma in Indianapolis, where brothels were more common than grocery stores. The venture turned out to be extremely profitable as Standard Oil purchased most, if not all, properties in Oklahoma.

Pauline, Gordon’s wife, had disdain for the saloon trade, calling it a dirty business, and finally convinced him to get into the dry goods business. He opened the Reliable Clothing Store in Whiting and advertised that “We’re going from sweet goods to dry goods.”

Harry Gordon, founder of H. Gordon and Sons in Gary, Indiana
Harry Gordon, founder of H. Gordon and Sons. c. 1937. The Times
H. Gordon and Sons

After Elbert Henry Gary and the U.S. Steel Corporation established the town of Gary in 1906, Gordon opened in nearby Tolleston and became the first store in Gary when Tolleston was annexed. Gordon’s three sons, Louis, Ben, and Robert Gordon, joined their father in opening the downtown Gary store. By 1925, H. Gordon and Sons was the largest retail store in the city. The original store in Whiting was also the city’s business, with the mayor declaring Harry Gordon Day on its 37th anniversary.

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks moved out of the building in 1934, which was then remodeled for H. Gordon and Sons. On July 14, 1939, H. Gordon and Sons announced that it would close its store in nearby Whiting, selling it to J. J. Newberry’s for $54,000. This was part of a plan to consolidate the store’s operations with its downtown Gary location. As part of the consolidation, a $75,000 renovation was planned for its Gary location, including adding a fourth floor and new departments throughout the store. The building was again renovated in 1962 when the Massachusetts Street annex opened.

H. Gordon & Sons Department Store
Looking North on Broadway, the H. Gordon and Sons department store can be seen in the top right, 1959.
A Dying City

Robert Gordon, president of H. Gordon and Sons, along with representatives of Goldblatt’s and Sears & Roebuck, testified before a grand jury on the declining state of the city’s downtown area and the rise in criminal activity. While the other representatives shared their grievances, such as how people don’t go outside at night anymore, Robert said that crime was the lowest ever, ignoring the fact that a 15-year-old was stabbed to death next door at the Palace Theater just a few months prior.

This was also a time when racial tensions were at an all-time high, as Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, which set off a string of riots across the nation. According to The Munster Times, the violence in Gary began when two African American youths were arrested, one for the suspected rape of a white woman and the other for disorderly conduct. As news of the arrests spread, it culminated in all-out riots on July 28, 1968, resulting in gunfire, looting, and burnings over the course of two nights.

Hundreds of National Guard troops and State Police occupied the city, and Mayor Richard Hatcher implemented a dawn-to-dusk curfew and banned sales of liquor, gasoline, and firearms to curb the violence. Over 170 people were arrested, multiple people were shot, and several businesses were firebombed.

The Times reported that Mayor Hatcher was feuding with the city council in his efforts to hire building inspectors, which would qualify the city for federally funded housing projects. Hatcher contended that “slum conditions in the city and inequalities in education and employment” led to the riots.

By 1972, Gary was dying. Many downtown windows were boarded up with metal curtains protecting storefronts. The 10-story Gary Hotel closed the previous year because of money problems. The city could no longer afford to maintain the Memorial Auditorium and shuttered it in 1972. That same year, the Palace Theater closed because of financial issues caused by a lack of patrons who were too afraid to venture out at night.

H. Gordon and Sons Department Store
1945 Sanborn Insurance Map for Gary, Indiana. Library of Congress
Closure of H. Gordon and Sons and its Abandonment

In September 1971, the Lake County Welfare Department signed a lease agreement to relocate from the county courthouse to the H. Gordon and Sons department store building and completed the move in early January 1972. H. Gordon and Sons planned to continue operating at the location until January 1, 1973. Still, in September 1972, it was announced that it was closing due to the declining downtown area, lack of sales, and rising crime.

In January 1973, the food stamp offices moved into the main floor and basement of the H. Gordon and Sons building, with the Lake County Welfare Department occupying the second, third, and fourth floors. In the early 1990s, the welfare department renamed the Division of Family and Children, began looking for larger offices due to a lack of computer space.

The adjoining Sears, Roebuck & Company building, abandoned in 1974, was chosen. In early 1993, work began on a $6 million renovation of the new site, with construction estimated to be completed by July 1993. The project was delayed by over a year due to supplier and financial issues and was completed in late 1995. Shortly after, the Division of Family and Children move out of the former H. Gordon and Sons Department Store building into its new location

The former H. Gordon and Sons building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 as a contributing structure of the Gary City Center Historic District. Since its vacancy, the building’s interior wooden framework has been beyond repair, as large portions of the floors have collapsed due to water damage throughout the entire building.

David Bulit

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12 days ago

[…] George Washington Maher. His other works in Gary include the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium, the Gary Elks Temple, and the Gary Heat, Light, and Water Company […]

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