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North Gleason Park Pavilion | Photo © 2020 David Bulit

North Gleason Park Pavilion

Location Class:
Built: 1941 | Abandoned: 1990s
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places African American Heritage Site
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

North Gleason Park

North Gleason Park in Gary was first developed in 1920. Originally named Riverside Park, it was renamed after the U.S. Steel Superintendent and park board president William P. Gleason in 1933. It was just half a 315-acre public park on the Little Calumet River. The park was segregated into north and south sections divided by the river.

South Gleason Park served the white residents of Gary and mainly consisted of an 18-hole golf course and a clubhouse designed by architect 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 Warehouse.

North Gleason Park served only black residents and featured athletic fields, tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool, picnic pavilions, and an extremely popular 9-hole golf course that winded through the swamplands. The funding for the two sides of the park was never equal, with the south side enjoying more and better quality amenities, such as an 18-hole golf course, as opposed to the north side’s 9-hole golf course and its location along the river’s flood plain being less than ideal.

North Gleason Park Pavilion
A photo of the Little Calumet River from North Gleason Park in Gary.

Golfers at the park founded the “Par-Makers,” which hosted regional tournaments, contributed to a scholarship fund, and supported causes in the black community. In 1951, the Par-Makers invited professional boxer Joe Louis to their golf tournament, using his fame as leverage to convince the Gary Park Board to allow play at South Gleason Golf Course.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that city parks were integrated. Local female golfer Ann Gregory paid her fee and proceeded to play a full 18 holes at South Gleason despite protests from the groundskeeper. Their collective perseverance allowed the integration of the 18-hole golf course and most city parks.

The North Gleason Park Pavilion

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration employed residents to help with construction and landscaping projects, providing daycare services and activities such as baseball, croquet, and checkers. The North Gleason Park Pavilion, constructed in 1941, was designed by the Gary-based architecture firm Beine, Hall, and Curran. The pavilion provided a large dance hall, assembly room, lunchroom, lounge, outdoor terrace, and locker rooms for golfers and swimmers.

By the 1980s, the Pavilion housed the Gary Police Athletic League and a training center for boxers. Under the tutelage of a retired police officer and legendary boxing coach, John M. Taylor “Coach J.T.,” countless fighters trained here, including Light Welterweight World Champion “Merciless” Mary McGee and four-time world championship contender Angel “El Diablo” Manfredy, as well as other professional boxers such as Orphius Waite, Jimmy Perez Jr., and Derrick Findley.

North Gleason Park Pavilion | Photo © 2020 David Bulit
Built in 1941, North Gleason Park Pavilion was designed by the Gary-based architecture firm Beine, Hall, and Curran.

The building is currently in rough shape, with mold, buckets catching water from the leaking roof, and fixtures stolen by scrappers. The walls, once a shrine to boxing greats such as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Angel Manfredy, have been vandalized, with posters and newspaper clippings ripped from them.

In the past few years, local preservationists have attempted to preserve the building in a grassroots effort that involved cleaning up the property, boarding it up, and having it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The boxing ring was removed during these cleanups.

David Bulit

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9 days ago

[…] such as Gleason Park and Lincoln Park, by building roads, golf courses, and buildings like the North Gleason Park Pavilion, which contained locker rooms, a dance hall, a lunchroom, and a […]

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