03 May 2011

Opulence in Hammond

I think sometimes we forget where Indiana's place in the nation was during the roaring 20's. Opulence abounded in many up-and-coming urban areas across the state. The Calumet region, particularly Hammond and Gary, had some of the finest buildings being constructed as a sister region to the Chicago metro area. The area was not only a sizable industrial and port area, but also a significant financial center as money flowed into it.

Hohman Avenue in Hammond is a good place to start in uncovering this past. South of downtown an area developed known as Harrison Park. Served by an electric rail line the area south of the center of town became a suburb for the city's burgeoning upper and upper middle classes. Maybe two of the finest buildings constructed during the boom time sit across the street from each other: the Southmoor Hotel and the Northern States Life Insurance Company Building.


The Southmoor represents the height of Hammond’s economic success of the early 20th century and the commercial building boom that ensued. It is considered one of Hammond’s finest early hotels. Prosperity demanded all types of housing; including workers’ homes, shop keeper and other middle income earners’ housing, as well as estate housing for the affluent. Also needed during this time were apartments for Hammond’s many single and newly married populations. The Southmoor itself became a popular place for teachers to live. The Southmoor catered not only to this population, but also upscale lodging needed by visitors to Hammond for business or pleasure.


The Southmoor was positioned well on one of the city’s main thoroughfares with access to the Green Line, taking commuters not only to the downtown districts, but also with connections to other northwest Indiana cities and Chicago. The apartment building provided a more suburban setting than the downtown and had immediate access to Harrison Park. The building provided a few retail necessities, such as a beauty shop, restaurants, and dry cleaners, located in the building’s commercial space to support its residential population. Developer Leo Deutsch contracted with Gary architect L. Harry Warriner to design the five-story building in 1927. Warriner provided initial drawings late in 1927 which were revised and used for construction in March, 1928.

The company originally known as Employee’s Life and Casualty Insurance began in 1910 in a small room in the rear of Hammond Trust & Savings Bank and was born into a well-suited economic climate that would ensure its success. The originators expected it to have great appeal to the “industrial army of this region”. The company was renamed Northern States Life Insurance Company in 1913, the same year it “took its first step in reinsurance, reinsuring $1,700,000 of business of another company.” From that year forward the growth was “steady and without any high pressure…..until 1919 when the year closed with ten millions of business in force.”



In 1925 a Minneapolis based company with the same name was persuaded to consolidate with the Indiana institution, liquidating the Minneapolis firm and making the Indiana firm of Northern States a giant insurance institution of the upper Midwest, opening up licensure in the states of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, along with its current coverage of Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. This gave the Hammond-based company “a field of great diversity of industrial, commercial and agricultural interests.” The company had then, with the consolidation, thirty-two million dollars of insurance and total assets of about three and one-half million. The Northern States' "temple" was constructed in 1926 and rivals any building of its era in architectural excellence. The company, though boasting its economic diversity would weather any storm, was forced to close in 1930 due to the Great Depression.


Both buildings continue to be used today and are in excellent condition. They recently were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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