18 April 2013

Hammond's downtown isles

Hohman Avenue, Hammond, looking south
I wouldn't have been able to tell you anything about downtown Hammond prior to 2009.  That area of northwest Indiana was simply a place to drive 70 mph through on the interstate toward western destinations.  Then at the end of 2008 I began to make trips off-interstate into what was once one of the wealthiest locations outside of Indianapolis in the Hoosier state.

Unfortunately the grandeur once associated with downtown Hammond has been largely scarred by tear-downs due to abandonment, urban "renewal", and major transportation corridor projects.  In fact the downtown hardly exists as a whole anymore, but is rather two enclaves as if a sea of asphalt flooded the downtown and only a few blocks on higher ground were saved.  One of those downtown enclaves is located along State Street, which was listed on the National Register several years ago.  The buildings that remain along State Street have largely become a part of the Hyles-Anderson First Baptist Church campus.  The fundamentalist mega-church and its college located in Crown Point have recently endured a great deal of less-than-fun-damning scandal that has left its own pall on Hammond's downtown.
Hohman Avenue, Hammond, looking north toward St. Joseph's Catholic Church
The other, certainly more marketable and vibrant downtown enclave is situated along a three block area of Hohman Avenue.  The buildings that remain demonstrate the city's impressive gilded past as a banking and insurance center in the Midwest.  The Great Depression spun the city around on its heels, though it managed to stage a comeback into the 1950s.  But urban renewal and transportation corridor development in many ways doomed the city's core to a deserted island with little coming and going....mostly going.
Hammond's Masonic Temple, demolished in 2009
I sense that the downtown is due for another comeback.  In order for that to happen the city has to capitalize on its financial foundations and easy access to Chicago.  In this on-line world, the large office buildings offer immense expandable space for new tech development companies as the recent Innovation Center on Hohman can attest.  Retailers follow white collars, as is evident from the metro-style cafe' that opened in 2009 across the street.  But the tear-downs have to stop....hopefully the Masonic Temple, one of the largest in Indiana, will be the last lost to the sea of asphalt.  It was demolished before the ink was dry on Hohman's National Register certificate.

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