"Gary Public Schools Memorial Auditorium" Top 5 Page for this destination Gary Travelogue by sambarnett

Gary Travel Guide: 67 reviews and 123 photos

   A 1997 fire destroyed much of the 600 and 700 block of Broadway. Most people said something like, "Good. Those buildings were all abandon and gutted anyway... probably nothing more than crack dens."

   Ninety percent of the Gary Public Schools Memorial Auditorium was destroyed. So what, right? Just another empty, decaying structure.

   But what things this building has seen.

Frank Sinatra and the Froebel walkout

   September 18, 1945 white students at the integrated Froebel School, the only integrated school in Gary, participated in a boycott of classes, demanding the black students (numbered at 1,070 to Froebel’s 1,129 whites) be transferred to other institutions in the city. Led by 17-year-old Leonard Levenda, who, according to James Lane’s City of the Century, “had a flair for the dramatic and a history of poor grades and disciplinary problems.” The walkout also called for the ouster of Principal Richard A. Nuzum, a reformer who sought to alter the school’s oppression of black students. It is believed that the walkout was organized by students upset over the performance of the football team’s black players following a 19 to 0 loss to city rival Horace Mann.

   The boycotters returned to class on October 1 after a commission of three educators was formed to investigate the criticisms against Nuzem. After three weeks they found him to be a perfectly “effective administrator” and the boycott resumed. Anxious to end the controversy, a group called the Anselm Forum invited heavyweight champion Joe Louis and music legend Frank Sinatra (then only 30 years old) to come to Gary in an effort to encourage the boycotters to return to school. Louis was unable to break previous commitments, but Sinatra cancelled a $10,000 engagement to appear in Gary on November 1.

   More than 5800 enthusiastic fans packed Memorial Auditorium and Sinatra used the occasion to rail against racial intolerance, singing the moving “The House I Live In,” calling the walkout “the most shameful incident in the history of American education” and suggesting that adults who egged on such behavior “be run out of town.” Sadly, according to reports, the message was missed on most. The Froebel strike ended eleven days later, just in time for the start of the basketball season.

   just a personal note: I've never been a big Sinatra fan, but what a brave thing to do in an era when Civil Rights was not a popular thing to stand up for.

Pictured: Notice the "X" pattern in the brickwork. Stonemasonry by John Largura, an immigrant whose desendents run Superior Construction Co. in Gary.

Frank Sinatra, after the gig

overheard during a lighter moment in a history class.

   Leaving the gig with his chauffer, Sinatra (or the driver, or both) decides they have to use the bathroom. With star-power in their favor, they stop at the house of a local. Sometime after entering, introducing and taking care of business the driver (who might or might not have been Jewish) catches a glimpse of a bedroom. A bedroom of a lad just returned from fighting in Germany and who obviously didn’t pay heed to that warning against bringing home “treasures.” Nazi paraphernalia is all over the place. The driver freaks out and runs downstairs to Ol’ Blue Eyes.

   “Frank, we gotta get outta here. Nazis…”
   “Huh,” questiones a bewildered Sinatra.
   “Nazis, Frank, Nazis!” says the driver, with an increasing intensity and fear.

   Is it true? Who cares!

Area columnist Jim Gordon, 2-28-02

   Before the Genesis Center and before the Star Plaza, Memorial Auditorium was the top venue in Northwest Indiana. This is where Gary kids watched and played their basketball and where we graduated from high school. I suspect all the perspiration shed in this building, constructed before air conditioning, is the main reason the building fell to ruin."

Michael Jackson

   In 1967, the Jackson Five (led by a nine year old Michael), had been gigging around the area for three years. That year they won top prize in an amateur talent show held here at Memorial Auditorium. Two years later they signed to Motown Records and moved to L.A.

Harry Truman, Unions and the Industrial City

   During the 1948 Presidential campaign, then-President and Democrat candidate Harry Truman gave a speech at the Memorial Auditorium on October 25.

   Truman spoke at 12:03 in the afternoon, and opened with a story illustrating the city's Democratic tendancies in the ballot box:

    "I heard a story not long ago about an elderly man who was driving into Gary, and he gave a lift to a young fellow who was going his way. During their talk, the older man asked the young fellow, 'What takes you to Gary?'

   The young man kind of hesitated, put his head down, and finally said: 'I am working for the Republican State Committee. They are sending me to Gary to see what I can do to get the people there to vote the Republican ticket.'

   The old man was silent for a while, and then he said: 'Son, I've listened to a lot of sad stories for the last 50 years, but that's the saddest one I've heard yet.'"

   The President then touted the country's progress and growth over the past sixteen years of Democratic leadership; attacking the Republican Party as a bunch of "special privilege boys" and critcising their attitude towards labor unions.

   Truman dealt directly with the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) in 1952. Attempting to prevent a strike at the end of 1951, Truman said mill production was vital to the Korean War effort, thus keeping them running. On April 2, the Supreme Court ruled the action unconstitutional, leading to a 55 day walkout by steelworkers at US Steel. According to historian James Lane, "Senate urged the President to use the Taft-Hartly Act... but Truman refused on the grounds that its provisions were unfair to labor." That July Truman called USWA President Philip Murray and a steel spokesperson to the White House, resulting in a settlement.

Click here for a full transcription of his speech:

Pictured: Top level of Memorial Auditorium. Grass and weeds are growing amongst the debris.

   Mayor Scott King has called for the facade of Memorial Auditorium to be preserved for a Veterans Memorial. Although badly scarred and barely recognizable now, I'm glad a piece of this building will remain standing.

  • Page Updated May 9, 2016
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