How are the Mighty Falling: Abandoned Palace Theatre, Gary, Indiana

(Image: Christopher Robleski, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission)

Contrary to what is displayed on the dilapidated canopy outside, Gary’s abandoned Palace Theatre never hosted the Jackson Five, but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular.  In this series of photographs by Christopher Robleski, we take a look inside what was once the grandest entertainment venue in Gary, Indiana - the pride of a town built on steel, and a symbol of an entire community’s decline.

(Image: Christopher Robleski, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission)

Designed in the Atmospheric style, the Palace Theatre opened in 1925 with seating for almost 3,000 people.  Hosting a range of acts from vaudeville and live stage shows to film and cinema, it operated for more than four decades as the steel industry boomed.  But increasing overseas competition in steel during the 1960s brought a period of decline that led to the Palace Theatre’s closure in 1972.

(Images: Samuel A. Love, cc-nc-nd-3.0; Rick Harris, cc-sa-3.0; Christopher Robleski, all rights reserved)

United States Steel Corporation, which founded Gary in 1906, remains a major producer but employs a fraction of its former workforce.  Resulting high unemployment, rising crime and population decline have stymied numerous efforts to renovate the Palace.  Now not only a sorry shadow of its former self, the abandoned theatre has become a symbol of urban decay in the wider region, and is a frequent subject of urban exploration.

(Image: Christopher Robleski, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission)

The interior reveals historic artifacts such as the vintage box office and grand piano.  Some seats remain in place while the majority lie smashed among the rubble of what was once, presumably, the ornate walls and ceiling.  Meanwhile, the balcony remains dilapidated but intact while the decorative framework of the back wall, revealing the lobby beyond, is little more than a ghostly skeleton.

(Image: Christopher Robleski, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission)

One of the most spooky features of the Palace Theatre is an original frescoe, revealing a pleasant Italian streetscene amid the destruction and dereliction that is the theatre.  Whether this is a set backdrop from the last play performed there remains unclear, but it makes for a strange scene in an already eerie abandoned building.

(Images: Kevin Miller, cc-3.0; Christopher Robleski, all rights reserved)

Despite obvious dereliction, the Palace Theatre’s facade remains intact.  This is largely due to the Miss USA pageant of 2002, which saw Donald Trump erect a marquee advertising “Jackson Five Tonite”, in a nod to the band’s hometown, and paint sheets of plywood covering the windows to depict a false interior.  The Palace Theatre became an official shrine following the death of Michael Jackson, although the Jackson Five never actually performed there.

(Image: Christopher Robleski, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission)

In the History Channel’s Life After People, the Palace was depicted as an example of what could happen to an abandoned Chicago building after 30 years without critical human intervention.  The pictures say it all, as this cold, dark theatre that was once so magnificent looks set to crumble to the ground.  Surely it’s now only a matter of time.  (Meanwhile, you can also find out what would happen to New York City if humans were to suddenly disappear from the planet.)

Next: The Forgotten Treasures of Glenroyal Cinema

Related Articles:
Spectacular Abandoned Theatres and Cinemas of the Northeastern United States
Photographing Decay: The Strange Appeal and Educational Qualities of Abandoned Places
Rust Belt Road Trip: 75 Urban Decay Pics

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  • Al whosurdaddy Harris

    Haha Detroit’s better!

  • Ed G

    It was not the backdrop from a play. It was the asbestos curtain to block fire. The stairway to the balcony had the same sort of mural all the way up. It had big green urns on the steps and camels and palm trees up in the mural. I use to go there when I was a kid back in the late fiftys early sixtys

 
 
 
 
 

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