Repurposed: Gary’s Bathing Beach Aquatorium & Museum
By Mary Giorgio
Constructed by famed Chicago architect George Washington Maher in 1921, the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium (then known as the Gary Bathhouse) in Marquette Park quickly became a local landmark.
The old building served as the point of entry to locals planning to head down to Miller Beach for a swim in Lake Michigan.
The bathhouse was built as a changing facility, restroom, and public shower for beach visitors. People could enter the bathhouse, shower and change into their swimsuits, then exit onto the beach.
The imposing bathhouse artfully combined Neoclassical and Prairie architectural styles. Maher used T-blocks to construct the structure, an early type of concrete block. The building is the earliest known use of the pre-cast modular design.
In the 1920s, Gary, Ind., was a thriving middle-class community fed by the steel industry. A young city, Gary hosted numerous destinations for residents of nearby communities. Chief among those was Marquette Park, a popular summertime spot.
Unlike the industrial shoreline nearby, Marquette Park was a haven full of natural elements like rolling dunes, trees, birds and other wildlife. It was a peaceful respite in an otherwise heavily-urbanized area. In addition to the bathhouse, the park also featured a pavilion designed by Maher.
The land for the park was originally donated to the city by the US Steel Corporation in 1918. The 120 acres, located next to the steel company’s expansive facilities, was intended to be a recreational area for workers and their families. Originally named Lake Front Park, the land was renamed Marquette Park in 1932 after the famed French missionary and explorer.
By the early 1960s, Gary’s economy began to falter and the park was soon left unattended. The Gary Bathhouse closed to the public in 1971 due to safety concerns.
In 1991, the building was condemned and scheduled for demolition. It was saved from its fate by the Chanute Aquatorium Society. Under their supervision, the bathhouse has been restored to its original glory and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
No longer a bathhouse, the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium now serves as an event rental facility. It also houses a museum dedicated to Octave Chanute, who conducted early flight tests on the Gary Dunes, predating those of the Wright Brothers.
In the summer of 1896, Chanute ran multiple tests of his glider designs along the shores of Lake Michigan. His designs would later serve as a starting point for the Wright Brothers’ airplane design. The museum also honors the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American men who pioneered the field of aeronautics and led efforts to integrate the United States military.
For anyone planning to visit the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium is a must-see stop. Open 24-hours a day, the facility is a fun destination for a quick tour or as a unique location for your next event.