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  • Writer's pictureChris Harris

The History and Legacy of Redlining in Greater Gary

1940 Home Owner's Loan Corporation Map of Gary

In this article we will time travel to 1940 Greater Gary, Indiana to understand the historical impacts redlining has affected 'The Region'.

1939 Aerial View of Downtown Gary - Courtesy of IUN Calumet Regional Archives

The Home Owner's Load Corporation HOLC was a federal agency established in 1933 to refinance home mortgages in the midst of the Great Depression drafting unequitable, socio-economical maps based on racist post-Jim Crow criterion across urban centers throughout the United States [a]. These HOLC maps were used to determine what neighborhoods the Federal Housing Administration and conventional lenders should consider stable neighborhoods to invest.

The HOLC map of Gary/Lake County was drafted in 1940. For context at this period, America was slowly recovering from the Great Depression and the world was on the brink of WWII.

1940 HOLC Map of Downtown & Midtown Gary, Indiana

The HOLC maps document how loan officers, appraisers and real estate professionals evaluated mortgage lending risk during the era immediately before the wave of suburbanization the swept the nation in the 1950’s. The neighborhoods were ranked alphabetically from A-D. With A categorized as the most desirable and D being the least desirable. Neighborhoods deemed as 'C' (in yellow) were deemed to face an uncertain desirability in the immediate future, areas marked as 'D' (in red) were defined as high risk or “Hazardous” thus these communities were redlined by local real estate agents and lending institutions in the effort to deny capital investment and homeownership to marginalized residents [b].

These new racial investment maps placed significant road blocks primarily for Black, Mexican American migrants and ethnic European immigrants in American cities from an improved quality of life and generational wealth [b].

In the context of The Region the historical presence of foreign born Mexican, Eastern European immigrants and Black migrants escaping the Jim Crown South during World War I deemed many Gary and surrounding North Lake County communities unfavorable virtually keeping many marginalized families from obtaining equity through homeownership and causing many institutions to refrain from private venture capital investment.

1927 Gary Rental Advertisement - The Gary Sun

Many landlords in Midwestern industrial cities capitalized from the lack of housing supply by overcrowding and sub dividing their properties to maximize fat profits in a high turn-over predatory rental market primarily in Gary's Central District / Midtown neighborhoods. This predatory practice along with the of redlining and exploitations are meticulously described in Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law [c].

My Family's Gary Experience

My own immediate relatives upon their migration in Gary in 1918 experienced address change from year to year bouncing between dozens of rented single and multifamily homes between Broadway (East), Harrison Street (West) 18th Avenue (North) and 27th Avenue (South).

Shacktown 19th & Mass. - 1910s Calumet Regional Archives

According to the 1940 US Census, my Great Grandfather Herman Turner's Occupation was listed as Roofer in US Steel's Tin Mill having only earned 24 weeks of paid general labor from his enumeration date of April 12, 1940 to the year prior. Grandpa Herman's earned wages for the year was $1100 or ($92.00/month). Herman's rent at 2180 Adams Street in Midtown Gary was $11 per month.

Ola Mae & Herman Turner

To make up the gap in income during the winter months Herman's wife, my Great Grandmother Ola Mae worked as a laundress at Slick's Laundry on 5th & Massachusetts Street in Downtown Gary according to her Social Security Account Number Application signed May 22, 1941. The income of both Herman and Ola support themselves and their two young daughters Gloria Elaine and Mary Lou. It wasn't until 1954 my Great Grandparents, children of sharecroppers, grandchildren of the enslaved were lucky enough to save enough to purchase their first home in Gary's planned African American subdivision Marshalltown on Gary's far East Side.


According to the Home Owner's Loan Corporation's summary of the Greater Gary area, the city and surrounding municipalities were graded a miserly 16% desirable city to invest in 1940. 43% of the Gary area neighborhoods were projected to be at risk of decline by 1950 and 42% of The Greater Gary area were considered too hazardous to invest [d].

1940 HOLC Map of Lake County, Indiana

Gary's 1940 HOLC map debunks the popular racially charged narrative [e] that Gary was 'Mayberry' prior to the election of the city's first African American Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher in 1968 [e]. The negative affects of redlining in 1940 set the stage for negative economic outcomes for many in Gary and The Region some two decades later that would unfairly weigh down our legacy cities (Gary, Hammond and East Chicago) after a period of national societal change and demand for civil equality by the late 1960s.

Gary/North Lake County, Indiana - 1940 HOLC Map Neighborhood Break Down

A: Best - 8%

B: Still Desirable - 8%

C: Definitely Declining - 43%

D: Hazardous - 42%

Gary (city) Population (1940 US Census Enumeration) 111,719

Gary (city) Population (2019 US Census Estimate) 74,879

It should be clear that Gary and many Northern Lake County communities were economically disadvantaged by these federal investment practices. Take a spin through how the federal government's HOLC maps characterize various several notable Gary/North Lake County communities. Each neighborhood described in the HOLC map was assigned an outlook of neighborhood stability a projected ten to fifteen years out through 1960-1965.

Caution: Descriptions of communities established by the Federal Agency - Home Owner's Loan Corporation HOLC are offensive.

Gary Neighborhood & Population Estimate Map circa 1950 - Courtesy of IUN Calumet Regional Archives

Gary - Midtown/Central District

1940 HOLC Description "An old mixed area formerly alien. Foreigners now being crowded out by negroes--all classes of undesirable, etc. Wholesale groceries, packing companies, etc. Detrimental Influences, structure age and obsolescence. Mixed type of structures: singles, double, apartments-- stores with flats above, etc.". Occupancy: 100%. Negro: 80%, Polish 20%, Homeownership Rate: 20%, Class: Laboring Class. Average Age of Homes: 20 Years (1920)

Annual Family Income: $1,200/yr 1940 ($22,158/yr 2020), Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 Years : Declining

Typ. Midtown Gary Block (2019), 1800 Block of Massachusetts - Courtesy Google Street View

Typ. Midtown West Gary Block (2019), 1600 Block of Monroe - Courtesy Google Street View

Gary - Downtown East/Emerson

1940 HOLC Description "Original Gary Land Company (U.S. Steel Corporation) tract. The Land Company still owns 545 homes in the two areas. Lenders are reluctant to go into this area. 40% Polish. Detrimental Influences. Railroad and industrial smoke and soot. Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years, Declining."

Typ. Downtown Gary Emerson Block (2019), 500 Block of Maryland - Courtesy Google Street View

Gary - Miller Beach

1940 HOLC Description

"Resort on the sand dunes. Very rough topography. Summer cottages mixed with permanent homes. A few structures up to $15,000 in value. Mortgage money is available only to the best names. Working people, tradesmen, etc. Negro % None. Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years. May Improve."

Typ. Miller Beach Block (2019), 8400 Block of Oak Ave - Courtesy Google Street View

Gary - Downtown West/Horace Mann

1940 HOLC Description

"No forced selling during the depression years. Houses now selling at just about reproduction cost less depreciation. few if any offered for sale. Professionals and bigger business men. Restricted. Best transportation and schools. Single family homes except in Fifth Avenue which is restricted to apartment units, running up to 8-12 and 20-30 families. Negro % None. Detrimental Influences, factory smoke. Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years, Will Improve."

Typ. Horace Mann Gary Block (2019) - Courtesy Google Street View


1940 HOLC Description

"This is an area older than Gary proper. On Ellsworth and Marshall from 13th to 15th Streets are two to three-family flats. Active selling area for past two years due to new school. Widely mixed area as to values-- a $2,000 house next to a $5,000 house. In 1929 new apartments on Fifth Avenue in Area A-4 took away tenants leaving the neighborhood a poor reputation for rentals, Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years, Will Hold Up".

Typ. Tolleston Gary Block (2019), 1400 Block Ellsworth - Courtesy Google Street View

Black Oak

1940 HOLC Description

"New area of common labor. Owner built houses-- No planning. No facilities. Just big boxes. Relief families many, 50% foreign born. Negro % None. Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years, Shacks."

Typ. Black Oak Gary Block (2019), 2900 Block of Gerry - Courtesy Google Street View

Other Lake County Communities


North Hammond

1940 HOLC Description

"Surrounded by industry and railroads. About half of the homes are heated by stoves.

Foreign-born families, 50% Middle Europeans. Detrimental Influences, age and obsolescence. cheap construction, industrial fumes and smoke. Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years, Downward."

Typ. North Hammond Block (2019), - Courtesy Google Street View

Downtown/Central Hammond

1940 HOLC Description

"50% Alien and 50% negro common labor. Detrimental Influences, Factory smoke.

Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years. Will hold up."

Typ. Central Hammond (2019), - Courtesy Google Street View

Indi-Illi Park

1940 HOLC Description

"Good schools and transportation. Executives and professionals. Home Ownership 95%. Best Area in Hammond. Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years. Upward"

Typ. Indi-Illi Hammond Block (2019) - Courtesy Google Street View

East Chicago aka The Twin Cities

Indiana Harbor (East)

1940 HOLC Description

"Sales prices refer to single family homes; rentals to dwelling units of all sorts. Good neighborhood twenty years ago; over-run by Mexican and negroes. Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years. Downward."

Typ. Indiana Harbor Block (2019), - Courtesy Google Street View

Typ. Recently Reinvested Indiana Harbor Block (2019), - Courtesy Google Street View

East Chicago (West)

1940 HOLC Description

"South 141st St.: 2-story bricks, one-family units, predominate with a rating that would justify a "B" but for the definite trend of less desirables from the north. Mill workers slowly moving south. 50% Middle Europeans predominating. South of 140th St. and east of Main St. there is a development of Inland Steel Company duplexes, average value $7M to 8M, frame structures. Detrimental Influences Fumes and smoke-- factory dirt. Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years. Downward."

Typ. East Chicago West Block (2019), - Courtesy Google Street View

New Chicago

1940 HOLC Description

"Unrestricted area of cheap homes for alien labor-- A town of probably 400 people. 100%;Polish.

Detrimental Influences, lacks school and transportation facilities. Difficult to get water even at 200 feet. Trend of desirability over the next 10-15 years. Static."

Typ. Central New Chicago Block (2019), - Courtesy Google Street View


Like many metropolitan areas across the United States, the Home Owner's Loan Corporation's practices prevented and discouraged investment in poorer communities cementing conditions of extreme poverty and food deserts consequentially as only wealthier whites were allowed by the FHA to leave North Lake County neighborhoods for greener and cleaner pastures perpetuated by fear and 'Block Busting' [g] before the Fair Housing Act legislation was passed in 1968 [h].

Combined Net Population Loss of Legacy Cities Gary, Hammond & East Chicago

A constant demographic shift south of the Little Calumet River along Calumet, Kennedy, Cline and Broadway Avenues locked lower wage and fixed income earners primarily of Black and Brown descent in significantly undervalued neighborhoods in what we now define as frontline communities.

Photo of the Marktown Community of Indiana Harbor (2010), courtesy of Chicago Sojourn

Frontline communities host toxic facilities, like coal fired power plants and incinerators, emit mercury, arsenic, lead, and other contaminants into the water, food, and lungs of communities. Many of these same facilities also emit carbon dioxide and methane – the #1 and #2 drivers of climate change [j].

6 out of 7 EPA Toxic Superfund Sites are surrounded by Black & Brown Lake County communities.
1940 Lake County, Indiana HOLC Map
Annotations are marked by myself for local context.
The repercussions of redlining in the Gary Area is visible in 2010 Census Data [k]


To provide context to the diminished wealth experienced by redlining I'll personally share my own family's experience with inequity. After my great grandparents Herman and Ola Mae purchased their first home in Marshalltown they purchased a second home for my grandmother to live and raise own her children in the early 1960's one block away. Twenty years later my great grandparents used the equity in their home to purchase an additional home next door to them for passive income in their retirement and as intermittent crash pad to support their grandchildren. This third home ultimately became my childhood home as it was deeded from my great grandmother Ola Mae to my father in the late 1980s prior to my father meeting and marrying my mother. As jobs and businesses continued to dwindle in the city and gang activity increased in the neighborhood most of my uncles, aunts and my first cousins left Gary for Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis in the early 1990s to seek a higher quality of life. From my perspective as a child life was normal, my friends and I used the block abandoned home's carport as a make believe fast food drive through. We handed out rocks as burgers and sticks as fries through the decorative CMU to our friends as they impatiently waited for their orders outside of the decaying carport. Occasionally, when the wind blew due South a light haze of smog from the mill would engulf the neighborhood. We knew when this occurred it was time to take a break from outside recreation and go home for a snack until the smell of rotten eggs cleared area.

By the late 2000s the amount of abandoned homes seemed to engulf our Marshalltown neighborhood by this time all of my childhood friends have moved from the city outright. After graduating from college in 2012 the neighborhood continued its spiraled decline. By 2014 our home insurance provider opted to not insure our home as it was deemed high risk, surrounded by abandoned structures on all sides. My car insurance skyrocketed and it was no longer was practical to occupy my childhood home. My fully operational move-in ready 800 square foot childhood home was purchased sight unseen for $17,500.00 (homes of equal size and construction at that time sold between $110,000 and $150,000 in surrounding Highland and Griffith). The property was sold to an wholesale investor from Arizona that expeditiously flipped the property now occupied by a white woman that sits on the front porch and watches me intently as drive by my childhood home out of nostalgia.

What did my family do wrong? My great grandparent's checked every box possible to earn what they could to leave their posterity wealth but somehow by the late 2010s the wealth we managed to liquidate was just a drop in the bucket to settle the balance of the small home improvement loan balance on the home and less than a few thousand to split with my mother.

Want to make a difference?

Contact your local Indiana house or state representative, let them know how you feel. Demand additional brownfield redevelopment tools, property and environmental safeguards are obtained for our Legacy Cities - Gary, Hammond & East Chicago.

Subscribe to Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's newsletter, let the NIRPC board know what you want for your community and the Greater Gary area as a whole.


[a] National Community Reinvestment Coalition, PhD Bruce Mitchell et al, March 20, 2018 -

[b] HOLC & The Federal Housing Administration, Glasker Rutgers University -

[c] The Color of Law - A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein, 2017.

[d] Mapping Inequality - Redlining in New Deal America, Robert K. Nelson et al,

[e] Looking Back With Richard Hatcher, Wayne A. Young, November 2005

[f] Richard Hatcher, First Black Mayor of Gary Dies at 86, npr, Michael Puente, Alex Keefe. December 16, 2019.

[g] Blockbusting, Black Past. Brent Gaspaire, January 7, 2013

[i] NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice, 2021 -

[j] Racial Dot Mapper,

*Historical photos courtesy of Indiana University Northwest - Calumet Regional Archives.

** Street View photos courtesy of Google Maps Street View.

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