Gary Roosevelt High School
730 West 25th Street, Gary
African American education was not a high priority for most American cities in the early twentieth century. Even in non-segregated schools, Black students were largely excluded from enriching opportunities, including college prep classes and extracurricular activities. In Gary, superintendent William Wirt’s solution was construction of a school intended to offer “separate but equal” instruction.
Built in 1930, Theodore Roosevelt High School—more commonly known as Gary Roosevelt—was one of only three high schools in Indiana constructed exclusively for African Americans. At its peak, the impressive Colonial Revival structure housed more than 3,000 students, making it one of the largest African American high schools in the Midwest.
The school became a point of pride for the city’s African American community, and leaders resolved to make Gary Roosevelt a school that would offer educational opportunities equal to any white school. The school recruited the best African American teachers and administrators and brought in speakers from all over the world to share ideas and perspectives. Educators expected students to be civically active and engaged, a mindset that remains evident in the school’s strong alumni group.
In more recent years, shrinking enrollment, financial hardship, and chronic academic failure sent the school into deepening decline. In 2011, the Indiana State Board of Education took control of Roosevelt away from Gary’s school corporation and entered into an agreement with for-profit EdisonLearning to turn around the school’s performance. The building remained the responsibility of the school corporation. In February 2019, a failing heat system and frigid temperatures caused multiple pipes to burst, sending water cascading into classrooms and offices and forcing the school to move students off-site. Already facing issues from deferred maintenance, the building now adds mold and other environmental issues to its list of woes.
Facing an estimated at $8.6 to $10 million for repairs and cleanup, the Gary Community School Corporation permanently shuttered the Roosevelt building. District officials say they hope to seek nonprofit, community, or public-private partnerships to preserve the National Register-listed building, but the challenges are more than daunting.
Gary Roosevelt High School is one of the state’s greatest landmarks of African American history. Losing it would be an immeasurable loss.
Saving threatened buildings takes teamwork. You can be a part of that team. Reach out to local leaders. Let them know these buildings are important to you. And support state and local preservation groups.