If These Walls Could Talk: City Hall, Lake County Courthouse, and Gary’s Colorful Political History
Both Gary’s City Hall and the nearby Lake County Courthouse building, whose Grecian-Doric designs can seem identical to those driving on the Indiana Toll Road, were part of Gary’s Gateway Development Project, which began in 1924. These two buildings would be framed with a 10-acre, beautifully landscaped esplanade (a level, open space of ground). Both buildings are 43 feet high and 180 feet long, and both feature 28-foot high round domes on octagonal bases.
Gary’s City Hall building, on the east side of Broadway, was designed by Chicago architect Phillip Maher, and completed in 1928. The City Hall uses more purely Greek design features and has plain columns. On the other side of Broadway, across the street from the City Hall, is the Lake County Courthouse building, which was completed in 1929. The Courthouse has a similar design to the City Hall, but it features fluted columns and more eclectic ornamentation.
One of the first occupants of the City Hall Building was white Mayor Roswell Johnson. He was the only mayor of Gary to serve two or more non-successive terms (he served three: 1914-18, 1922-25, and 1930-35). He was a Republican, and his third term was the next to last time that a member of the GOP held Gary’s highest office. A very good orator, Mayor Johnson was reputed to be as comfortable making conversation at an African American church revival, a Polish wedding, or a native-born Episcopalian tea. Johnson, who campaigned openly for the “wet” (anti-Prohibition) vote during the 1921 election cycle, went to prison during his second term in 1925 due to his running out of appeals after being convicted of “conspiring to violate the Volstead (Prohibition) Act.” He was the first of two Gary mayors (the second was George Chacharis) who went directly from the mayor’s office to the “Big House,” both due to political corruption. Johnson’s final term in office was marred by the Great Depression. He and his political allies proved inadequate by using piecemeal measures, and which caused a very significant part of his political base (meaning many European immigrants and most African Americans) to transfer their loyalty from the Republican party to the Democratic party.