CROWN POINT | The Lake County Tuberculosis Sanatorium nurses home has been left vacant and neglected for about half of its 85-year existence, but Gloria Tuohy and, so far, a small group of arts enthusiasts are trying to change that.
"It's gaining interest every day," Tuohy, founder and artistic director of the Indiana Ballet Theatre, said. "We've got it fully rented provided we can reopen on time. People are reaching out to us rather than me going to them, which is quite a turn of events. I think people are believing it's going to happen now, but we still need help from the community."
The building at the north entrance to the city at 2323 N. Main St. opened in 1930 as part of a complex of buildings that included the sanatorium with its administrative offices and four separate patient ward pavilions, a service building and a laundry. The four ward pavilions are gone and the other buildings have been significantly altered.
The three-story nurses home was given to Tuohy by the Lake County commissioners 10 years ago after she asked to try to convert it into a Classical Arts Centre. The original timetable for completing the job expired, but the commissioners extended it to July of 2016. Tuohy said the building has to be restored enough to receive an occupancy permit by that time, but it doesn't mean the whole project will be completed.
"If we had a really nice donor or two to share the vision with me, it would be wonderful to open with the whole thing complete," she said after meeting with contractors and trades people last week to try to enlist them in her cause.
The brick, Georgian Revival style architecture of the nearly 20,000-square-foot is on almost 2.5 acres. It merited designation as a single site historical district by the city, and it was also named to the National Registry of Historic Buildings.
The last 10 years were spent raising money to halt the deterioration of the building and stabilize it so the interior work can be done. A new roof was installed, all 127 windows were replaced and it is being tuckpointed. Architect James D. Smith described it as the last building of its kind on the planet to survive more or less in tact.
"It took a long time to get the little things done," Tuohy said, defining the "little things" as getting the right board members and "people who believe this is something that could take place." She said many people told her it would be best to just tear it down and build new, but she refused to give in.
"I grew up with all the culture and history," she said, her British accent evident despite 36 years in Northwest Indiana, "and it's been the sort of thing my family has always treasured. To me, it is something special to preserve history. Everywhere you go you hear about revitalizing the community, and, if we do this here, people will come and enjoy spending an afternoon there as well as taking part in programs on the inside."
Smith said the original cost to build the home was about $70,000. Restoring it and bringing it up to code with the utilities will be about a $3 million challenge that Tuohy hopes the contractors and trades people will reduce through in-kind contributions similar to those already provided for the roof and tuckpointing. The exterior, park-like setting with gardens, playground, trails, sculptures and other features will be another $1 million.
Tuohy's ballet theatre group will occupy the top floor, which she said will free up two floors of her home now filled with costumes and props. South Shore Arts agreed to take some space and plans call for a black box theater, arts library, recording studio and class space for music, painting and other arts activities. A tea garden and bistro also are planned.
"This combines art, history, economic revitalization, education, culture and a meeting place all in one location," Tuohy said. "Now that I know it is the last building of its kind in the world, I feel kind of special. Each time I talk about it, it gets a little more realistic, and I think this time it will get done."
Her Indiana Ballet Theatre will perform "The Firebird" April 16 at Star Plaza with the proceeds going to the renovation project.