Murals, ornamental shrubs, flowers, public art, and mowed pathways will soon be added to the landscape where a historic Gary stocking factory once stood.
About 35 residents who live near the former Bear Brand Hosiery Co., 205 E. 21st Ave., offered input last week on the final design of the 3-acre plot where the hulking factory churned out ladies hosiery, and during World War II retooled itself to make parachutes for the war effort.
The city, which now owns the property, demolished the rotting brick factory in 2011. Until this year, it’s been another overgrown, weed-filled, vacant lot.
Fresh Coast Capital LLC, of Chicago, is using grants from the Legacy Foundation and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to turn the toxic brownfield acreage into a welcoming and restful parklike site where residents can walk and reflect on the city’s past.
Along with partner Delta Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit, volunteers have planted poplar and cottonwood trees, which slowly and naturally cleanse contaminants in the soil.
At main entrances, the project will feature murals of Gary residents who worked at the stocking factory and of Gary activists and other historical figures. Signs along the pathways will explain contributions from factory workers and the legacy of activists.
April Mendez, vice president of programs for Fresh Coast, said the group will hold one final planning meeting with artists who are fashioning the murals. She said the work should be completed in May and June. Residents could start enjoying the project by July or August, she said. Fresh Coast has done about 20 similar projects across the country.
Mendez said while the site has been abated, tested and received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it shouldn’t be an active park with a playground for children.
The factory closed its doors in 1965 and stood victim to decay and disrepair until it was demolished in 2011. The EPA has labeled it a Superfund site because of its contamination from the chemicals used in making the hosiery.
“There are still residual toxins from the factory,” making it unwise to grow food or play in the dirt, she said.
“Basically, we’re just creating some green space, a place to just go walk and get exercise,” said the Rev. Dwight Gardner of Trinity Baptist Church, which is a few blocks from the former factory. “Drive down 21st Avenue and it’s an eyesore. We have the opportunity to clean it up.”
Councilwoman Carolyn Rogers, D-4th, said neighbors around the site should be made aware of the project. She has supported the project since its inception.
“I want something more,” she said. “The weeds make it unpleasant. I do have concerns about the cleanup. There were chemical placed there for the stockings.”
Ben Robinson, whose first job was at the factory in 1964, received applause from other workshop attendees.
He described the factory as a bustling place that provided employment for dozens of workers. He said the job helped him land a position with a local steel mill, where he worked for 36 years.