Post-Tribune June 4, 2006

100 years remembered
Native son chronicles the history of his hometown

By Janis Moore
Post-Tribune correspondent

"Fifty years ago, at the time of Gary's Golden Jubilee, I was a boy of 9, caught up in the spirit of the celebration which marked the founding of the 20th century's fastest growing city. I recall the pride we all felt at the time. Fifty years! It seemed like an eternity to my young and impressionable mind. It made me feel that I was part of something momentous, to be living in this historic city with its mighty steel mills dominating the city and lakefront. I also recall trying to imagine what Gary would be like when it reached its 100th birthday; and calculating how old I would be when it achieved that milestone. That day has now arrived."

And so begins the book "Gary, Indiana: A Centennial Celebration," by native son Kendall F. Svengalis. Svengalis was born May 16, 1947, to Frank and Alvida, both of Lithuanian ancestry.

"My father instilled his love of books in me. Every couple of weeks (while growing up) my father and I would take the South Shore to Chicago, go to Marshall Field's and to the bookstores."

After receiving his masters of library science degree in 1975 from the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Svengalis became an assistant, then Rhode Island state law librarian in 1982. After his retirement in 2003, with Gary's approaching centennial, Svengalis began to write his book.

"Gary, Indiana: A Centennial Celebration" contains 450 pages, 90,000 words, and 600 pictures, and will be coffee-table sized.

"For anybody who grew up in Gary, this will be a precious keepsake," Svengalis said. "I've tried to represent Gary at its best, and to show the city in its glory. There will be a number of then- and-now comparisons."

Many of the photos are picture postcards that Svengalis purchased over the years on eBay. They were taken very early in the city's history, from 1906 to 1910.

Some of the postcards were very limited. In the late 19th century, Kodak came out with "the Folding Pocket Camera," which allowed the general public to take black-and-white photographs and have them printed directly onto paper with postcard backs.

"These are almost one of a kind, rather rare postcards," Svengalis said.

"There was nothing but sand dunes here except for Tolleston and Miller, when Gary was the largest company town ever built in the United States," he said.

Svengalis covers the gamut of Gary's beginnings -- through the glory days and beyond -- in his 20 chapters.

From his preface: "This book is the culmination of my lifelong interest in Gary's history, its institutions and people.

"While it attempts to approach the subject with an historian's eye, it also provides the perspective of one whose formative years were spent on its streets and among its people, businesses, theaters, schools, sports and concert venues, woods, and dune lands."

Svengalis has a chapter devoted to the "Pioneer Town," "The World's Largest Steel Mill and Other Industries," schools, public buildings, churches and hospitals, theaters, hotels and restaurants, transportation, the Golden Jubilee, and many of the neighborhoods.

"Gary was a great place to grow up," Svengalis said. "It deserves to come back."

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