Sunday, March 4, 2012

Meet Muncie Indiana

Screen grab from The London Free Press video showing scenes from Muncie, Ind.
Every since it became clear Electro-Motive Diesel in London was closing and the operation moving to Muncie, Indiana, I've been interested in knowing more about this small, American city. The London Free Press visited Muncie and shot a short video of the town --- Between the Lines: EMD shut down. Many folk in Muncie who have viewed the piece say it does not mirror the town accurately. The newspaper's video, they say, shows only the poorest parts of town. (I think they are being a little unfair but I won't argue with them.)

Lobby of Roberts Hotel, Muncie, Indiana.
Today I saw some tweets out of Muncie that rekindled my curiosity about the town. It seems the elegant, eight-story, heritage hotel in downtown Muncie, the Roberts Hotel, may evade its date with the wrecking ball.

A Cincinnati developer hopes to turn the old hotel into senior housing. The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority has approved $1.3 million in rental housing tax credits per year for 10 years toward the cost of the $16 million project.

Roberts Hotel, Muncie, Indiana. Still standing.
It's good news for a hotel that was once the crown-jewel of Muncie. It hosted five presidents and numerous celebrities in its day. In 1982 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It has been touch and go for the hotel, empty since 2006 but it appears Muncie may save its downtown gem.

Londoners should applaud Muncie's good luck. Old time London folk still talk fondly of Hotel London and its beautiful, oh-so-ornate ballroom. But the Ontario city lost its gem when it was demolished to make way for the future --- a couple of tall, modern towers, the tallest buildings in town at the time.

Hotel London, London, Ontario demolished decades ago.
Gosh, the two old hotels look similar. The big difference seems to be that Muncie is still working to save its old heritage hotel while London said good-bye to its gem some decades ago.

Seeing that the little Indiana burg is working to save its heritage hotel, I wondered what the folks in Muncie have done with their old downtown movie theatre.

London has managed to save the Grand Theatre but lost a real gem in the Capitol Theatre which was allowed to slowly deteriorate to be finally razed for a parking lot. Some of the exterior facade was retained but the auditorium is gone.

Well Muncie has managed to save its Civic Theater. You have to give Muncie credit. For a little place suffering all the economic hardships common to Rust Belt cities, Muncie is still in there fighting to save some of what once made Muncie Muncie.

The Civic Theater in Muncie, Indiana.
Some how the image I was getting of Muncie was not in sync with the little video posted by the local paper. I decided to cruise some Muncie streets using Google StreetViews.

First, I visited the downtown. Yes, lots of it looks sad. But, a sad looking downtown is not news. Gosh, from my travels, I expect a downtown to look sad. Muncie did have some bright little spots. Muncie is clearly struggling but it is still struggling. Many downtowns have given up the battle and are just plain dead.

Heritage buildings in downtown Muncie from Google StreetViews.
Now I turned my attention to Muncie's residential neighbourhoods. They looked pretty bad in the video. After cruising a few neighbourhoods using Google StreetViews I can report that a lot of what I saw reminded me of Northern Ontario.

Cities in Ontario's north that were fine places to live in the '70s, today look sad, rundown, forgotten. Paper mills have closed, logging operations halted, mines closed. With residents stripped of income, towns and cities can look pretty sad pretty quick. But I did see homes that said that Muncie was not always like it is today and held promise that it may yet have a future. Homes like the one below tell me that not everyone has given up on their city.

Muncie could again be a good place to live. If only there were more jobs.
One odd thing: The local London paper failed to show us the heritage neighbourhoods which still survive and thrive in Muncie. There is the Emily Kimbrough Historic District, established in 1976 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 ( the district was expanded in size in 1989) and the Kirby Historic District which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Muncie has its high points as well as its low.
Will the move of EMD to Muncie help bring the good times back? I don't know. But the wages being offered by Progress Rail don't seem to be up to the task of enabling workers to maintain good homes and pay the taxes necessary to provide first-rate municipal services. I noticed that a lot of the streets looked like they needed some expensive maintenance. To be honest, a lot of the town looks threadbare, sorta like vast tracts of London. (Sorry London but it would not be hard to shoot a video making the Forest City look Rust Belt sad.)


  1. I read your post and I found this is amazing. Your thought process is wonderful. The way you express yourself is awesome.

  2. Hey thanks, this is a thoughtful post. The house in your image above is in my neighborhood. I was born here and just moved back after 30 years away. We love this neighborhood with its grand old houses. Every city is somebody's hometown, and we ought to have respect for that. I appreciate it.