Shields gymnasium joins Indiana Landmarks Most Endangered list


Indiana Landmarks announced Monday the 10 Most Endangered, an annual list of Hoosier landmarks in jeopardy.

The James M. Shields Memorial Gymnasium at 404-418 W. Fifth St. in Seymour is one of six new sites on the list, while the other four remain from the 2020 list.

“The Shields gym is a significant community landmark that offers an opportunity for a recreational amenity for Seymour that could dovetail and enhance ongoing revitalization of Seymour’s downtown and surrounding historic north and west side neighborhoods,” said Greg Sekula, southern regional director for Indiana Landmarks.

Indiana Landmarks recently was awarded a grant to have a building assessment of the structure undertaken to help determine rehabilitation costs, he said.

“A key consideration for the community is identifying an entity that would be willing to oversee a rehabilitation effort and operate a recreational venue there,” Sekula said. “I believe the owner is open to these discussions. Development opportunities for the adjacent greenspace where the school once stood may be a necessary part of the strategy to help subsidize rehabilitation of the gym.”

Seymour resident Stacy Brooks, who is an advocate of historical preservation in the community, wants to see the building restored to its former glory and be used as a gym once again.

“We’re really excited to be on Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered List because it opens up for more opportunities for restoring the gym,” she said.

There is no formal organization in place to push forward with restoring the gymnasium, Brooks said, but there will be a need for one soon as some people have already asked about donating to the project.

Brooks, whose parents and siblings attended Shields High School, also praised Sekula for his work on the project.

“He’s such a great resource,” she said.

Places that land on the 10 Most Endangered list often face a combination of problems rather than a single threat — abandonment, neglect, dilapidation, obsolete use, unreasonable above-market asking price or owners who simply lack money for repairs.

Indiana Landmarks uses its 10 Most Endangered list in several ways, said Marsh Davis, president of the nonprofit preservation organization.

“Sometimes, it serves an educational role. It functions as an advocacy tool. And it can assist in raising funds needed to save a place,” he said. “Every listing comes with significant challenges. In all cases, when an endangered place lands on our list, we commit to seeking solutions that lead to rescue and revitalization.”

When Works Progress Administration workers constructed Seymour’s James M. Shields Memorial Gymnasium in 1941, the building embodied growing enthusiasm for Hoosier basketball and the community’s championship dreams for its local team, the Seymour Owls. The plan worked. With seating for 3,500 fans, the gym hosted 21 sectional tournaments from 1942 to 1970.

The last game played in the gym was in 1970.

Less celebrated but still locally beloved, today the deteriorating concrete and steel building represents the plight of many shuttered high school gyms across the state.

Seymour’s school system used the Shields gym and adjoining 1910 high school until 1981 when the city built a newer middle school.

Indiana Bible College used the old school and gym for a few more years, but the buildings fell into disrepair after the college relocated to Indianapolis.

Local businessmen purchased the property in 1996 with hopes of attracting interest in its redevelopment. They patched the gymnasium’s leaky roof in an attempt to secure the building, but keeping out vandals remains an ongoing struggle. Broken windows and a graffiti-covered interior mar the gym today, and a fire in 2018 destroyed a portion of the bleachers.

The building occupies a city block in the National Register-listed Walnut Street Historic District, surrounded by open land that could make it a target for residential development.

In other areas of the state, historic high school gyms have found new use as community recreational centers, event centers and restaurants.

There is community support for saving the Shields gym, but the shot clock is counting down.

Other sites on this year’s list include one of state’s first high schools built exclusively for Black students; a train depot that embodies Indiana’s limestone legacy; an artfully designed jail and sheriff’s residence; a groundbreaking mid-century hospital; a pre-Civil War brewery building; a 19th century commercial block; and an African American lodge and social club.

The 10 Most Endangered in 2021 list:

  • B.G. Pollard Lodge 1242, Bloomington
  • Courthouse Annex, New Castle
  • Davis Clinic, Marion
  • Falley-O’Gara-Pyke House, Lafayette (repeat entry from 2020 list)
  • James M. Shields Memorial Gymnasium, Seymour
  • Kamm and Schellinger Brewery, Mishawaka
  • Monon Depot, Bedford (repeat entry from 2020 list)
  • Theodore Roosevelt High School, Gary (repeat entry from 2020 list)
  • Tipton County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence (repeat entry from 2020 list)
  • Oxford Community Mausoleum, Benton County

Demolition has claimed only 20 of the 152 Most Endangered sites since the list was introduced in 1991, while 97 places are completely restored or no longer endangered.

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