When Exactly Did We Become Preservationists? Tyrell Anderson and the Decay Devils

By Special Contributor posted 12-17-2019 15:06

By Tyrell Anderson and the Decay Devils

Editor's Note: Tyrell Anderson is the 2019 recipient of the American Express Aspire Award.  Know of a worthwhile preservationist or project? The 2020 National Preservation Awards are now open through February 3, 2020. 

A few years ago, we were just a group of friends united around our love for art and adventure. We spent much of our free time exploring abandoned buildings, snapping photographs, and compiling some pretty entertaining stories. We were oblivious back then. We had no clue that we would soon have a name for ourselves: Decay Devils. We did not know that we were about to become a nonprofit organization. Nor did we foresee ourselves as leaders in Gary, Indiana’s preservation movement.

Fast forward from our initial Urbex (urban exploration) days to April 2018. We were invited as the Decay Devils to speak at a preservation conference in Columbus, Indiana. We were scheduled to talk about the preservation efforts we spearheaded back home in Gary. While waiting our turn to speak, an underlying question arose: “When exactly did we become preservationists?” We still identified more as artists and adventurers than anything else. It all seemed to happen so fast; one day we were playing in abandoned buildings, and the next thing we knew, we were advocating for them.

Since the conference in Columbus, we have gone to great lengths to further establish ourselves as an organization. Preserving history is now at the forefront of our adventures, community outreach initiatives, and rehabilitation projects. We traveled across the United States and the world to explore abandoned sites and learn about others’ preservation efforts. As a result, we found our theory to be true: Earth’s greatest treasures are in danger of being reclaimed by nature. We aim to protect and restore these monuments with our landmark preservation efforts, starting in Gary, Indiana.

Our journey as Decay Devils has been amazing to watch – it’s hard to believe how much we accomplished over the past three years. Our initial Union Station beautification project led to publication in the New York Times, numerous awards including the 2019 American Express Aspire Award, college lectures, speaking engagements, and the installation of more than 40 murals and other art installations throughout downtown Gary. We also created the Art is Life Fellowship, acquired Union Station, and embarked on a mission to revitalize and rebrand our city.

An overhead view of Gary, Indiana's Union Station, a project of the Decay Devils. | Credit Tyrell Anderson 

The Art is Life Fellowship

In early 2019, we came together as a team to think of unique ways to invest in our community. Being forward thinkers with a heart for the yesteryear, we decided to focus on our city’s future and past — all at the same time. How? Through preservation efforts on historic landmarks and our local youth.

We made a list of places across Gary that needed attention and brainstormed ways to get the youth interested in beautification and preservation. Thus, the Art is Life Fellowship was born: a youth summer program centered around art, building capital, and preservation. 

In the Art is Life Fellowship, students were given direction and the opportunity to help lead the program. They learned about concentrated art installations, landscape planning, and project budgets. All art installations and landscape projects completed by the Fellowship were strategically implemented at locations significant to the Decay Devils’ area of focus.

Members of the Art is Life Fellowship in front of Union Station. | Credit: Tyrell Anderson 

Decay Devils and Union Station: A Love Affair

The Decay Devils’ focus has always been on Gary’s Union Station.

In April 2017, we rallied the community for our initial Union Station Cleanup. We focused  on the long-abandoned grounds and prepared the site for murals, a park space, and landscaping. In August 2017, we completed the beautification project and celebrated with a community-wide Union Station Rebirth event. In June 2018, the Decay Devils acquired the property and celebrated with the House Party at Union Station in October. After mountains of paperwork, Union Station became a registered National Landmark in July 2019. But we aren’t done yet.

Rendering of the proposed plan for Union Station in Gary, Indiana | Credit: Roberta Arellano

Our long-term vision is to stabilize and convert the site into a multi-use property (with a café). This space would serve as a place for the community and commuters (up to 30,000 daily) to gather, relax, and refresh. With this vision in mind, we plan to initiate our Capital Campaign in 2020. We intend to raise the funding needed to support the building’s restoration, breathe fresh air into downtown Gary, and get a head start on rebranding our city’s image.

Investing in Our Community

The Decay Devils are in a pivotal position that requires us to take a stand and re-brand the image of our city. We are stepping up to the challenge in full confidence, as we know that the budget we need to meet our goal is attainable. We believe that when nonprofit organizations such as the Decay Devils, local government, and various foundations are united, major changes can be made. We cannot achieve our goals alone. Preserving history takes linked hands, charitable donations, and a shared vision.

Tyrell Anderson is an avid green urbanism volunteer in his community, photographer, husband, and father. He is also the president and founder of Decay Devils Inc., a three-year-old nonprofit organization. Find out how you can help with our landmark preservation efforts.