So Long, State Line

Today we salute the State Line Generating Plant, in Hammond, Indiana, whose ongoing demolition removes a major landmark from the Lake Michigan shoreline. No more shall its stately Art Deco façade greet drivers along Interstate 90 as they pass through Hammond en route to Chicago or from Chicago to points east.

The plant was one of more than 250 Historical Mechanical Engineering Landmarks nationwide, a historical designation by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Built in 1929 by magnate and industrialist Samuel Insull, whose Midwestern railroad and industrial empire eventually collapsed as a product of problematic leverage during the Depression, the plant boasted 208 megawatts of generating capacity, greatly expanding the size of the Chicago grid. Commonwealth Edison expanded the station in 1938, nearly tripling its capacity, but the old school technology could not keep up with the Clean Air Act (Those Liberals And Their Clean Air!) and increasing demands to reduce pollution from heavy industry and power generation in the latter half of the 20th century, and in 2012, the turbines from newer units 3 and 4 completed their final rotations and were taken out of service.

Rick Drew Photography– from the interior of the decommissioned plant, many of whose bits were scrapped by the time of this photo. A steel and reinforced concrete shell isn’t going anywhere fast, but money buys heavy machinery, and heavy machinery knock things down.

The “rehabilitation is too expensive” argument played a prominent role here. Never mind that the demolition, which was estimated at tens of millions of dollars, has invariably spewed many of these materials into the air, ranging from lead paint to metal dust to gypsum and crystalline silicas. (I mean, yuck, and yuck to the idea of spending $25 million to demolish a building with that façade, tho.) Two calls to BTU Solutions, which specializes in demolition and decommissioning of power generation sites, were not returned.

Also from Rick Drew. Dig that façade.

Rick Drew did a stellar series of photos from the dilapidated, though largely intact, interior of the State Line plant, which I’d encourage everyone to check out. Next up? Reclaiming the lakefront for recreation, or maybe petcoke. Just another reminder that we can figure out how to adaptively reuse these sites without getting rid of them in their entirety. [NZ]

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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