Sep 30, 2011

A Failure by Dieruff High

This week I decided to go back to school, at least to hang outside of Dieruff. Upon re-evaluation, I must give my previous report on the WPA steps at Irving Park a failing grade. Besides myself, also failing would be Mayor Pawlowski, Park Director Weitzel and City Council President Michael D'Amore. Any lessons given about the WPA Steps at Irving Park better be given in the next couple years; after that they will be gone. We are soon approaching the point where the City will declare the cost of repair is cost prohibitive; Unless that is their current plan! As reported in the previous post's comments, one set of steps has already been removed by the City. All the remaining steps are in a state of disrepair. Shown above are the steps on Washington Street, between Jerome and Irving Streets. WPA Support Group member Mark Thomas prepared comprehensive documentation on the remaining masonry structures at Irving Park.
UPDATE: Mark Thomas raises the question as to whether these steps are indeed WPA. They appear to be the same vintage and colorization of the pool bathhouse, dated 1941. In any regard, the steps are clearly historic, and this group will campaign for their preservation.
please click on photo

Sep 29, 2011

King of the Gypsies

According to my mother, a Gypsy king was buried in Allentown in around 1960, she knew about such things. She was born in Galgo, Hungary, an area of Transylvania, now part of Romania, near present day Gilgau. In Galgo, the Jews and Gypsies lived on the edge of town. In the early 20's, my grandparents, along with their Gypsy neighbors, came to Bethlehem to work at the Steel. On weekends, to make extra money, my grandparents would open their house and show Hungarian movies. None of their relatives, Jew or Gypsy, save one cousin, survived the nazi's; even the cemeteries were desecrated. As you can see from the document above, my grandfather earned his citizenship the hard way.

reprinted from Sept. 7, 2009

Sep 28, 2011

Israel's Self Defense

Vincent Stravino portrayed himself as an honest broker for peace in his September 24th Your View column. He visited the Holocaust Museum in Israel, and "understands the fear" Jews have for their survival. What Stravino doesn't understand is that the Israelis are not afraid of Nazi ghosts from 70 years ago, they are afraid of the real Arab hatred for them in 2011. He writes about various Israelis who are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, but he doesn't write a word about Palestinians sensitive to Israeli concerns, they would be hard to find. He writes about "widespread violence" by Israeli settlers, but doesn't mention the family massacred this past summer. I don't know exactly what Stravino means by "violence", but I know that no Palestinian family had their throats slit, including an infant, as did a Jewish family. He feels the Israeli reprisal against the crude rockets fired from Gaza was disproportionate. Although thousands of rockets were fired over five years, not that many Israelis died. Stravino doesn't mention the recent anti-tank missile intentionally fired at a yellow school bus. Lastly, Vincent Stravino is concerned that United States support of Israel is misused to finance aggression against innocent people. Since when is the right to self defense aggression?
Michael Molovinsky
the above piece appeared today as a letter to the editor in The Morning Call

Sep 27, 2011

The Island of Lehigh Parkway

The scene above shows the island in the Little Lehigh, with the boatlanding in the background. Please note the bridge leading to the island. The island, bridge and landing were created by the WPA. Although the island still remains, as does it's stone piers, the bridge is long gone. The boatlanding, although buried, was partially recovered last year by myself and a number of volunteers. The island, as remaining, has lost it's shape and has been enlarged from deposits carried by the Little Lehigh. The island was created by the WPA in the mid 1930's, by excavating a channel on it's south side. It is the intention of the park department to eventually allow mother nature to fill in the channel. Park philosophy has changed from manicured to al natural. It is my hope that the excavated portion of the boatlanding will be retained. In regard to yesterday's post on Irving Park, I have confirmed that one of the WPA stone stairwells was indeed removed this year by the city. I hope that is not their version of a fix. It clearly indicates the need for the WPA Support Group. Click photo to enlarge.

The above photograph courtesy of Frank Whelan

Sep 26, 2011

Lesson at Dieruff

A Dieruff High School social studies teacher would not have to take his class very far for a lesson in Allentown's history. Although never elected, East Side activist Dennis Pearson has been complaining for thirty years that the East Side always get short changed in Public Works. Such was the case in the mid 1930's, during the WPA work in Allentown. Roosevelt's New Deal program built the elaborate walls in the south side's Lehigh Parkway. Central Allentown received the magnificent Lawrence Street stairwell. The culturally elite of west Allentown received the Union Terrace Amphitheater, envisioned for Shakespeare. Pearson's east side got a few scattered steps to nowhere. The steps remained, and thirty years later Allentown built Dieruff High School. With expansions and renovations, some of the steps now adjoin the school. Flash ahead to the summers of 2009 and 2010.

I lobbied Allentown City Council members to appropriate some of the $millions of dollars in Cedar Park plans to begin preserving the irreplaceable WPA structures, starting to crumble throughout our park system. East Side elected councilman, Michael D'Amore, assured me that he only signed off on the Administrations plan, with the stipulation that the steps in Irving Park-Dieruff area would be restored at the same time. The work in Cedar Park was completed last year, including $millions of dollars with of recreation equipment from catalogs. The deterioration of the steps around Dieruff continues. Now there's a lesson in government!
photos courtesy of Mark Thomas

Sep 22, 2011

Boxing's Giant Era

In California these days, everybody walks around with a yoga mat strapped to their back. That certainly wasn't the case in the 1930's, when heavyweight contender Lou Nova studied yoga. Nova was the World Amateur Heavyweight Champion and a proponent of clean living. He won his first twenty two fights as a professional. His promoters said he perfected the Cosmic Punch. Only 6'2", he fought in the era of giants. He handed giant Abe Simon his first defeat after thirteen victories, eleven by knockout. Nova knocked out 6'4'' Max Baer twice. The 1939 knockout is one second away, in the above photograph. Baer himself had won the championship by knocking out Primo Carnera, the Italian giant who was 6'6" and weighed 284 lbs. Baer lost the championship to the Cinderella Man, Jim Braddock. Joe Louis took the belt from Braddock and held it for twelve years, being arguably the best fighter in history. Clean living didn't serve Lou Nova so well with the notorious dirty fighter Two Ton Tony Galento. Galento almost gouged his eye out, putting him in the hospital for weeks. Nova got his shot with Louis on September 29, 1941, but fell in six. Nova would go on to act in movies and even was a write-in candidate for President of the United States. He dropped out of the campaign because his mother was afraid he would catch a cold shaking so many hands. She wasn't afraid of him being in the ring with some of the toughest men in the world.

a version of this post appeared previously

Sep 21, 2011

Your Esteemed Opinion

Thursday evening you're welcome to express your idea's for Allentown's riverfront, to an out of town paid consultant. Allentown may receive a $5million dollar grant, which it could use to purchase the former Structural Steel property, if the current option holder fails to close. If you cannot attend the meeting, try batting your lips in front of your bathroom mirror. In reality, your mirror cares more about your opinion than the city. Yesterday, I met with a displaced Hamilton Street merchant. Although the Hamilton Street plan is very real, there was no public input what-so-ever. This merchant had about 90 days to make alternative arrangements for the past 26 years of his life. He was stunned when I told him that a connected developer can also use the taxes generated in the NIZ for his private debt service. Although these displaced merchants attended two private meetings with City Hall, and one with Pat Browne, they were never offered or told of that option. The Riverfront dog and pony show is Thursday evening, at the Wheel of Deals Building, at Front and Hamilton Streets.

An article on the meeting by Devon Lash appeared in yesterday's Morning Call

Sep 20, 2011

Allentown's Malaise

Although the mayor thinks that his palace of sport and event center will be transformational, but for a few apologists and opportunists, I hear no enthusiasm. I do often hear that the first fan who becomes a victim of violence, will doom the attendance. I often hear that the project is in the wrong location. What is most important, is where I hear these comments. Although Allentown's plans may be voted upon at City Hall and Government Center, it's future is decided at it's most important institutions, the morning diners. At the tables and booths of these courts of last resort, the project earns nothing but head shaking and skepticism.

artwork by Mark Beyer

Sep 19, 2011

Last Trolley, 1953

When the last trolley ran on June 8, 1953, shown above, Allentown did not turn into a ghost town. Buses had already been ferrying the lion's share of transit riders for a few years. The Transit Station would remain on S. 8th Street, and the changeover was rather smooth. The Hamilton Street district, with it's three department stores, three large five and dimes, and hundreds of smaller merchants, would thrive for twenty more years. Whitehall Mall was constructed in 1966, followed ten years later by the Lehigh Valley Mall, in 1976.

Sep 18, 2011

Trolley Demise in Allentown

A fellow blogger, a younger urbanist sort, speculated that automobiles put the end to trolleys in the Lehigh Valley. He was half right, actually it was the Mad Men from General Motors. In the early 1950's, Americans were still a one car family, even in the prosperous Lehigh Valley. The mass transit system was still full of the other family members, still using the system for work, shopping and school. Between the late 1940's and 1953, Hamilton Street had both trolleys and buses. In the late 40's, General Motors wined and dined transit officials all over the country, exhorting the benefits of their buses. Shown above is a Lehigh Valley Transit work car, towing a trolley to Bethlehem Steel to be scrapped. The photograph was taken in 1952 on St. John Street, heading toward the Fountain Hill route. In June of 1953, the last trolley would run on Hamilton Street.

Sep 16, 2011

Dinosaur in Digital Age

I am for sure a dinosaur in the digital age. Although I did purchase a small compact digital camera about three years ago, I remain in the point and shoot mode. To be honest, the pictures were fine, especially for a blog which uses images only about 2X3 inches. Never the less, being an old camera addict, I have begun to research available digital alternatives. There is a new photographic phrase called street photography, and descriptions of camera's most suited to that pursuit. As an old photographer from the street, I find that amusing.
UPDATE: We are fortunate here in the valley to now have two full service photography stores. Both Cardinal Camera's new branch at the Promenade, and Dan's Camera City, have the inventory and expertise to help any dinosaur. I'm impressed with the compact Olympus Pen series, featuring interchangeable lenses and a large 4/3 sensor.
molovinsky/Boston Common, 1967

Sep 15, 2011

Who Needs Shopping

It was my intention to do a couple of posts on the old line Allentown merchants, both of them. I called the first The Gems of Allentown, although it dealt with yarn. I chose that title because the second post was to be on Salomon Jewelers. Salomon and Tucker Yarn were all that was left of Allentown's merchants, from before the Pawlowski era. Yesterday, I received a comment from a reader called The Voice of Reason
I recall that about 35 years ago, bethlehem had a grandious plan to reinvent downtown Bethlehem. The area between Center, Church, Union and the Monocacy Creek was to be razed and rebuilt with a mall, a convention center, a performance center, parking decks, office towers and residential buildings. The model was beautiful and you could hardly recognize the "old" Bethlehem.... Fast forward to 2011 - It took twenty-five years to finally develop the section between Guetter and Main. It took longer to replace the void at the NE corner of Broad and New. An office tower and a failed attempt at a "mall" remain in the other section. Luckily, cool heads prevailed and the rest of the plan was scrapped. Can you imaging a Main Street without the Sun Inn? Imaging a Main Street without any of the Victorian buildings that exist from Broad to Church. These buildings arguably make bethlehem unique ....
I hope against hope that there may be a similar awakening in Allentown; just because you can do something, doesn't mean that you should. VOR
Yesterday, an article in The Morning Call reported that Salomon's are leaving Allentown.* He has sold his Hamilton Street building to developer J.B. Reilly and will relocate the business west of the city. Salomon hit no home run on the sale. Reilly recently paid as much for a building, across from the arena block, which has been boarded up near 7th and Linden for years. It's apparent to me that Salomon is less than enthusiastic about Allentown's transformational plans, at least as a merchant. Who needs shopping anyway?
Salomon will remain open during the holidays through June

Sep 14, 2011

Jersey Joe

It took five attempts and 20 years for Jersey Joe Walcott to finally win the Heavyweight Championship, at age 37. After only one title defense, the rematch against former champion Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe stepped into the ring with the hard punching Rocky Marciano, who was ten years younger. Marciano was knocked down in round one, for the first time in his career. Although Walcott would gamely defend his hard won crown, the end came in 13th round, shown in the classic photo above. In the following rematch, Walcott's career would end, after being knocked out in the first round.
enlarge photo by clicking

Sep 13, 2011

The Union Terrace Train

The Conrail engine backs across Walnut Street, as it delivers a flatbed of large granite slaps and blocks to the Wentz Memorial Company, by 20th and Hamilton Streets. Years earlier, the spur route extended across Hamilton Street and terminated at the building across from school district stadium, now occupied by the park department. On it's run to Wentz's, it went through the auto junkyard, continued on past the now closed Allentown Metal Works, and crossed the trestle in Lehigh Parkway. At Union Terrace the track was next to the former ice skating pond, behind the WPA Amphitheater Stage Mound. This photograph was taken by Dave Latshaw in the 1979, and is part of the Mark Rabenold collection. Rabenold is a local train historian, specializing in Allentown's former branch lines.

Sep 12, 2011

A Rude Visit

When Irene stormed through Cedar Park, she knocked down and broke a number of the old willow trees. The sight of these magnificent trees along the creek banks, is the view-shed cherished by us proponents of the historical park system. As a boy in 1955, I remember the same damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Diane. Many of the remaining willows are now about 75 years old. Although they held the creek banks together for three generations, they have lost favor to riparian buffers.

It's nice to sit by the bank under a willow tree and watch the ducks swim by. Hopefully, somewhere along the banks of the Little Lehigh and Cedar Creek, there is still some open space for a few new weeping willows.
please click on photos to enlarge

Sep 11, 2011

The End of the End

Yesterday, The Morning Call had a story about the trolley era, including some excellent pictures. Although I take exception with some details in that article, it has motivated me to publish this picture from 1951, which I had intended on using after the bulldozer. Not only are the trolleys gone, but soon all buildings shown here will also be gone. The exception is the Farr Building on the far left, and the Dime Bank, not shown in this picture. Although people still walk and shop the historic busy block, soon it will house the Pawlowski Palace of Sport, laying dormant every day, and I suspect many evenings. It is the end of the end.

WPA Fountain Park Tour report added to post below.

Sep 9, 2011

A Grand Tour

Everyday, a thousand men would climb the steps back home after a working in the Mack plants and other industry on S. 10th Street, by Fountain Park. They lived in the well tended row houses which comprised center city. Their wives would shop in Mohican and other center city markets. Six movie houses served the Hamilton Street area to provide entertainment. The steps were constructed by the WPA between 1934 and 1937 and connected the industrial area with it's workers. Today, if properly maintained, they could connect the children and the parents of Allentown with the recreation of Fountain Park. You are invited to join Nicholas Butterfield tomorrow morning as he leads a well informed tour of this Allentown icon.The structure consists of three main sections. The Grand Stairwell from Lawrence Street (Martin Luther King Drive). The magnificent Union Street retaining wall with it's tunnel leading to the second set of steps. The second steps climb up to Spring Garden Street.I will be leading a group along Martin Luther King Jr Drive, starting at MLKJ and Union St, going up the first steps to Spring Garden, then down the 2nd steps from Junction St to MLK Jr Drive, starting 10 am Saturday, September 10 10 am. Call me if interested 610-770-1751. Nicholas Butterfield
TOUR REPORT BY NICHOLAS BUTTERFIELDSeven of us and one very young person took a tour Saturday morning of the WPA walls and steps along Martin Luther King Jr Drive, from S 10th St to Junction & Union Streets.The different walls appear in good condition overall. The steps need help.
From the Junction/Union St tunnel, climbing up to Spring Garden St, there is a lot of graffiti inside the tunnel entrance, going up to the first landing. Most has been there for several years, but there is some newer stuff.
Going up the steps to about the 3rd landing, one stone block is missing, for at least the last two years if not longer. The grass at the top of the steps is a foot high, in need of mowing by the City.
Going east on Spring Garden to S 10th, we looked over the dead parking lot, the prospective park that would connect Jackson St to the Junction St steps down to Martin Luther King & S 10th St. One resident earlier had asked me if the park would be safe from sinkholes, because the area was used as a landfill when the 8th St bridge was built.
The Junction St steps are in much greater need of repair. They are also used to a much greater extent than the Spring Garden steps, by people exercising or gong down to the Fountain Terrace fields. We counted at least 12 persons during our time on these steps.
A stone block is missing from one of the top western steps. The south side of the Junction St wall has a lot of white graffiti in at least 3 different sections. There were several used condoms on the path and a large number of bottles and cans scattered about, although it was much cleaner than in previous years. (Jim Molchany reminded me that over several years we pulled out many bags of trash and at least 13 tires from this area during our LANA clean up).
The macadam walkway has broken up in a number of places and needs to be resurfaced. After the east and west steps come together, there are missing stone blocks in at least 3 different places, including one spot where almost the entire step is gone, very much a hazard.Natalie observed the woods are just overgrown with underbrush and scrub trees, making it a very dark area. We need the City forester to review and recommend removal. There were several street lights along the path, but I will have to check at night to see if they are functioning.
My thanks to Gene Scharle, Edna Himmler who took photographs, Steven Ramos, Rose Gallagher, her daughter Natalie and grandchild Nadia, and Gregg Heilman, who regaled us with the history of this small area.
Nick Butterfield

Sep 8, 2011

Allentown's Future

Mayor Daddona's plan to save Allentown was the canopy built in front of the stores on Hamilton Street. Mayor Heydt's plan was tearing down the canopy in front of the stores. Mayor Pawlowski's plan is to tear down the stores and build an entertainment complex. Pawlowski's plan will eventually take three square blocks off the tax rolls. Already the first $100 million block has grown into a second block and another $100 million. Because of a rainy week, Steel Stack's Jeff Parks is walking around with a tin cup asking for donations. The Sands Corporation will be able to finance it's new entertainment complex with a money machine called a casino. When it rains on Pawlowski's white elephant, which it must from all the local competition alone, the short fall will come from our pockets. I'm not sure where Pawlowski will be then, but we're going to be up the creek, without a paddle, paying for huge, underused tax free buildings. There should have been a law, or a vote, or a City Council.

Sep 7, 2011

Note To The Mayor

Mayor Pawlowski, you may not remember me. I'm the widower who lives in the highrise on Union Street, who wrote you before here on Mr. Molovinsky's computer page. Last night I saw him at the library, and he gave me a ride home after some meeting he had. I used to work in the Mack factory where you now have a go-kart track. I saw pictures of it in the paper and it said you were now going to have City Council give it a liquor bar, so that they could get tanked up before they drove those carts around with children. Are you sure that's a good idea? Anyway, Mr. Molovinsky and his group want to fix up the stairs leading down to Lawrence Street. When I worked at Mack my kids would meet me on those steps and walk home with me. I miss that old Allentown. Mr. Molovinsky says that your hockey game will now cost $200 million dollars. Is it possible that just a few of those bucks could be used to fix up those stairs? My uncle helped build those steps along with a lot of other Allentown men. Sorry to bother you again, thanks for your time.

Sep 6, 2011

Works Progress Administration Meeting

Tonight is the meeting on Allentown's iconic WPA structures. When I first began this project three years ago, the steps leading from Union Street to Spring Garden were overgrown with weeds and saplings. My persistent, annoying blogging on the subject caught the attention of then opinion page editor Glenn Kranzley and columnist Paul Carpenter. The publicity they generated resulted in the city cleaning up those steps. My next target was what I called the boat landing. As a boy I had often played at that site. Long buried, it was now the step to nowhere.
Readers of this blog, on two separate weekends, succeeded in digging out the steps and the portion of the landing at the bottom on the steps. Blogger Chris Casey provided the lion's share of manpower in this accomplishment. The remainder of the landing was lost to large trees which grew over a period of forty years. There has been some speculation that my independent demeanor and blunt writing has alienated people, both at City Hall and The Morning Call. Although probably true, the merits of the projects stand on their own.
I managed to get the miniature bridge and spring pond cleared by appealing directly to Mike Gilbert, who is in charge of the watershed for the Park Department. I have been in communication with Park Director Greg Weitzel about tonight's meeting. Yesterday, I received a phone call from a women in her late 80's, whose father worked on the Lawrence Street steps. I believe a worthwhile future project would be to chronicle about those who did the labor; However, it's first necessary to insure that the fruits of that labor are preserved. Please join me this evening, so that I may prevail upon City Hall that a large number of our citizens hold these structures invaluable.

The meeting is at 7:00PM this evening in the lower level of the Allentown Library

Sep 5, 2011

Priority Basis

The excellent article in today's Morning Call by Devon Lash quotes city spokesman Mike Moore as saying park items are addressed on a priority basis. The city hopes to get grants to refurbish the WPA structures. I have observed over the years that if the city determines something is a priority, then they do manage to get the grants. In today's article the boat landing is referred to as a set of steps. The Landing was a major feature of Lehigh Parkway. Unfortunately, forty years ago, one park director took it upon himself to decide that it was expendable. These structures are the heritage of the citizens of Allentown. Please join me tomorrow evening, and help make their preservation a priority for Allentown. I'm grateful to Devon Lash and The Morning Call for their support in this effort.

Sep 4, 2011

Jewish Das Boot

The Israeli submarine fleet consists of three small boats, German made diesel-electrics, named Dolphins. The boats are early 1990 design. Two are stationed in the Mediterranean, and one supposedly in the Red Sea. Three more Dolphins are on order, and expected to arrive by 2013. Military analysts consider these Israel's second strike weapon, and may be armed accordingly.

Sep 1, 2011

Tragedy Play At Theater

There is a tragedy playing at the Union Terrace Amphitheater. It cannot be seen on the magnificent grass stage, but
on the top wall of the double stairwell leading down from St. Elmo Street. The top surface mortar has not been properly maintained, and the stones are in danger of falling. Unfortunately

the stones from the far right corner have already fallen, and currently
lay at the base of the wall and staircase. It's imperative that this icon be repointed in very short order, or the entire top surface of the wall will be jeopardized. It's my understanding the the amphitheater was the last WPA project built in Allentown. It's necessary for it to be first in a new wave of upkeep. Please join me this coming Tuesday evening, September 6, and help make this a must do for Allentown.

WPA Project Support Meeting Allentown Public Library (lower level) Tuesday, 7:00 PM

The Mighty Atom

Years ago, at the Allentown Fair, as one would push through a sea of carney delusion, tucked back by the 4H animals, was an island of reality. There, in an old battered truck, an ancient Jewish strongman performed incredible feats of strength, to sell only homemade kosher soap. Standing on a platform on the rear of his truck, flanked by photographs from his performing youth, he would bent horse shoes and bite through nails. Many years earlier, my mother as a little girl in Bethlehem, saw him pull a truck uphill with his hair. Even as an old man, like a reincarnation of Samson, his grey hair was still long.
In the summers of 1964 and 1965, myself and a friend,(Fred Schoenk, retired Allentown art teacher) made and sold printed tee-shirts at the fair. We had the honor to know Joseph Greenstein(The Mighty Atom) and his wife. For those interested, there are various articles on the Mighty Atom and even at least one book. Enjoy the fair!

reprinted annually during the fairweek