May 25, 2012

1953 In Allentown

In 1953 you could escape the crowds on Hamilton Street by walking down beyond the third department store, Zollinger Harned, to the 500 Block. The malls in Whitehall were still two decades away, and Hamilton Street was where the Lehigh Valley shopped. Although the photograph above shows a trolley and a bus, the last trolly would run in June of that year. South side Allentown was bustling with Mack Truck and General Electric. The first supermarket, FoodFair, opened that year on Lehigh Street, now the Parkway Shopping center. In addition to the three department stores, downtown Allentown boasted three five and dimes and five movie theaters. Ike was our President, and Brighton Diefenderfer was our mayor. In the scene above, Man In The Dark is playing at the Colonial Theater. In that 3D movie, a criminal gets a second chance if he submits to an operation to excise the criminal portion of his brain. In 2012, could we give our elected officials that option?


Anonymous said...


Don't know where you get the excellent pictures, but keep 'em coming!

It's easy for older gus like us to remember the days gone by as "good old days", but there are things that exist today that make this era much improved over the early 50's. Having said that, the stories you relate about Allentown from the golden era resonate with this Bethlehem boy. In the same period for example, the south side boasted department stores, three five and tens (literally next to one another, restaurants, filling stations, professional offices, tap rooms, clubs, movie theaters, municipal facilities, a market, plus three anchors, namely St. Luke's hospital, Lehigh University and the Bethlehem Steel plant and office facilities. The long narrow strip of land, wedged between South Mountain and the Lehigh River was criss-crossed by rail tracks and trolly service. The population was near 30,000. Up until about the mid-fifties, people who lived on the south side really did not have to leave the south side to attend to their daily needs. Maybe our cities and towns would have eventually failed anyway, but to me it is clear that an unholy combination of factors all contributed to the demise of these super-efficient communities. Our goal today should be to remember with fondness why these communities worked and try to apply the lessons learned to make cities and towns sustainable in the future. I am always flummoxed when I visit the Promenade Shops; I wonder whether today's hip, young shoppers who flock to this community in a corn field understand what it is about this center that really makes it so appealing. Minus the lond drive to the shops, they are likely charmed by the layout, by the themes, by the logic. Just take on step back and look at what it really is: It is downtown Allentown, Bethlehem, Emmaus, Northampton from 1953, minus the homes.


michael molovinsky said...

in 2008 Bill Villa issued the following apology for his cyberstalking at that time ".... I admitted and apologized to Michael for having posted several anonymous "snarks" at him recently that called into question his motives regarding Fairview Cemetery,......" Bill Villa

michael molovinsky said...

VOR, my mother grew up in south bethlehem, my grandfather worked at the steel. as a boy in the early 1950's, i remember visiting my aunt who still lived there on new street, and buying hot chestnuts from a corner cart.

Canary_In_Coalmine said...


Thanks for your insightful and thought provoking comment. I wonder if we will someday see communities built with a layout that more closely mimics Allentown from 1950-2000. Maybe eight dollar gasoline would bring about some nostalgia for living in a City where you can walk to everything you could ever want.

I for one never understood the appeal of living in a cornfield and being unable to walk anywhere due to lack of sidewalks. Even if there were sidewalks, it wouldn't matter because there's nothing in walking distance anyway. Then eventually the cornfields around you get developed too, the crappy one-lane roads are choked with traffic, and an eminently bearable 15-minute drive to the store becomes a 30-minute ordeal each way. Been there, done that, and not going back.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding, CIC!