Jul 20, 2012

Double Down(Towns)


People often speculate as to why Bethlehem now is a destination, while, too often, Allentown is considered a place to avoid. The long answer will not fit within this short post, but here may be a few reasons. Bethlehem had two downtown's, on both sides of the river. While downtown Allentown certainly was the premier shopping area for the Lehigh Valley prior to the malls, it may have become a victim to over-planning. In the late 60's, early 70's, Allentown attempted to compete with the suburban malls by building a canopy on Hamilton Street. The viability of Hamilton Street was extended for a few years, but the magnetism of Hess's could well have been the reason. Bethlehem also built a pedestrian mall on Broad Street, but the historical quaintness of Main Street remained. Although the commerce in it's southside business district languished, the architecture remained. By the time Allentown removed the canopies in the late 90's, the architecture of it's buildings had long been bisected and altered. As historical became chic, Bethlehem profited from having done less in the past.

It's southside business district is a time capsule, architecturally unchanged since the turn of the last century. It now is becoming a mix of boutiques and bistros in a fashionable historic setting. Last, but not least, Bethlehem benefited from consistency of developmental leadership. While Allentown has had a succession of Economic Directors, Tony Hanna, with benefit of his institutional memory, has led Bethlehem for many years.

Shown at the top is pop up photo matches from the 1930's, promoting Julian Goldman's Fine Clothes For The Family on the South Side, East Third Street. Also shown is Tony Hanna, along side of the former Goodman Furniture Store.

reprinted from April 2010

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

While this is a reprint, it's as relevant today as when it was written. In downtown Bethlehem yesterday. A buzz of construction and excitement as yet another icon of history is preserved. Allentown allows its treasures to be demolished and neglected. Bethlehem does the opposite. No brain tease here. Just look at what's happening in Lehigh Parkway. Because there are now no supervisors in the Watershed, the smallest of park repairs seem to be ignored. It's tragic.

Anonymous said...

Allentown eats its history,it's icons.
Look at the sorry state of the covered bridge.

Anonymous said...

Eh, I think it's considerably more complicated than just one city preserving more buildings than the other.

Allentown's poverty is centralized downtown whereas Bethlehem's isn't as it's more to the south and east. That's a big deal. Both cities have poverty but strategically, in different places.

Bethlehem isn't a county seat. It has no assistance offices,downtown hospitals, prisons etc.

Median incomes in downtown Allentown are far lower than they are in downtown Bethlehem. You've got at least, three, perhaps four pockets in downtown Allentown with incomes less than $25,000. Bethlehem has one.

The downtown demographics are different and there will be different cultures and what is valued, what isn't. Downtown Allentown is home to a majority of Hispanic/Latino people. Bethlehem is more diversified.

So while yes, preserving history is a part of issue, it probably has more to do with that the economic changes to downtown Bethlehem have not been as dramatically bad as they have been for Allentown.

Anonymous said...

Mike,

great post! The difference between the town towns is clear; one has reasonably sound management by its elected officials the other doesn't. The cluelessness and corruption of Allentown's elected officials is the reason the Queen city isn't "moving forward".
Oh by the way, remember when the city Republicans warned the city and the press that the police contract would bankrupt the city? Remember when council was alarmed enough to vote it down, then remember when the arbiters in binding arbitration gave the unions everything and even more? Someone should write that story to refresh everyone's memory.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

I believe Tony has moved on, but much of what is written is factual. Allentown's woes were simply delayed, yet ultimately inevitable. Many if not most older cities have allowed and even inadvertently encouraged decline. There is a scale of these cities and results. On one end, Scranton, which has lost half its peak population and has become old and poor. The population declined because anyone who can, does move, because they see the generational futility undercored by consistently bad political leadership. Bethlehem lost its identity, its major employer. This could have (maybe should have) been a death knell. Look no further than Lackawanna or Johnstown, comparing steel towns. Bethlehem's population has remained more or less the same over the past fifty years. The city is not out of the woods, but one would argue that Bethlehem remains a cheerful, positive city compared to Scranton or Allentown. The combination of an engaged, proud populace, plus good synergy between the public and private sectors has resulted in a forward thinking forward moving community. I don't agree with every decision mad by our city's leaders over the past thirty years, but compared with Allentown, Bethlehem's leaders look brilliant.

Allentown has gone from being a city to admire to a city that seems hopelessly broken. Bethlehem has reinvented itself. The question for Allentown is now- will it become Bethlehem, or will it become Scranton?

VOR

Anonymous said...

Route 378 & a regional school district.

Anonymous said...

A city can anticipate trouble and proactively react, or a city can wait for bad things to happen, then do stupid things in hopes of reversing decline. Allentown surely belongs in the latter club. At least lately.

michael molovinsky said...

great comments. having been an intercity landlord, i knew that we had a poverty magnet which would quickly depreciate center city. no less than five agencies would sport anybody to move in expenses, with no job necessary, or references required. i was politically incorrect enough to speak out about it years ago, and even ran for office in an attempt to publicize the problem. it seems that at every junction, allentown took the wrong turn. for example, even today, pawlowski still wants to sell the queen city airport, hoping for another short sighted quick fix. the morning call still buys this nonsense, reporting that it would create "jobs." the most it could do is move some jobs. an earlier article stated that the three main business districts are hamilton street, 7th st. and 19th street; and that a skateboard ban has something to do with quality of life. that should improve things greatly!

Anonymous said...

Michael:

As long as a problem's root cause is ignored, the problem will continue to exist and even thrive. You know this, I know this. Average people on the stret probably understand this, but the elected officials....???

Case in point- The NIZ/Arena/Super Block idea. Someone correctly determined that Allentow is very poor and that "something" needs to be done. That something should include job creation, training, education, infrastructure investment, spending controls, dealing with the pension crisis,crime reduction any one of a number of important issues. Instead, the solution to the problem is- Move all bus stops, level a huge city block, pay for it with a scheme and hope that restaurants, low-wage arena jobs and perks for the monied few with reverse decades of decline and push Allentown back to the prominence it once enjoyed prior to 1960.

Not bloody likely, but best of luck.


VOR

Anonymous said...

Many of your followers may not appreciate the great park system bequeathed to them. By the beginning of the 20th century, Allentown had only about 20 acres of parkland. In stark contrast to today’s “leaders”, Allentown’s leaders dreamed big dreams and they looked beyond their parochial self interests to the distant future. They envisioned a grand park system to benefit everyone, including future generations of Allentown residents. B.A. Haldeman, a prominent city planner was brought in by General Trexler. He worked with architect J. Franklin Meehan beginning around 1924 to bring a dream to reality. Meehan laid out West Park on the site of an old reservoir, I believe. From this came the extensive, comprehensive system that cities three times the size of Allentown could only envy and wish for. I believe that these men and others would be ashamed to see what has become of their gift.

michael molovinsky said...

@12:43, well, i have earned quite a few readers, but as of yet, no followers. here's a very odd fact, that i learned from an obscure state publication, circa 1920. a national magazine stated that allentown's park system was limited to flower bowls attached to it's light standards. this publication embarrassed harry trexler, who then started purchasing land for the parks in response. standard myth has trexler's motivations based on the community, in a future post i will present more factual based commercial motivations.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Many of your followers may not appreciate the great park system bequeathed to them. By the beginning of the 20th century, Allentown had only about 20 acres of parkland. In stark contrast to today’s “leaders”, Allentown’s leaders dreamed big dreams and they looked beyond their parochial self interests to the distant future. They envisioned a grand park system to benefit everyone, including future generations of Allentown residents. B.A. Haldeman, a prominent city planner was brought in by General Trexler. He worked with architect J. Franklin Meehan beginning around 1924 to bring a dream to reality. Meehan laid out West Park on the site of an old reservoir, I believe. From this came the extensive, comprehensive system that cities three times the size of Allentown could only envy and wish for. I believe that these men and others would be ashamed to see what has become of their gift.

July 20, 2012 12:43 PM

If you get a chance take a look at the new blacktop poured in the grass as a pathway to the new restroom in Lehigh Parkway. Blacktop spilled in clumps on the nearby grass and has been left there to rot. Who does stuff like this?

AuH20 said...

A major difference between the plights of Allentown and Bethlehem is colleges. BOTH Bethlehem downtowns are sandwiched between two great civilizing institutions, Lehigh University and Moravian College....and NCC now has a major presence on the south side. Allentown's two fine colleges, Muhlenberg and Cedar Crest sit isolated in the city's west end and play no role in the vitality of Allentown. And LCCC's role in Lehigh County seems much smaller than NCC's in Northampton County. While thousands of family and friends of Moravian and Lehigh students are entertained in the Bethlehem downtowns each year, Muhlenberg and Cedar Crest guests steer clear (wisely) of downtown Allentown. To steal a phrase from an old baseball movie: police it and they will come!

Anonymous said...

Let's not be naive, here.

Cedar Crest and Muhlenberg, at the end of the day, only care about how much money their respective alumni are stuffing into their respective college cofers.

A thought which is all the more interesting if I listen to a guy who shall remain nameless saying stuff like "You didn't build that" ...

Cedear Crest and Muhlenberg can prove their worth instantly by immediately buying season tickets to watch Pawlowski's Pucksters play at the record-smashing Palace of Sport.

Shaibu!

VIKTOR TIKHONOV

Anonymous said...

Cedear Crest and Muhlenberg can prove their worth instantly by immediately buying season tickets to watch Pawlowski's Pucksters play at the record-smashing Palace of Sport."

And how do you know they haven't already. One pink, one blue.

Anonymous said...

What?

The two "major" institutions of higher learning in City With No Spending Limits can only come up with the cash for just TWO season tickets?

Look, I know exactly how much it costs to send just one kid to Muhlenberg and Cedar Crest can't be all that far behind ...

... only two tickets? ...

... how is Chairman Pawlowski EVER going to reach his publically stated goal of 2.5 million visitors annually patronizing the Palace of Sport?

Personally, I appreciate the token effort (if it has actually been made) but I have to believe the Brooks Brothers are hoping for more (even if they don't have one dime of their own money in this deal).

Shaibu!

VIKTOR TIKHONOV

AuH20 said...

Viktor, nobody is being naieve here. Don't you think Lehigh and Moravian colleges are interested in the money their alumns 'stuff in their coffers'? My point is simply about location as well as the relative 'welcomeness' that Bethelehm provides their colleges.

michael molovinsky said...

auh20, your points were well made about the location of lehigh and moravian. allentown is imagining some connection between muhlenberg and 19th st. worse yet, they're going to improve 19th street with some streetscape work. let's hope that they don't improve the ambience away and tear up the area for too long.

AuH20 said...

Colleges today do their best to keep their students on campus as much as possible, both for safety sake as well as financial. They've converted cafeterias to high-end eateries, put Starbucks on Student Union buildings and offer many more amenities. Parents like it that way. And when students do venture off campus they get in their cars (that most faculty drool over) and head to wherever they want. Nice life.

Anonymous said...

Lehigh (more than 1,600 acres of investment on the southside) is a veritable anchor (with the hospital) of a relatively small area, the southside. Lehigh can actually do even more to integrate into the southside, but at least they do acknowledge their shared goals and responsibilities. Moravian is a tiny institution, but is has been part of the community since the 18th century and the college's campuses (two) bracket the north side downtown from Church to Elizabeth. The school's proximity to the downtown core (s) is critical. Bethlehem has a chance to be a "college town", but Allentown does not. At the end of the day, the biggest overall problem with Allentown is its poorness. It was not always this way, but it is now and until this is solved, the problems brought by poorness will afflict the city. Urban crime, unemployment, renters instead of homeowners, decreasing quality of life issues....


the beat goes on....


VOR