Jan 4, 2017

Downhill On Lehigh Street



During the early 1970's, Allentown demolished the entire neighborhood between Union and Lawrence Streets. It was, in a large part, home to the black community. How ironic that we destroyed the cohesion of a neighborhood, but renamed Lawrence Street after Martin Luther King. The only remnant of the neighborhood is the St. James A.M.E. Church. Going up the hill today we now have a vacant bank call center on the east, and the Housing Authority Project on the west. A whole neighborhood existed in from both sides of Lehigh Street, including black owned shops. The houses were old and humble, but people owned them, many for generations. Some blacks at the time wondered if the project was Urban Renewal or Negro Removal?

reprinted from January 2011


The bank call center referred to above is now Building 21, Allentown School District's own alternative charter like high school.

8 comments:

Dave said...

One other casualty of the urban removal project was the Nonnemaker House at 301 South Lehigh Street, which was built about 1790. Ironically, it was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, several years after the wrecking ball removed all of the other structures. I recall in the early 1970s seeing the Nonnemaker House standing all by itself in the vacant lot on Lehigh Street. However, it got in the way of the Call Center so it was relegated to the history books and also torn down as it was holding up progress.

michael molovinsky said...

dave@6:33, over the years allentown and lehigh county has shown a remarkable disregard for history. this is especially true if there was any monetary gain involved. most of that which remains was more by accident, than design.

alfonso todd said...

I have heard this historical information from many who lived in the black community there. I was told it was prosperous and very community-minded. There were throngs of businesses and professionals and all was well. And then came change, for no other reason but the thought of more money for someone else... It was the beginning of the end, unfortunarely.

Aaron White said...

The rumor I heard was that the "racially undiverse" neighborhood was deliberately dispersed as part of the plan to qualify Allentown as an "All America City".

Dave said...

The reason I used the term "Urban Removal" when it comes to the Lawrence Street project is because the land really wasnt used for anything for nearly a decade after the wrecking balls went to work and the last of the rubble hauled away.

Now contrast this with the project to renew Hamilton Street west of the Jordan Creek up the hill to Fifth Street. The homes and businesses there were were essentially replaced with a new City Hall and new Lehigh County Court House. The Allentown Motor Inn was, I suppose, the Renaissance Hotel of the early 1960s and the Eric Theater was built in the area as well.

Yes, the City wanted to get rid of the Wire Mill and the old Mack 1 and 2 plants along Cedar Creek. However removing the residences south of Union left this large vacant lot that even to this day is hardly used

michael molovinsky said...

dave@4:57, i have in the past also posted on those other locations mentioned in your comment. i will reprint the posts to bring newer readers up to date on these previous "renewal" projects.

Luiz Garcia said...

Interesting and thank you for atleast keeping history alive on these blogs. I love history and sometimes it hurts to see the change but nothing last forever not even us. Again thank you for this!

Jeffrey Anthony said...

Sure, we've got to have basic building codes and some essential zoning codes. Even the staunchest libertarians will concede that.

But whenever government tries to overreach that limited role with what can only be called central planning in the soviet style, the iron law of unintended consequences comes into play without fail.

And yet, for some reason, we let government keep doing it...