Nov 13, 2017

When Allentown High Was Pennsylvania Dutch


In 1950 when 16 year old  Jayne Lichtenwalner made this plate in art class,  Allentown for the most part had a Pennsylvania Dutch demographic.  Jayne's family lived at 642 Chew Street.  The principal of Allentown High was Clifford Bartholomew.  After Bartholomew retired from being principal,  he later would go on to become mayor.

Move ahead seventy years, and the Pennsylvania Dutch student is an endangered species in the Allentown School System, perhaps even extinct. The new superintendent of the system is from Detroit,  and the mayor is from Chicago.  The dominant demographic in center city is now Hispanic, and they just elected the Chicago mayor for a fourth term, even though he's indicted for corruption.

I grew up on the south side near the Mack Truck assembly plant. I graduated from Allen in the middle 1960's, and remember when Bartholomew was principal and then mayor. I worked in center city when the stores died and the neighborhoods changed.  This blog was designed to be the juncture of local history and politics.  Because I find the politics at the moment so distressing,  I'll be conducting  more history classes.

14 comments:

Scott Armstrong said...

How bad will it gets before it gets better is the only question now. I have no confidence in any of those who won elections for city wide office, especially the school board. Look for radical shifts in policy there, and pressure to hire in spite of impending bankruptcy. Of course all this will be covered as positive developments.

Fire the incompetants said...

Well said! You have a city wherein 17-homicides occurred so far this year. Shootings are at their highest level ever. And yet, you a have majority of minorities who think this is normal and acceptable. You have a mayor charged with 54-feleony counts and is reelected; still you have a majority of minorities who think this is normal and acceptable. You have a school system that is ravaged by gangs and under-performing students; and still a majority of minorities think this is normal and acceptable. This is the city without limits! I guess we than can accept higher homicide rates, shootings, Pawlowski being reelected twice more and bunch of morons and gangs proliferating in our school district. This is the legend of Ed Pawlowski!

Scott Armstrong said...

Having worked the ground in Allentown for many years it is my opinion that the relatively affluent west end is as culpable for our election results as the downtown. I don't see it as a majority, minority divide. I have talked with plenty of D's in the deep west end, who with a clear conscience,go straight party every time. How could they do otherwise? The Republican Party is just so evil. They never blame themselves for the obviously disastrous outcomes that are apparent to the rest of us, they choose to ignore or make excuses for what has become of the city. No, many in the downtown are perhaps fooled into voting for the wrong people but the real fools are the Democrats who vote for Democrats just because they are. I believe the straight D party vote in the city was between 70-80 %. As I wrote previously, Fools, Idiots, and Connivers, this town is full of all three.

Dave said...

What Allentown has turned into is the same type of city that many of the underclass left. So when gangs and crime are rife, and shootings aren't news but expected events, this is the effect of the policies of Mayor Dadonna to welcome large numbers of the underclass into the city for political power.

And of course, if you voice your opinion in public, you are immediately called a racist because you hate the filth that now have taken over our schools, turning them from once award-winning into where Kotter's sweathogs attend. This is why most non-minorities have fled Allentown and the housing stock looks like Spanish Harlem.

Welcome to Allentown 4.0, the city without limits. It's a stepping stone for those in government service to put on their resume's. Not for those in charge who grew up here or really give a damn.

Jeffrey Anthony said...

I don't think the ethnic/racial composition of Allentown matters at all.

What matters *enormously* is the ratio of productive class to dependent class.

When one owns little or nothing, and all essentials (and luxuries too, e.g. the Obama phone) are given to a person gratis, there is little self-respect and pride of place -- which leads directly to the dysfunctional behavior and sloth we now see throughout Allentown.

It's simple: tip the ratio toward the productive class, and you'll see improvement; don't, and you won't. No amount of forcibly redistributed NIZ money will change that simple fact.

JoshLCowen said...

Blogger Jeffrey Anthony said...
I don't think the ethnic/racial composition of Allentown matters at all.
What matters *enormously* is the ratio of productive class to dependent class.

JoshLCowen says: Jeffrey, with all due respect I think your statement is a distinction without a difference. Ethnicity matters. If not intrinsically, surely in what we know some ethnic and cultural groups bring with them as an acceptable lifestyle.
The Italian-American side of my family was often insulted by what people thought about them two or three generations ago. Yet, when 'our kind' started to move into the middle class neighborhoods in major cities 'we' brought us the tough guy attitudes, spitting on the stoop, 'wife-beater' undershirt a la the James Dean/Brando archetype. Classism/racism? Perhaps. Justified? Perhaps more than a little. The major difference, in my opinion, is that our parents (the Greatest Generation) strove to eliminate those feelings about Italians by making sure we went to school, attended class, attend college and get a respectable job. No life of entitlement.

doug_b said...

I'm an ex-Allentownian, who was born (1949), raised, attended two STEM Universities in PA.

After I graduated in 1972 my wife and I wanted to stay in PA. Couldn't find a job - turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to us.

Occasionally we would return to A-Town, each time, it was successively worse.

When folks here ask where I'm from, I say Chestnut Hill (where my grandparents lived). If I say Allentown, I have to answer too many questions or endure laughs.

Unfortunately, Allentown is on it's way to becoming a "Little" Baltimore / Detroit / Chicago / Newark.

Jamie Kelton said...

Allentown has never gotten past the stereotype that Billy Joel laid on it in 1983. And re-electing a mayor accused of 54 felonies has made a laughingstock of the city. Although to be fair, there wasn't really a choice given to the voters, as neither major candidate was someone you'd want to vote for.

JoshLCowen said...

Jamie, ironically Billy Joel's hometown on Long Island is now one of the capitols of Mexican drug lords and murderers. As of today there has been no song written about how miserable Levittown has become.

TRENT HALL said...

I realize there is little point in refuting with facts the nonsense that Faux News watchers on this blog constantly state, but, I'll try again with two blatant examples:

1. There is not, and has never been, a "free Obama phone" program. This is simply ReichWing bullcrap. Low-income households have been eligible for discounted telephone service for more than a dozen years. But, the program is funded by the telecom companies, not by taxes, and a President has nothing to do with it. Big telecom lobbied for this during Bush 43's term because it was a way to get Congress to help subsidize wireless expansion in the rural & red states areas. It is funded by the "universal taxes" line item on your wireless bill, with a matching contribution by the common carriers. Passed with bipartisan support; was not considered a hot topic issue. Only became an issue when right wingnuts mislabeled it as an Obama thingie.

2. Billy Joe did not originally consider Allentown in any sense when he composed the song. His original lyric was "Levittown," which was near where he grew up. His thought was a rift on the declining economy of the northeast's coal & steel mills & manufacturing which he viewed in Levittown and the way this initially crushed the spirit. However, as he wrestled with the lyrics over several years he became frustrated how difficult it was to pen enough words to rhyme with Levittown. The breakthrough inspiration came when he read an article about how the closing of the Bethlehem steel mill affected the nearby towns in the Lehigh Valley. Allentown was one of the cities mentioned and he felt the name worked as a lyric musically so much better as far as rhyme and cadence. So, "Allentown" became a symbol of blue collar workers' angst purely by serendipity, not by original intent.

I graduated Allentown High in 1960. Bartholomew as Principal was already an empty suit by then...waaaay past his prime, with the VP and others really managing the ship. His nomination/election because of name recognition was the last hurrah of the old Donald Hocks Penna. Dutch monopoly on City Hall. Demographics IS DESTINY. (Trump snowflakes saw this in Virginia last week.)

Jeffrey Anthony said...

No, Trent, check your bill. Universal Access Fee. That's what pays for the dependent class' phone bonanza. You don't know what you're talking about. It's compulsory, so it's a tax whether telecom operators explicitly pass it along to consumers or not.

You may also want to take a look at Sen. McCaskill's investigation of the -- surprise! -- grossly wasteful operation of the program.

JoshLCowen said...

Trent...are you kidding me? Coal on LonGisland? All they had was potato farms and sod farms (at least outside the City limits). The only coal on the island was delivered by truck to peoples' basements.
Fact is that Billy Joel was going nowhere with his band The Hassels and was literally a 'piano man' playing bars around New York. I actually saw that band at Palisades Amusement Park in the mid-60's. His only 'national' acclaim seemed to come from his occasional gigs at the Roxy Theatre in Northampton, and got plenty of air play on WSAN-AM 1470, then owned by the venerable Mussleman family. His appreciation for this community and the decline of the steel company was the motivation for writing "Allentown." Joel's reference to 'coal' here in Allentown was a bit of an artistic stretch.

Bob said...

I can confirm Trent Hall's point #2.

I attended a talk by Billy Joel in which he said the "Allentown" song was originally about Levittown, but Levittown didn't work lyrically.

TRENT HALL said...

Never implied the line charge on the carriers bill wasn't compulsory....that is the whole point.....the public & carriers fund the program. Is considered public policy to wire up the country...bring internet/voice/data to rural schools/counties and yes, to those Repug deplorables called the "dependent class." If savvy urban dwellers also get on aboard perhaps they are smarter than you give them credit for. Hardly a "bonanza" ---for that you can look at the Repug proposed Tax Bill.

As for Senator McCaskill's "investigation" and clout with the Administration.....please, send me a case of what you are smoking. Besides being number 1 on the Repug & TELECOM take down list for her election, BIG TELECOM OWNS this Administration. They have installed FCC Commissioners who are for ending net neutrality so that they can charge you much more for decent speed, have voted to eliminate all monopoly ownership of all media in a market, voted to uphold Sinclair from purchasing 500 TV stations, etc., etc., and you think they would be receptive to eliminating a subsidy for wireless coverage? Dude, they are going to rape you blind, but, offer you their thoughts & prayers.