Oct 3, 2023

The Magic Of Allentown

We who grew up in Allentown during the 50's know that Hess's was a magical place, but did you know that Hess's actually sold magic. The advertisement shown above is from 1941.

By 1915, Allentown sported the Willard Magic Shop on Allen Street. In the 1940's Allentown's own Houdini, Harry Beehrle, started his shop on Hamilton near 4th. Later, after a wave of urban renewal, he would move to 9th and Linden Streets.

I remember Arthur Neimeyer's Fun shop on 9th Street. It was on the corner, below ground level. As I got older, into jr. high school, I rarely went to Neimeyer's, because he really didn't carry club or stage props, no apparatus actually, just the little S.S. Adams & the Robbins' E-Z Magic line, of basically packet magic and/or gag items. So, for magic, there was only one shop at that time (the 1950's) and that was Harry Beehrle's Magic shop, downtown on Hamilton, just up from the train station....... Harry was a gruff curmudgeon type, not kid friendly at all. In his youth he had been an escape artist, Allentown's "Houdini" and there were photos in the shop of him as a young man hanging upside down doing the straitjacket escape, etc., etc. That was where I purchased all my U.F. Grant magic and such. By the time I was in high school, Harry was either ill or had died, ........ I can't remember which, and his daughter was running the shop. notes from a former Allentonian and magician.

In the mid 80's Jim Karol sold magic from his home on Front Street. Years later, Ed White would continue the tradition from his home shop.

reprinted from March of 2020

Oct 2, 2023

Ring 32

When I was growing up in the mid-50's, stage magic was still popular. Famous magicians of the day would occasionally appear at the Lyric Theater (Symphony Hall). Local magicians were popular for entertainment at parties. Allentown always had at least one magic shop, back then Beehrle's on N. 9th St. was the local favorite. The valley chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, Ring 32, dates back to the early 1930's. The Brotherhood now numbers over 300 chapters worldwide. Up till about 15 years ago, the local chapter would have a show and dealer convention each year in May. As special effects in movies and television evolved, the wonder of performing illusions, and it's popularity diminished; For a while, until Las Vegas once again put magic center stage. I've always been in awe of the performer posters from the early 1920's, lithography at it's best. They were meant to be exotic, to mystify, to be magic.

reprinted from December of 2008

Sep 29, 2023

A Cookie For Old Allentown

About once a year, Mayor Pawlowski gives the boys and girls of the Old Allentown Preservation Association a cookie. Last year, he gave them new historic street signs. Unfortunately, they didn't have much structural integrity, and within 3 hours every one of them was bent. This year we're dressing up the corner where the Association has its office. Brick crosswalks will be added to 10th and Turner, and the the stoplight and other utility poles will be painted a more historic color. The boys and girls have been good. There hasn't been one peep from them about the demolition of the historic mercantile district, and the construction of the Great White Elephant. More important, they're behaving about the traffic cluster that the arena will bring their way, when all the patrons exit at the same time. I see more cookies in their future.

above reprinted from October of 2013

ADDENDUM SEPTEMBER 29, 2023: The boys and girls of the Preservation Association still behave themselves. In current time they have turned a blind eye to both the sale of Zion Church/Liberty Bell Museum and the decaying WPA/art deco post office. Add the Art Museum and Historical Society to the list of deaf and blind. Enjoy your wine and cheese.

Sep 28, 2023

Using A Bad Lesson Well Taught In Philadelphia

Back on May 4th, before the death in police custody in Minneapolis, I wrote about Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.  She instructed the police force not to arrest for minor infractions, like theft and prostitution, during the virus crisis. Large groups of young people were running amok in center city Philadelphia convenience stores,  scooping up everything their backpacks could hold. Meanwhile at City Hall, woke mayor Jim Kenney stayed silent about this decline in civilization. Only after a couple weeks, after a merchant and citizen backlash, did Outlaw and Kenney finally reverse policy.

Philadelphia inner city kids were taught a bad lesson by their police commissioner and mayor. 

Perhaps with that lesson fresh in their mind, some of them may have graduated to the looting this past weekend.

My first reaction to the looting on Walnut and Chestnut Streets was that the police must have stood down. How could looters smash windows and enter a Wells Fargo Bank without being stopped? How could all that theft and destruction only result in 13 arrests Saturday night?

I realize that there are a limited number of police and that Philadelphia is a large city. While I can't pass judgement on the police response, I will on the looters shown above. I do not believe that their thinking centered on George Floyd and institutional racism, but rather about what they could steal.

Here in the Lehigh Valley, the mayors and police chiefs conveyed their commitment to social justice.  But more importantly,  the local protestors expressed their hopes and solidarity in a lawful manner.

photocredit:Steven Falk/Philadelphia Inquirer

above reprinted from January of 2020

ADDENDUM SEPTEMBER 28, 2023:On Tuesday night looters once again had their way in several areas of Philadelphia. In large cities throughout America retailers are closing shop because of everyday shoplifting.

Sep 27, 2023

Shootings In What's Not Paradise

Last week on this blog I wrote that it's time to raise the flag for homelessness, since flag raising seems to be a big part of this administration.  Here I am less than a week later correcting myself...IT'S TIME TO RAISE THE FLAG ON PUBLIC SAFETY, THAT IS AGAINST SHOOTINGS AND STABBINGS. I don't literally need to see such a flag flying, but let's not delude ourselves anymore that hope and promise organizations are any solution. WE NEED MORE POLICING.  We need to protect life and limb.  

Instead of the police car passing the double parker, let's start by checking them out. We already know that such citizens don't have much regard for public safety, and probably not much for laws either. Don't worry about culture or offending anybody. If Charles Roca is not up to the task, a new chief may be in order. If Matt Tuerk isn't up to the mission, maybe a new mayor will also be necessary.

illustration by Mark Beyer

Sep 26, 2023

The Mad Men Of Allentown

Back in the day, the titans of Allentown would fill the five barberchairs of the Colonial Barbershop, 538 Hamilton Street. That was when the town had three department stores. That was when Wetherhold and Metzger had two shoe stores on Hamilton Street. That was when Harvey Farr would meet Donald Miller and John Leh at the Livingston Club for lunch, and discuss acquiring more lots for Park & Shop. By 1995 all that was gone, but Frank Gallucci, 82, would still give some old timers a trim. The Colonial Barbershop property, closed for many years, has been purchased by J.B. Reilly. It is my pleasure to present this previously unseen portrait of Gallucci, toward the end of his career.


reprinted since 2013

Sep 24, 2023

Jews In Jerusalem

Except when barred by one conqueror or another, Jews had lived in Jerusalem since King David. Prior to Jordanian rule in 1948, there was a Jewish majority for 150 years. In 1864, eight thousand of the fifteen thousand population was Jewish. By 1914, two thirds of the sixty five thousand residents were Jewish. In 1948 the United Nations Partition Plan divided the British Mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Jerusalem was to be initially an international city, with access guaranteed for all. This plan was rejected by the surrounding Arab nations, which attacked Israel in concert immediately upon the UN vote. When the truce was declared, Israel had survived, but East Jerusalem(walled Old City) was in procession of TransJordan. The Jordanians subsequently destroyed over 50 synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, which dated back to the 1400's. For hundreds of years both Christians and Jews were prohibited from building higher than Muslim structures. The few synagogues which survived were the ones built mostly below street level. The oldest surviving synagogue, The Jerusalem Synagogue, was built by the Karaite Jews in around 900. Shown above is the Ben Kakai, a Sephardic Synagogue built in the 16th Century.

Perhaps the most famous synagogue destroyed by the Jordanians was the Ashkenazi Hurva Synagogue built in 1720, it's dome visible in the top center of this photograph from the 1920's. It's replacement was completed in 2010.

This post was first printed in April of 2010, and titled The Synagogues of Jerusalem

Sep 22, 2023

Time For The Homeless Flag Raising

Allentown activist Lewis Shupe took the photo above, and wonders aloud how we can have homelessness surrounded by a $Billion dollars of new development?  While mental illness is certainly an explanation, it doesn't make the sidewalk any softer or warmer for the poor person shown.

We have raised the flag for numerous republics in the Caribbean, perhaps it's time to raise one for the homeless? While such an effort to help done quietly would be more dignified, if political fanfare gets the job done, raise a flag and give a speech!

I do acknowledge that local efforts to help homelessness have occurred. Both the Fountain Park pool house and the YMCA have recently operated shelters.

Allentown is concerned with its image.  Both 7th and Hamilton Street gateways get dress-up grants...That's nice, but it's time to concern ourselves with the people sleeping on those new sidewalks.

photocredit: Lewis Shupe

Sep 21, 2023

Saving The Bridge

Allentown and Lehigh County aren't much for history. Last year Allentown celebrated it's 250th anniversary by having someone rewrite the lyrics to the Billy Joel song. The County actually commissioned a whole music program for their 200th, also last year. Believing our history should be more than a tune and a speech, I've been using this blog to advocate for the preservation of our historic structures. During the County Commissioner committee meeting last night, the project manager said that if the bridge is repaired instead of replaced, it might last two months, or it might last six months. Considering that the bridge has endured everything that has come it's way for 189 years, that statement clearly demonstrated that he was never a fair broker for options concerning the bridge. Recently, the Commissioners expressed support for preserving the King George Inn, but noted that they had no say in it's fate. Last night, I pointed out the durability of the bridge, and reminded the Commissioners that they do have the say concerning the bridge's fate. By a 7 to 2 vote, the Commissioners decided that the historic Reading Road Bridge should continue to provide passage over the Cedar Creek, by Union Terrace. 

reprinted from October of 2013

ADDENDUM SEPTEMBER 21, 2023:Saving the Reading Road Bridge in 2013 took me two weeks, two blog posts and attending two meetings.Saving Wehr's Dam took nine years, twenty meetings and fifteen blog posts. I'm hoping that someone will come forward to campaign for the iconic WPA/Art Deco post office. Already two irreplacable light fixtures have disappeared. For a city with a $Billion dollars worth of new crass construction, the languishing post office is a crime.

Sep 20, 2023

Cannibal Valley

During the summer of 1952, Lehigh Valley Transit rode and pulled its trolley stock over to Bethlehem Steel, to be chopped up and fed to the blast furnaces. The furnaces themselves ceased operation in 1995, and are now a visual backdrop for young artists, most of whom never saw those flames that lit up that skyline. Allentown will now salvage some architectural items documented on this blog, and begin tearing down its shopping district, which was serviced by those trolleys. As young toothless athletes from Canada, entertain people from Catasauqua, on the ice maintained by a Philadelphia company, Allentown begins another chapter in it's history of cannibalism.

photo from August 1952, showing last run on St. John Street to Bethlehem Steel

reprinted from November 2011 

ADDENDUM SEPTEMBER 20, 2023:When I wrote the above post twelve years ago, I didn't expect the NIZ to bulldoze practically every building on Hamilton Street. Worse, the new buildings are devoid of any architectual merit. The tenants in the new Strata apartment buildings are seldom seen, and appear to bestow very little economic benefit to the few new businesses. Why anyone would want to live in the new monstrosity at 7th and Linden, between the hapless bus passengers and the infamous 7/11, is beyond my comprehension. Needless to say my opinions or frankness on these topics is not very appreciated by the powers that be. If you need some smoke blown your way, buy the local paper, don't read this blog.

Sep 19, 2023

The Lost Beauty Of Lehigh Parkway

                                                                         photography by Tami Quigley

This beautiful photograph was taken by Tami Quigley last fall. This classic view of the stone piers, rising out of the Little Lehigh, has been inspiring photographers and artists for over 70 years. I have picture postcards of the same view. The stone piers are now surrounded by the concrete rubble of the former dam. Although the rapids still provide some sound and view, the portion of beauty and magic has been reduced in half. The new park director may have set a record in park degradation. Although only here for a matter of weeks, before even having seen the whole park, he agreed and recommended that the Robin Hood Dam be demolished. Piling it's rubble by the stone piers is salt in the wound of our lost beauty.

photograph by Tami Quigley

reprinted from October of 2013 

ADDENDUM SEPTEMBER 19, 2023: It has been a decade since the broken rubble of the former small scenic dam was piled around the stone bridge piers. What was formerly beautiful is now an eyesore. Weeds and saplings are now growing in the rubble. While I've had no success with the administration on this degradation of the park, I respectfully now ask City Council to address the issue.

Sep 18, 2023

The New Jobs Of Allentown

J.B. Reilly said this week that the downtown development is bringing 3,000 jobs to Allentown's $600 million NIZ. Between the National Penn Bank, and his other prospective tenants, that figure seems high. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, and considering everything else he's gotten, we can easily throw that in, each job will cost the state taxpayers $200,000.00. Now, this is nay-sayer math, but then again, this is a blog. Talking of nay-saying, last night over 200 unemployed  packed into a center city church, hoping for some benefit from the NIZ. I think a church was an appropriate venue, because that will take a lot of prayer. As I had written in a previous blog post, the new jobs, except for the peanut vendors at the arena, will be white collar, college degree required. This brings us to the photograph shown above. As they demolish the former Gallery Building in the 900 block of Hamilton Street, we see that the steel beams were fabricated at the former Lehigh Structural Steel. At one time, the buildings on Hamilton Street were built by entrepreneurs, to accommodate our prosperity.  Now they are funded by taxpayers, hoping to steal another town's employees.

above reprinted from November of 2013

ADDENDUM SEPTEMBER 18, 2023: A decade has passed since I wrote the post above, and we're now funding a $Billion dollars worth of real estate for J.B.  Outrage that a privately owned empire is being paid for by the taxpayers is still limited to this blog. The Morning Call continues to praise and promote each new building as progress. The former Lehigh Structural Steel site itself is now part of the NIZ, and hosts a new commercial building by the Jaindl dynasty.

Sep 15, 2023

Allentown's Fading Memories

I have written recently that the market for Allentown memorabilia was closing fast. With so many new comers to the area, and the graying of the old timers, those interested in acquiring such objects are far and few between. Nostalgia is a different story. The internet allows former Allentonians to remember the good old days. In Allentown's case, many feel that the expression is unfortunately very true. Shown above is the first mayor for life, Joe Daddona, with Willie Restum. Willie was a nationally known sax player, who never forgot his Allentown roots in the Syrian 6th ward. Adding to this blast from the past, is Willie wearing the Allentown All American City tee-shirt. This post was for the subset, born in Allentown before 1960.

reprinted from November of 2013

Sep 14, 2023

Allentown's Industrial Hoax

Allentown's looking to identify an industrial area, where an investment in infrastructure can produce jobs. The Allentown Economic Development Corporation hired a consultant, to tell them what they wanted to hear. Never mind that we have an industrial area, already complete with infrastructure. Shown above is the area along the Lehigh River, where industry began in Allentown. The working railroad line is still there, as are the industrial buildings, and even industrial tenants, including Air Products. Problem is, that area is now slated for Pawlowski Transformation Number Two, turning the industrial reality into a commercial and residential hope to be. Enter AEDC and their choo choo project. Many years ago, Traylor Engineering on S. 10th Street, was serviced by the Barber Quarry rail spur. That rail branch has been completely removed, from it's start back at 3th and Union Streets. Last year, the AEDC purchased Traylor's successor, the vacant Allentown Metal Works, and sought a grant to rebuild the branch line. The bureaucracy of the AEDC would actually spend $millions of dollars to rebuild a railroad line, on the speculation of attracting an industrial tenant. Lo and behold, the new study they and the City have commissioned, recommends this very nonsense.

above reprinted from November of 2013

ADDENDUM SEPTEMBER 14, 2023: In the above post from ten years ago, I take AEDC to task for wanting to rebuilt the rail branch line to S. 10th Street. Only in their dreams would we ever have a new industry there that would need rail service. To that regard they should have actively protested when the old line there was removed. But let's move ahead to 2023. The area along the river, former home of Lehigh Structural Steel, is now part of the NIZ.  As I reported recently, Jaindl has built an attractive commercial building on the parcel, with a residential component planned.

Sep 13, 2023

When Allentown Worked

Regular readers of this blog know that I often visit Allentown's better days of the past. I even belong to a nostalgia group, where someone recently asked where everyone's parents worked. Many group members are in their 50's and 60's. Here was the question; When we grew up the best jobs for our dad's was the Bethlehem steel and mack trucks unless they were lawyers or doctors or had another profession occupation I know my my mom worked in a factory all her life and I think most of them have closed. Where did you mom and dad work and are the companies are open? Over 90 people responded, actually constituting a survey. In current Allentown, this would be a study, which taxpayers would have to pay for; Here, it's on the house, no charge. Fourteen of the fathers worked at Bethlehem Steel, while five worked at Mack Trucks, and five worked retail on Hamilton Street. The others worked at Allentown's many other industries, one or two here and there. Only two respondents said that their fathers weren't much for working. Twenty mothers were stay at home, while eight worked in various sewing factories. The remainder worked as teachers, nurses, factory workers and various other jobs. One person wrote, "My parents sound like the scene you described. My dad worked at Beth Steel and my mom at Penn State Mills on a sewing machine. They owned their own home and sent me to college where I graduated without the burden of a loan. Thanks, Mom and Dad." Shown above was the General Electric plant on S. 12th Street, just beyond the old Mack 5C.

reprinted from November of 2013

Sep 12, 2023

Visiting Easton

Being one of the last warm days of the year, I thought we would visit Easton. I thought perhaps it would be more interesting to do the trip circa 1948. Lehigh Valley Transit had a trolley that went from 8th and Hamilton, through Bethlehem, to the circle in Easton. In the photo above, we're coming down Northampton Street, just entering the Circle. The Transit Company was using both trolleys and buses, until they discontinued trolleys completely, in 1953. At this time, Hamilton, Broad and Northampton Streets were the shopping malls of the era, and public transportation serviced the customers. The Transit Company, now Lanta, currently serves the Allentown population from a prison like facility at 6th and Linden Streets; It just needs a fence. Easton mayor Sal Panto is now also abandoning the merchants for a remote transportation/correction facility, which will entertain the inmates with the Al Bundy High School Dropout Museum. Hope you enjoyed the trip.
reprinted from November of 2011

UPDATE March 9, 2015: The above post was written in 2011, but it's taken Sal Panto longer than expected to build the Lanta Transfer/Parking Deck. The planned Al Bundy Museum is now being replaced instead by Easton City Hall, where Sal is expected to wear his high school football uniform. As it turns out, Sal and I have something in common, we both worked at our fathers' meat markets in Easton. My father's market was called Melbern, and was on S. 4th Street, catty corner the Mohican Market. During the early 1960's, on my way to lunch in the circle, I would stop and visit a friend who worked at Iannelli's chicken and coldcut counter in the 5&10 on Northampton Street. The meat markets and commerce on Northampton Street are long gone, but Easton's Center Square is having a revival as the place to dine.

ADDENDUM MAY 2, 2022: When I first wrote this post in 2011, I never imagined that Panto would still be mayor 100 years later. I suppose that here in Kentuckvania, unless you get picked up by the FBI for blatant behavior, you're elected for life and beyond. Some cities become charming by accident...at some point the lack of development looks historic. I still visit Easton on a regular basis. Even stopped in once to meet Panto, but supposedly he wasn't in.

Sep 11, 2023

A Personal Memoir

I'm not sure memoir is a good title, rather than facts and records, I have hazy recollections. Assuming my memory will not improve at this stage of the game, let me put to print that which I can still recall. In about 1959 my father built Flaggs Drive-In. McDonalds had opened on Lehigh Street, and pretty much proved that people were willing to sit in their cars and eat fast food at bargain prices. For my father, who was in the meat business, this seemed a natural. As a rehearsal he rented space at the Allentown Fair for a food stand, and learned you cannot sell hotdogs near Yocco's. He purchased some land across from a corn field on Hamilton Blvd. and built the fast food stand. In addition to hamburgers, he decided to sell fried chicken. The chicken was cooked in a high pressure fryer called a broaster, which looked somewhat like the Russian satellite Sputnik. The stand did alright, but the business was not to my father's liking, seems he didn't have the personality to smile at the customers. He sold the business several years later to a family which enlarged and enclosed the walk up window. Subsequent owners further enlarged the location several times. The corn field later turned into a Water Park, and you know Flaggs as Ice Cream World.

I'm grateful to a kind reader who sent me this picture of Flaggs.

reprinted from 2009

Sep 8, 2023

The Turning Point At City Council

As a blogger/journalist I'm at a table for one. No one accuses me of having favorite politicans or favorite anything...I can't be counted on to take a predictable viewpoint, so most officials have no use for me. However, I do get contacted by activists now and then, willing to roll the dice that I will see things their way. I think that this post may equally offend all. 

The Discrimination Resolution was never in doubt, because of the math. Hendricks proclaimed before the discussion that he would vote against it, and Affa often shares his sentiments on such things. Even if Napoli joined them, co-sponsors Zucal and Gerlach could count on Santos and Mota. Before the Discrimination Issue reached discussion, Tuerk called on Karen Ocasio from HR to explain procedure on sick days. His introduction of her demonstrated that people of color were in positions of regard within city hall. 

The meeting progressed through the various resolutions on the agenda, leaving the investigation of discrimination until last. When Karen Ocasio stood up again to speak, this time as an employee of color who felt victimized, I think that Hendricks and Tuerk knew that they had no chips left to play. 

Photo shows Ocasio walking past Tuerk after testifying about what she felt as harassment in city hall.

Sep 7, 2023

Discrimination At City Hall

Despite Matt Tuerk's public image as a crusader for diversity and inclusion, rumors persist of discrimination in City Hall.

Since the controversial local branch NAACP letter on that topic, their leadership has changed. Lisa Conover is now president, replacing Walter Felton.* Conover is also on the school board.

City Councilman Ed Zucal co-sponsored a resolution asking for an investigation of the allegations concerning city hall. Some might phrase this as an investigation of the Tuerk administration. How culpable Tuerk is remains debatable. While some might blame an ingrained institutional mentality in the building, others feel that Tuerk hasn't been proactive enough about the problem. 

Several minority activists had reached out to me with their concern about Tuerk, so I stopped in at last night's council meeting to gauge the climate. In Tuerk's quest for inclusion, he has brought whites, browns and blacks together to criticize him. As you can tell from the photo, at least one rather animatedly.

By meeting's end, after heartfelt pleas, council voted unanimously to fund an outside investigation into the allegations.

* Felton does not consider the changeup legitimate.  He states that he was excluded from a zoom meeting when the voting occurred.

Sep 6, 2023

The Boat Landing

Getting to the Boat Landing, for six year old boys who lived above the park in 1953, was quite an adventure. There were three other wonderful WPA structures to navigate on the journey. Unfortunately,  poor foresight by a previous park director has erased some of the WPA's monuments in Lehigh Parkway. As the postcard from the mid-50's above shows, the Boat Landing (my name for the structure) was a source of pride for the city and park system. It is located at the end of the park,  near Regency Apartments. I use the present tense because remnants of this edifice still exist,  buried under dirt and debris. Other attractions lost in that section of the park include the Spring Pond near the Robin Hood parking lot, and the bridge to the "Island", plus the mosaic inlaid benches which were on the island. ( Island halfway between parking lot and boat landing). Neither the Mayor or the Park Director knows that these centerpieces ever existed. These are irreplaceable architectural treasures well worth restoring.

UPDATE: The above post was written in May of 2009. Later that year I organized a small group of volunteers, and we unearthed a portion of the boat landing. The next year I prevailed on the Allentown Water Shed Foreman, Michael Gilbert, to expose the remaining stones around the Spring Pond and remove the growth hiding the Miniature Bridge.

Trexler Smiles, Landing Revealed
I believe that today, for the first time in decades, General Trexler had something to smile about. Most people never understood why three steps were near the lower entrance of Lehigh Parkway; they seemed to lead nowhere. This morning eight people joined a grass root effort to unveil, for the first time in decades, the structure I called the Boat Landing.
Buried under the dirt and grass were several more steps leading to a landing. Chris Casey was the first to arrive and cleared these steps and the first landing himself. A second set of steps led from the landing to the main landing on the creek. These second steps had a foot or so of ground and plants.
The quality and condition of the stonework is excellent, as was all our WPA icons. I will be polite and say only that it was a crime to have let this neglect occur. On the main landing the accumulated earth was two and half feet thick. The crew dug out the curving retaining wall several yards in each direction, and cleared off the top of the wall.
Eight people working four hours managed to reveal about one third of the landing at the bottom of the steps. It was a thrill to realize we were standing at creek's edge as the WPA architects had envisioned. I stood there often as a boy. There still remains a large portion of dirt to remove at the steps base, but you can now experience the Boat Landing.
The retaining wall and the landing continue for fifty feet or so in both directions. Unfortunately a huge tree has grown on the landing to the right, but the left appears reclaimable.
We who worked there today, hope to return and clear off the remainder of the dirt at the bottom of the steps.

Perhaps others will be motivated to clear off the remaining portion of the landing to the left. Now that might even be an idea for the City; imagine restoring an irreplaceable icon instead of buying something from a catalogue. I'm most grateful to all those who helped today, and will reveal their names with their permission.

Michael M,
I just wanted to thank you for organizing today’s cleanup at the “Boat Landing” in the Lehigh Parkway. It’s not often that one gets to help unearth a treasure while barely leaving home, but that’s exactly what happened today.

It was truly impressive what big difference a small group of people can make. I can’t even estimate the amount of dirt that was moved with nothing more than a few shovels and a lot of hard work.
We can only hope that the City and the Trexler Trust will become aware of this location and start giving all the great structures in the Parkway the care they deserve.
However, the best part of the story for me came after we all left. I got home and my daughter Lucy (age 7) wanted to know how things went. We hopped in the car and soon we were walking up to the stairs leading to the landing. The sun was shining, and the sunlight trickled through the trees and onto the freshly-exposed stairway.
Lucy asked if she could go down to the landing by the water and next thing I knew we were both there at the waters edge, standing on what had been buried only a few hours earlier and marveling at the beauty of the location.
We spent a few moments there - a father and daughter both enjoying something completely “new” to us (even though the landing is over 70 years old). We talked briefly about what was – and more importantly what could be again.

Thank you for making that moment possible, and I hope many others take the opportunity to visit the landing in the near future.
Mike Schware
P.S. – After visiting the landing, Lucy and I walked further upstream and saw the remnants of the bridge to the island (near the water fountain). The remaining supports of the bridge confirmed what you had told me earlier about the island being much smaller years ago.

I organized the excavation shown above in 2009. We did return and remove the remaining dirt at the bottom of the steps.
reprinted from two separate posts combined

above reprinted from October of 2009

Sep 5, 2023

Measuring Allentown

Although I no longer attend meetings, about once a week I measure Allentown by driving down Tilghman Street, from Cedar Crest Blvd. to Front Street. I'm measuring civility and quality of life, both of which are getting smaller and smaller. 
Double parking now seems to have a de facto legality.  I'm also seeing more U turns, and the left turning lane used as a passing lane at intersections. Gotta love those low rider Honda Accords with canted wheels blasting their stereos. 

I can understand why such observations are not publicly made by our aspiring local elected officials. 

Sep 4, 2023

Supermarket Comes To Allentown

The concrete monolith still stands five stories above Lehigh Street at the Parkway Shopping Center. Currently it sports a clock and a sign for St. Luke's medical offices. It was built in 1953 as the modernistic sign tower for Food Fair supermarket, which then was a stand alone store. Behind it, on South 12th Street was the General Electric small appliance factory. The shopping center would not be built to decades later, connecting the former supermarket to the bowling alley built in the 60's. Food Fair was started in the 1920's by Russian immigrant Samuel Friedland in Harrisburg. By 1957 he had 275 stores. 1953 was a rough year for the butcher, baker and candle stick maker: the huge supermarkets were too much competition, even for the bigger independent markets, such as Lehigh Street Superette -- it was further east on Lehigh, now the site of a Turkey Hill Market. The sign tower also remains at the 15th and Allen Shopping center, which was another stand alone Food Fair. That parcel remains an independent supermarket. Food Fair would eventually absorb Penn Fruit, which had a market on N. 7th Street, then turn into Pantry Pride. When the Food Fair was built, there was as yet no 15th Street Bridge. Allentown only connected to the south side by the 8th Street Bridge and the Lehigh/Union Street hill (stone arch bridge, near Regency Tower, was route to West End).  Allentown was booming and Mack Trucks were rolling off the line, a block east off Lehigh Street, as fast as they could build them. The factories on S. 12th st. are now flea markets. Mack Headquarters is being sold to a real estate developer. Perhaps those concrete monoliths are the monuments to better times, by those of us who remember.

reprinted from June 2009

Sep 1, 2023

The Great Allentown Fair

The Morning Call website is hosting an archive of Fair Pictures from over the years. Being a fan both of fair pictures and black and white photography, looking at the 111 photos presented was a treat.

The photo shown above, which I will get back to, reminded me of one of my unique fair experiences. In previous posts, I have discussed that both my father and myself had stands at the fair. While my father learned that you couldn't sell hotdogs near Yocco's, I learned that drunks leaving the beer garden loved to buy printed T-shirts.

But today's post has to with George Kistler, long time City Clerk during the 1950's and 60's. George loved the fair, and loved sharing his fascination with a large group of people. I was fortunate enough to be invited several times. The routine was always the same; Dinner at a local stand on the eastern side of the fairgrounds, followed by the wrestling show. I remember photographing Andre The Giant.

The Morning Call fair picture above is none other than Jim "Super Fly" Snuka, who was recently back in Allentown, for a most regrettable reason.

reprinted from September of 2016

ADDENDUM SEPTEMBER 1, 2023: Morning Call photo journalist April Gamiz has been doing a top notch job capturing this year's fair.

Aug 31, 2023

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 since 2007

Aug 30, 2023

Hootchy Nights At The Allentown Fair

Morning Call columnist Bill White had a piece earlier in the week where he lamented that  Bobo the dunking clown was no longer at the fair. Although that's about as funky as it got for Bill in his era,  we older Allentonians remember much hotter nights at the fairgrounds. Up to the late sixties the fair had girly shows. I'm going back to the era of Gooding's Million Dollar Midway and Benny's Bingo. I'm going back to three midways packed between the Farmer's Market and Chew Street. I'm going back to when the fair only started after Labor Day.

I mentioned in one of my previous fair posts that Fred Schoenk and I made and sold printed t-shirts at the fairs during high School. At the Kutztown Fair we were hired by the burlesque show owner to letter a new banner for his show tent...as high school boys we would have paid him for the experience.

reprinted from September of 2018

photocredit:molovinsky...Black rock and roll review with strippers, 1969 Allentown Fair

Aug 29, 2023

The King Has Abdicated

In 1958 my father had a food stand at the fair. It took him about an hour to realize you cannot sell hot dogs in the King's back yard, that is Yocco the hot dog king. When Yocco's claimed last year(2006) they were not at the fair because their canvas ripped, I was skeptical. This year it's official, they have abdicated their spot. Tonight the fair was jammed. In Ag Hall the granges still compete in vegetable canning. A wiseguy still incites you to dunk him. The world's smallest horse hasn't grown. Maybe Yocco's is gone, but the fair is still much more like 1958 than any other aspect of Allentown.

reprinted annually since 2007

Aug 28, 2023

Blogging, The Last Watchtower

Anybody who buys The Morning Call on Monday knows what slim pickings is. The paper is produced on Friday, with a one man weekend crew, to cover the police blotter. There's hardly enough paper to cover the bottom of a bird cage. That leaves the news junkies forced to read garbage like this. Even the blogosphere is slim pickings. Bernie O'Hare, arguably the dean of local blogging, says that I'm lazy and preoccupied with choo choo trains. I actually haven't done a choo choo post in over six minutes, that's how long it took me to read the paper this morning. Truth to be told, I am fascinated with how much Allentown has changed within the last 50 years, and the railroads are a good metaphor. In my youth, the city was serviced by rail branch lines with dozens of sidings, supplying many industries with raw materials, to produce products distributed all over the country. Those industries fostered a large middle class, and a high standard of living. We were the truck capital of the world, we were home to the first transistors, and a retail legend. The tower shown above in 1963, and the gas tank in the background, were on Union Street. Although they are both now gone, this lazy blogger will continue to combine history, news and commentary for those of us who still remember a different era.

reprinted from November of 2013

Aug 25, 2023

An American Saga

Say what you will about Trump, he's an American showman. Yesterday's mainstream media spent the day counting down to his booking in Georgia. Although there would be no suspense to that spectacle, every step of the trip was treated as breaking news. His large TRUMP jet flew into Atlanta and the surrender was intentionally prime timed.

While Trump may have resented his trip to Atlanta, Prigozhin would have gladly traded places, his flight did not go as smoothly. Here in America Trump could explain to Tucker Carlson how inept Biden is.  Elsewhere, Putin has announced that there will be an investigation into the crash which took his critic's life.

Some of us conservatives couldn't vote for Trump in 2020 because he wasn't presidential enough in his first term. Likewise, we cannot  consider him for 2024 because he wasn't American enough on January 6th, 2021. 

Aug 24, 2023

Rainy Morning Chronicle: DeSantis Wins Debate Show

Rainy Morning Chronicle: DeSantis Wins Debate Show: Trump wasn't at the debate Wednesday night, but MAGA was in the audience.  Their boos and jeers seem to have affected the pundit/analyst...

Drag Races At Queen City

During the 1950's, for a summer or two, city sanctioned drag races were held at the Queen City Airport. Dopey Duncan, radio personality and racing car enthusiast, was instrumental in organizing these events. The airport and large hanger seen in the background was built by Consolidated Vultee, to produce airplanes for the war effort.

reprinted from September of 2013

Aug 23, 2023

Mack Line Overpass

It was just a few years ago that the train overpass at the junction of S. 6th and Lehigh Streets was removed. Although the line ceased operation decades earlier, the overpass remained as a silent monument to our industrial past.

One half block of S. 10th Street was serviced by two different rail spur lines. Lehigh Valley Railroad served Traylor Engineering, while Reading served the Mack Factory.

reprinted from December of 2013

Aug 22, 2023

Allentown Archeology

When it comes to the history of industrial Allentown, the railroad buffs are among the current experts. Our heavy manufacturing base moved it's materials on the tracks of several railroads. The Front Street area was crisscrossed with tracks and sidings. The West End Branch ran along Sumner Avenue, crossed Tilghman Street, looped around 17th Street and ended near 12th and Liberty. The Barber Quarry Branch ran along the Little Lehigh until it then followed Cedar Creek. It crossed Hamilton Street near the current Hamilton Family Restaurant and ended at what is now the Park Department Building. The rail buffs are current day archeologists, looking for remnants of those glory days. Shown above is a portion of the Barber Quarry pier and track. This is at the bottom of Lehigh Street hill, near the former bank call center, near the former Acorn Hotel, in a former city still called Allentown.
photo courtesy of Mike Huber, Coplay

above reprinted from March of 2011 

ADDENDUM AUGUST 22, 2023:The bridge has just been rebuilt, and the portion of the earlier railroad bridge show above was removed.

Aug 21, 2023

Bad Rap For Mayor Tuerk

Mayor Tuerk learned early that there's no winning with me. Before his time, even when I was at the mercy of the city operating a licensed/ inspected business, I spoke and wrote my mind. I have been critical of Tuerk's missions to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I have accused him of being preoccupied with diversity and inclusion.

Despite that preoccupation, members of the local NAACP have again accused his administration of tolerating racism. With such a large workforce, there might well be some bigoted people employed. However, in my thirty years of scrutinizing City Hall, I have never seen a more concerted effort against discrimination.

Although the top leadership of the chapter distanced themselves from the allegations, the issue seems to remain a contention within that organization.  While these accusations* might be click bait for the local media, even a seasoned critic such as myself thinks that Tuerk is getting a bum rap.

* The resigned or terminated** HR director has amplified discrimination allegations.
     ** He claims terminated, Tuerk states that the director resigned.

UPDATE 5:00 PM: The terminated/resigned HR now claims that his departure has to do with his religion and skin color.  I suspect that Tuerk was aware of both those characteristics when he made the hire two months ago. Perhaps Tuerk was too quick to hire him because of those things!?!

Aug 18, 2023

Rittersville To Be Renamed Reillyville

When I was a kid growing up, the area of the State Hospital was called Rittersville.  Ritter had been a large landowner, and towns named after such were plentiful in Pennsylvania.

Paul Muschick, columnist for the Morning Call, has an article in the paper that the State Hospital won't be forgotten, because they're erecting a plaque about it. Paul must take those plaques much more seriously than the rest of us. 

What they should do is rename that area Reillyville, and erect a plaque about how J.B. Reilly got the parcel for a fraction of its value, in a swan song move by Pat Browne.

above reprinted from December of 2022

ADDENDUM AUGUST 18, 2023:J.B. Reilly has requested that Allentown rezone the parcel from institutional to mixed use to accommodate his plans.  That request seems reasonable to me. My question is does Reilly plan to use the NIZ benefit through a land swap with the downtown map? While such a swap would greatly benefit Reilly, it wouldn't benefit Allentown or its taxpayers.

Aug 17, 2023

Fairgrounds Farmers Market

If you grew up in or near Allentown, chances are that you been to the Farmers Market. The market has been in operation since 1953, all year except during Fair Week.  

While those visiting downtown Allentown will recognize very little from the past, the Farmers Market is frozen in time. Some of the purveyors have been there for near 60 years. 

When I was a boy, my father operated a meat concession at the market for a year or so. He gave it up because he recognized so many of the customers from his market on Union Street, and realized that he had  doubled his overhead to serve the same clients.

For those of us who find change not always for the best, the Market remains a comfort.

Aug 16, 2023

Weigh In On 1948

1948 was a good year for Allentown and the Lehigh Valley. Mack Trucks, Lehigh Structural Steel, General Electric and almost all factories were going full steam. President Truman stopped by to give a speech. The Allentown Cardinals played the first game in their new ballpark, Breadon Field. The baby boom was going full tilt:

The school district unveiled Lehigh Parkway and Midway Manor Elementary Schools and the new professional style football stadium. Donald Hock was Mayor, and although the last beer was being brewed on Lawrence Street at Daeufer Brewery, the Paddock joined many new restaurants opening that year. Photo's from Dorney Park in 1948.

reprinted from July 2009

Aug 15, 2023

Endless Excuses For Allentown Schools

State Representative Josh Seigel and his fellow elected peers think that students shouldn't be expected to learn in old school buildings. Apparently the students at Oxford and Harvard didn't get Josh's message, and are still studying. 

Our local team of elected state reps joined superintendent Birks in blaming state funding for Allentown's lack of educational performance.  In recent years we were told the problem was that the top administrators were too white. It appears that since white is no longer the issue, it's now the lack of green.

Maybe Josh, Mike, Peter and Nick have to prioritize their pandering.  Pennsylvania has plenty of money,  and if they really think that's the school district's reason for failure, maybe a few less connected developers need less subsidizes. Maybe the state could do with a few less commissions, and their plum no-show job appointments. 

As one gets older and reads the same nonsense year after year, decade after decade, I wonder how our elected officials keep a straight face when making such proclamations.

shown above Massachusetts Hall, Harvard University, built 1720

Aug 14, 2023

Cruising Down Hamilton

On Sunday I visited downtown Allentown's Cruiser Car Show.  Councilperson Cynthia Mota told me we have to give more attention to the good things like this show.  I certainly understand her point of view, especially preaching to a naysayer such as myself. However, I wish she was with me on the ride down Tilghman Street. Someone made a U-turn right on Tilghman, at 9th Street.  On 9th itself, I encountered no less than two double parkers in one block.

A merchant on Hamilton told me that the show harks back to the era when these cars were new, and kids would cruise the Hamilton/Linden Street circuit. Although for him it was hearsay, for me it was a real memory, I'm that old.

I agree with Cynthia and the merchant that the show is a good thing.  Allentown needs more of them.

Although our staff photographer chose to feature only one vehicle, the show stretched for blocks and contained hundreds of classic cars.

Aug 11, 2023

Trolley To Dorney Park

When the Allentown-Kutztown Traction (Trolley) Company purchased Dorney Park in 1901, trolley companies were buying or building amusement parks all across the country. Perhaps the most famous was Coney Island. Usually located between two cities serviced by the company, it was a plan to increase weekend rider-ship. Passengers could spend a day at the park, swimming, picnicking, and partaking of the rides and amusements. Through merger, the trolley would become the Allentown-Reading Traction Company, whose line began just south of Hamilton, on 7th Street. The line went west on Walnut Street, and then followed the Cedar Creek to the park. The roller coaster was built over the tracks in 1923, the year that the Allentown-Reading sold the park to the Plarr family.  Trolley service would continue to 1934.

Jim Layland contributed to this post.

reprinted from 2013

Aug 10, 2023

The Train Of Dorney Park

By Wally Ely
In 1934, times were tough — in the Lehigh Valley and throughout the United States. The Great Depression was rampant. Unemployment kept willing and able workers out of jobs, with some in food lines or soup kitchens. Dorney Park was just hanging on, waiting for better days. There was no way the park could afford anything new to keep interest in the amusements alive. Nobody could afford to come to the park in 1934, especially not to spend any money. Bob Plarr, park president, was not accustomed to sitting back, waiting and hoping for things to improve. Plarr had an acquaintance, Miles Erbor, from the nearby village of Wescosville. Erbor, known as Mike, ran a machine shop in his garage. Erbor floated his bright idea for a new ride at Dorney past Plarr, and he loved it! Erbor's thought was to build a miniature version of the national train sensation of the day, the Burlington Zephyr. He could do it economically, with many used parts he had on hand.... The new Zephyr traveled the route an old steam engine-powered open-air train had traveled around the west end of the park. The Zephyr Jr. started near the main crossing of Dorney Park road, which divided the park; it continued along Cedar Creek parallel to the Water Skooter boat ride and then passed the swimming pool and rumbled through a short storage building, which served as a tunnel. At the far end, the route approached the boating lake and began to circle back. On the return trip it passed the picnic groves, more Water Skooters, and finally the rocket ship ride and the old mill. A final turn across the bridge near the French fry stand brought the ride back to the beginning. The announcement of the new ride at Dorney Park was welcomed by the community; there weren't many positive announcements in those days. The public responded. Crowds appeared at the park to buy the nickel tickets for a Zephyr Jr. train ride. The nickels added up, and a new, steady cash flow helped pay the bills and enabled Dorney Park to ride out the Depression.....

The above is excerpted from a column written by the late Wally Ely, which appeared in The Morning Call on May 5, 2013. The photo has been added.  Ely was a history,  train buff and author, who had written a book on Dorney Park.

Aug 9, 2023

Yesterday's Ideas Today

I never paid much attention to Lamont McClure.  I know my Northampton County based blogger associate waxes fondly about him, but Bernie always likes the County Executive, going back to John Stoffa.  

An article in Lehigh Valley Live informs me that Lamont is enthusiastic about exploring the possibility of Northampton County providing a fiber optic network. Someone should inform him that those signals will be needing receivers.  After he distributes laptops,  those on the run will need smart phones. 

The survey was conducted by both internet and mail. Three quarters of the responses were online.  That alone should tell Lamont something, but he missed that point.

Outside of Northampton County, Elon Musk is putting up hundreds of satellites a week to build his Starlink internet service. That reception will not require wire and poles everywhere, nor have enormous infrastructure cost. Something for Charlie, I mean Lamont, to think about.

Aug 8, 2023

More Stimulus Money Than Need

I'm flabbergasted at how much Covid/Stimulus money is still floating around at all levels of government, and how it is being spent. Wishlist projects are being funded, either directly or indirectly, because of the surplus funds. 

Lehigh and Northampton executives jointly announced that they're purchasing 40 air monitor stations to be spread out across Lehigh Valley.  When I grew up during our postwar boom, I could see dozens of smokestacks emitting 24/7.  Some old stacks remain, but they are just idle monuments to our industrial past. Even our smoke now is imported, currently from Canadian forest fires.

Those concerned with air quality can go to the weather gimmick on the right sidebar of this blog's web version.  Simply click on the current temperature, and the app will open with details, including air quality. Excuse my blog promotion, an app is also on your cell phone. The data come from the monitors at LVIA, which is close enough for any practical purpose.

photo pilfered from O'Hare's Ramblings

Aug 7, 2023

A Tale Of Two Allentowns

The photo shown above appeared on a local nostalgia group.  Someone asked, with a Pennsylvania Dutch name no less, where the photo was taken, nothing looked familiar to them. As a local historian and critic of the new Allentown, I found the question very disturbing.

The photo for the most part shows the previous buildings going up from Linden toward Hamilton. They have been replaced by the Strata apartments. Across Linden Street, those buildings have been replaced by the Hive apartments. Whole blocks in the NIZ district contain very few of the buildings there until recently. The whole square arena block only has two original buildings.

If this wholesale demolition of the former mercantile district is a positive or negative depends on your point of view. To my aesthetics, we now have a new urban office park pretty much devoid of architectural merit. Others see old decrepit buildings replaced with new and useful potential.

Aug 4, 2023

Tuerk's Junket To Puerto Rico

Students of this blog know that I beat up Mayor Tuerk at the beginning of his term because of his trip to the Dominican Republic. Matt has packed his bag again, and this time he's off to Puerto Rico.

Supposedly he's there to find out what business exchanges might occur between the island and Allentown. That of course is nonsense. Puerto Ricans are now Allentown's minority majority because of the lack of  economic opportunity and work on the island. Tuerk is there in Puerto Rico for the votes and political support here in Allentown. 

With Puerto Ricans being such a large percentage of Allentown's population, and with the island's close proximity, I have no problem with the visit per se. The trip shows respect to the largest population in Allentown. I wish the real motive wasn't cloaked in excuses.

This blog post will probably offend Tuerk, in this case some Puerto Ricans, and others who don't appreciate my frankness in such delicate matters. They can find the official city version in the Morning Call and WFMZ, but that's not the mission of this blog.

Aug 3, 2023

A Window On Pawlowski

By now most followers of Allentown politics know that Ed Pawlowski was found guilty of almost all charges late Thursday afternoon.  Although I'm very mindful of my privacy,  today I will reveal a personal experience with Ed Pawlowski. I make this revelation not to dwell on my reputation, but as a window on his character. Although his sycophants and others may think that his only fault was his political  ambition,  they are mistaken.  Over the years numerous people were bullied by Pawlowski.  Most of them didn't have the voice to speak out.

In 2005, as an independent and the third candidate on the ballot for mayor, I debated Pawlowski and Heydt at the WFMZ studio. After the debate,  an audience member told me that Lisa Pawlowski was telling audience members that I was a slumlord.  Not hearing it myself, I let it drop.  In the beginning of 2008, I conducted a series of SPEAK OUT meetings at an intercity church.  A Morning Call reporter told me after the meeting that when she called Pawlowski for comment,  he told her that I was just a slumlord.  The reality was that I operated buildings between 4th and 12th Streets for decades, without one code violation or tenant complaint. There was absolutely no basis for the untrue slander by Pawlowski, other than a flaw in his character.  At the end of 2008 he repeated the falsehood, but this time in front of me and others outside the city council chamber.  I asked him how he would feel if I told people that he was a corrupt politician?

Over the years this blog has not concerned itself explicitly with the  contributions and corresponding favors which convicted Pawlowski yesterday.  My concern has been the consequences and policies, which have compromised our assets, such as the park system.  My concern is with the unlevel playing field for small business owners.  A comment last night stated that Bernie(O'Hare) and I have been vindicated.  Pawlowski will be gone soon,  but many people who cooperated with him remain, along with the policies they implemented. 

reprinted from March 2, 2018 

ADDENDUM AUGUST 3, 2023:During the three plus terms that Pawlowski was in office, his corruption permeated city hall. I won't mention names, but several people escaped city hall just before the FBI got to town. As I reported over the years, he weaponized the code department. Even after his departure,I defended a woman being victimized by that department. Unfortunately, remnants of his bullying still linger on in city hall. I would like to tell you that his current defenders are righteous in their effort to free their former mentor, but I can't. They themselves know fully well how he and his brigade stepped on people.