May 26, 2020

A Newspaper And The Governor

Occasionally, an idea or article emerges which pushes all my buttons. Such was the case Sunday morning, when I read the Morning Call's coverage of Wolf's plan to employ the unemployed to track the virus.  Talk of illness, which of those things is more sick?

The Morning Call compared the plan to the WPA era, complete with pictures of structures in the Allentown park system.  As somebody who struggles everyday to bring some attention to these neglected, irreplaceable icons,  the paper's hypocrisy is stinging. They refuse to print my informed letters or cover the current neglect.

In what way could the typical unemployed person be qualified to track the virus?  In what way could that gathered data not be flawed?

Governor Wolf, you're no Franklin Roosevelt.  The Morning Call,  if you want to know about our crumbling remnants of the WPA,  call me.  Better yet, if you're sincerely interested in politics and historic structures, report how South Whitehall is conspiring with the Wildlands Conservancy to override the voter referendum, and demolish the Wehr's Dam.*

* The current Morning Call Editor/Publisher told me back in February that the paper would look into the Wehr's Dam situation...They never did.

May 25, 2020

Loyalty Bites Browning

In regard to the 7th Congressional contest, I fully intended this blog to be neutral, and probably silent. On that note, or lack of it, I certainly wouldn't be commenting on the primary race. However, with Trumps' tweets... Whatever you think of him, he certainly has introduced that medium into politics.

His tweet on Friday supporting Lisa Scheller was surprising, and certainly surprising to no one more than Dean Browning. Whatever you thought of Browning, nobody could question his support of Trump.

Primaries are usually the realm of super-voters. I suppose with this year's massive mail-in ballots, it might be more inclusive than normal. Browning contends that the Trump endorsement came from Scheller's money and connections. I suppose that the more informed members of his party might agree with that conclusion. However, if they conclude that those attributes are a positive or negative, is less clear to me.

What is clear to me is my choice of party, unaffiliated or independent, with a small i. In Pennsylvania I sacrifice my right to vote in the primary, but the alternative would be too costly for me. Imagine getting paid back for years of loyalty like Browning just did.

photocredit:The Morning Call

UPDATE: Same topic covered by Bernie O'Hare today

May 22, 2020

Time Capsule

Long time readers of this blog realize I occasionally revisit the streets of my youth, which seem idyllic in retrospect, although probably not at the time (certainly my shenanigans were not idyllic for my parents). My neighborhood was called Little Lehigh Parkway, and it was wedged between the southern top of the Parkway and Jefferson Street. Realtors now refer to this area as Little Lehigh Manor, but I have no recollection of that designation. The self-contained neighborhood even had it's own elementary school, where nursery rhymes of the time adorned the brick (they're still there)

As a little boy growing up, Spanky and Our Gang was a TV program, not an urban problem. When boys divided up to play cowboys and indians, being Hopalong was a coveted role. Our fathers experienced working in one of the most prosperous times in American history, post WW2. Children of Mack and Steel workers could well afford college if they so chose. Mothers could afford to stay home and watch their children grow and play.

Time has been most kind to my old neighborhood. A local leader told me that she is well satisfied with the current city government. The post war subdivisions, such as Midway Manor, remain oasis from the difficulties in central Allentown.

reprinted from March 2009

May 21, 2020

A Hammer From 7th Street

The other day I noticed a ball peen hammer head for sale.  It was stamped 521 N 7  Allentown PA   Although I've seen machinist stamp their tools with their initials and even work ID numbers,  usually a stamping like this means that the hammer was made at 521, or at least sold there.  Allentown has a long tradition in iron, steel and hardware.  In the next block, C.F. Wolfertz, knife maker, was in business from 1862 to 1989.

Although I have yet to identify the hammer head,  521 has its own story.  Over the years many people lived in the apartments over the store. Although I won't mention people by name, there were births, deaths, accidents, robberies,  marriages and arrests.  Although the walls don't talk, the newspaper archives do.

Over the years many people worked in the storeroom, in many businesses.  In the mid 1940's, Clements Variety Store had about everything,  but I suspect the hammer is from before then. In 1958 a business called Niagara offered a good living to good salesman, but apparently you had to apply before learning what you sold.  I suppose not that many people applied, because the storeroom was for rent in 1959.  By 1961 Melody Organs gave the space a try.  However, by 1962 you could buy a whirlpool by Jacuzzi there. In 1963 a dry cleaner gave it a shot.  The 1960's must have been slow on 7th, because the space was again vacant in 1964.

In 1971 the building was offered for sale at $22,500.  Filmlab operated there throughout the decade and into the 80's, until they moved up to the corner on Liberty. Today that storeroom, at 445, is owned by Peter Lewnes,  current 7th Street Development Director.

Back at 521,  rough times were coming again. In 1991 Unique Treasures opened. Apparently, the merchandize wasn't unique enough, because by 1993 it was the People's Choice Store.  They were ahead of the times by about 25 years, and were dispensing marijuana, until the police thought better of it.  Years later, in 2012, a barber shop fronted for an after-hours club in the basement.

Peter Lewnes is doing a terrific job  managing the street. Over the decades I had many favorite eating spots on 7th Street.  I look forward to the continued development of the street,  and I will learn more about that hammer.

May 20, 2020

Protest At Fountain Park

Long time Readers of this blog know that I have been an advocate for the WPA structures for over a decade, with some modest results.  Recently, my research discovered an old newspaper article from 1935, which adds another dimension to my understanding of that period.

Lehigh Parkway, Union Terrace and Fountain Park are the WPA masterpieces in Allentown.  In Fountain Park, there is the stairway which leads up to Junction Street, and then continues through a tunnel in the massive wall on Junction Street,  up to Spring Garden Street.  After the steps were completed, hundreds of workers would use these stairs every day,  to go from their center city row houses to the Mack and Traylor factories on S. 10th Street.

On September 11th, 1935 there was a protest involving the 400 WPA workers assigned to the stairwell and wall construction.  The rally took place by the creek, and was led by the Lehigh County Unemployed League, Keystone Workers Association and the Citizens Welfare League.  Although there was no violence, tools were tossed into the creek.  The protest centered on the $55 monthly wage, and the 35 hour work week.

The concept of workers during the Depression being upset with conditions frankly never occurred to me.  I just assumed that they were grateful for the job, and whistled while they worked.  Next time I walk those steps,  my thoughts will be somewhat more informed.

reprinted from January of 2019

May 19, 2020

Pawlowski's Legacy In Allentown

For her Mother's Day facebook post this past weekend, local Democratic activist Phoebe Harris thanked Ed Pawlowski for his stewardship.

When Pawlowski ran for his infamous 4th term while indicted, I chronicled how he courted the minority vote, and cobbled together a victory. Ed seduced his new minions by appointing them to various commissions and boards. In many cases these people were newcomers to Allentown, with no institutional knowledge of the city. Of course that reality meant nothing to Pawlowski, whose focus was always his own success.

At the time, Ms. Harris and other new found supporters could rationalize that their mentor, although indicted, was innocent until proven guilty. Now however, 18 months after being found guilty on 47 counts of bribery, it's disheartening to see a community leader clueless about the message of integrity in government.

Besides for this blogger, Phoebe and other aspiring members of the local minority community have a pass from scrutiny. Political correctness, wokeness and the fear of the dreaded racist accusation, usually tamps down such evaluations.

May 18, 2020

A Wild Card For Lehigh Valley

Susan Wild joined 13 other Democratic congressional members in voting against the new $3 Trillion aid package.  Conventional analysis is that these house members are in somewhat conservative districts, and their support of such unbridled spending would hurt them come November. In the recent coverage of Trump's visit to the local mask company,  one couldn't help but notice all the Trump supporters.  Charlie Dent's longevity, in both Harrisburg and Washington,  had been strategically attributed to his reputation as a centrist.

As a registered independent, politically I'm naive about such maneuvers.  However, as a registered pessimist and blogger, I take very little at face value.

Face value in the Lehigh Valley means very little. Outside journalists look at all the construction downtown, and think that the area is prospering. Little do they realize that all the new buildings belong to one man, and that the new commercial tenants are simply poached from surrounding suburban office parks. Peter is being robbed to pay Paul, at taxpayer expense.

I've previously complimented Wild on her accessibility.  I could have phoned her for comment on this post, but the Morning Call published her reasons last week.  As an independent blogger,  I think that it was a call better not made.  Between now and November, I may well have a question more important to both me and the district.

May 15, 2020

A Kosher Block In Allentown

Up through the mid 1960's, you could buy kosher meat in Allentown's 6th Ward.  Over the years there were no less than four different kosher meat markets and two synagogues in the 600 block of 2nd Street.

The larger orange brick building on the right was Agudas Achim Synagogue (1893), which remained open until the mid 1990's.  It was established by the Russian Jewish immigrants to the city, including my family.

Across the street, now behind the wall of the former Grossman scrap metal yard, was an old meat market.  Over the years until 1965, that shop was operated by four different butchers, including my father's uncle, and then his cousin.

No other neighborhood encapsulates both the history and ethnic diversity of Allentown, even now, 150 years later.

May 14, 2020

Lesson At Dieruff

A Dieruff High School social studies teacher would not have to take his class very far for a lesson in Allentown's history. Although never elected, East Side activist Dennis Pearson has been complaining for thirty years that the East Side always get short changed in Public Works. Such was the case in the mid 1930's, during the WPA work in Allentown. Roosevelt's New Deal program built the elaborate walls in the south side's Lehigh Parkway. Central Allentown received the magnificent Lawrence Street stairwell. The culturally elite of west Allentown received the Union Terrace Amphitheater, envisioned for Shakespeare. Pearson's east side got a few scattered steps to nowhere. The steps remained, and thirty years later Allentown built Dieruff High School. With expansions and renovations, some of the steps now adjoin the school. Flash ahead to the summers of 2009 and 2010.

I lobbied Allentown City Council members to appropriate some of the $millions of dollars in Cedar Park plans to begin preserving the irreplaceable WPA structures, starting to crumble throughout our park system. East Side elected councilman, Michael D'Amore, assured me that he only signed off on the Administrations plan, with the stipulation that the steps in Irving Park-Dieruff area would be restored at the same time. The work in Cedar Park was completed last year, including $millions of dollars with of recreation equipment from catalogs. The deterioration of the steps around Dieruff continues. Now there's a lesson in government!
photos courtesy of Mark Thomas

reprinted from September of 2011 

UPDATE MAY 14, 2020: My campaign to save the WPA and other historical structures throughout our park system has been ongoing since 2009. Although I managed to get some funds designated for that purpose, they usually end up reassigned for some recreational use. While the intrinsic value of these park features appear irreplaceable to me, unfortunately, those who govern us don't share my sentiments.

May 13, 2020

Covid-19 In Urban Lehigh Valley

Recently a gentleman was arrested for firing his gun in the air near 9th & Allen Streets.  What got my attention about the incident wasn't the gun,  but that it occurred at what was described as a crowded street celebration.  What is it about Covid-19 that those celebrators don't understand?  It's not that they got tired of obeying the social distancing protocol and rebelled, they never started.

While some minority leaders complain of being of disproportionately infected with the virus, they ignore the lack of safety practiced in their community.

The devastation at the nursing homes is a combination of low paid workers from cultures too casual about safety procedures, and the barring of family member visits.  While the visitor ban was well intended,  it deprived the patients of much essential care, and more importantly, ongoing monitoring of a deteriorating situation.

photocredit: WFMZ

May 12, 2020

A Jewish Butcher

When my great grandfather died in 1915, the Morning Call obituary said,  Morris Molivionsky, the retired Jewish butcher at No. 639 Grant street, died on Sunday.  Although they weren't too concerned about the correct spelling of his name,  the fact that he was Jewish was apparently noteworthy then.

At that time the Jewish community was centered in the Ward, mostly on 2nd and Grant Streets.  There were kosher butchers and two synagogues on 2nd Street.

One of Morris's sons, my grandfather Aaron, moved west across the Jordan Creek, to Jordan and Chew Streets.  He operated a butchering business there behind his house, on Jute Street.

By the time my father and his brother opened Allentown Packing on Union Street,  other extended family also operated Feder Meats on Front Street, and Becker Meats on Tilghman Street.

grand opening ad from December 2, 1949

May 11, 2020

An Old Book Mystery

Readers of this blog know that I have an affinity for both local and family history.  In around 1956  I acquired a very neat book when my father was cleaning out my grandmother's house.  The book sat on a shelf until I cleaned out my parents' house in 1996.  It then sat on a shelf in my house until last week.  It's a travel guide for Germany and Europe,  given out to passengers on the North German Lloyd Lines.

This particular book was signed by the traveler, Eleanor L. Lewis, on August 7th, 1900. She was crossing the Atlantic on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which was the steamer company's newest boat, gone into service at the end of 1897.  Billed as the largest and most elegant steamer afloat, it sailed between Bremen, Germany and New York.

I suspect that Eleanor was a first class passenger who left the book behind on the boat. There was a debutante of the same name in Philadelphia at the time.

I know it wasn't from my grandfather's trip, because that occurred in 1891.  Perhaps a relative of mine found it discarded on the boat, during his steerage passage to America on the return trip. Family lore had my grandfather bringing over numerous family members as he got established in Allentown. Of course none of that generation, or even the next, is still around.

Because of these posts, and my sharing of them on Allentown Chronicles,  people occasionally ask me for help learning about a person or place.

I wish that I had inquired about that book.  There were many years during which my father and uncles could have provided an answer.

The book shown above was the edition given to first class passengers on the New York run.  The book cover from my grandparents'  house looks identical, but says "through Italy and Central Europe" on the cover.

May 8, 2020

Wildlands' Handmaiden Stymies Good Government

The Wildlands Conservancy has built-in staff in South Whitehall Township.  Foremost of course is Randy Cope.  The Wildlands installed him as park director in 2012, and he has since, through attrition, became Director of Public Works.

On the commission dais they have their handmaiden, Tori Morgan.  Randy and Tori have been responsible for allowing the Wildlands to subvert the wishes of the residents, and conspire against Wehr's Dam.

During the last meeting* Randy pushed for a grant and township funded project concerning the playground in Covered Bridge Park.  Randy of course doesn't seek grants or funds for Wehr's Dam, because he and his Wildlands want it demolished.  When two of the new commissioners questioned the necessity of this playground project, in this time of fiscal uncertainty, Morgan scolded him.

"To put him on the hot seat to make a decision that we as a board make is unfair."

Morgan knew that the new commissioners were somewhat docile when they chose her as president, after being on the commission way too long already.  Now she feels empowered to paper train them.

In reality the new commissioners were doing exactly what they were elected to do, question the administration plans on behalf of the tax payers.

meeting covered for WFMZ by Jeff Ward

photo of Wehr's Dam by Gregg Obst

May 7, 2020

Depot At Overlook Park

Old timers have noticed that the contractor's building on Hanover Avenue transformed into a community center for Overlook Park. But only the oldest, or train buffs, realized that the building was the freight depot and office for the Lehigh & New England Railroad. Lehigh & New England was formed in 1895, primarily as a coal carrier. The line ran from Allentown to Maybrook, New York.

In 1904 it was acquired by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. The line ceased operation in 1961. Among it's infrastructure were impressive bridges across both the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers, both of which were dismantled. Ironic that a remnant of our industrial era is being utilized by the successor of a public housing project.

reprinted from February of 2014

May 6, 2020

Watching Allentown's NIZ District

A recent article about Reilly's coming 520 Lofts building caught my attention.  It will be built on the north side of Linden Street, and require some reconfiguring by both the Allentown Parking Authority and Lanta.  Neither of those two entities wanted to comment to the reporter, until which time the project is approved by the Allentown Planning Commission.  I don't think they need worry about Reilly's plans passing muster. In truth no one, save for this blogger, has ever submitted any his plans to any scrutiny.

That free pass from scrutiny extends to the state, the city, the Morning Call, and even the NIZ board.  The Parking Authority has offered surface lots before for his projects.  Language in the recent article suggests that his residential projects can qualify for NIZ financing, while originally, they were supposed to be ineligible. Although Reilly claims that these apartments are demand driven, his recent Soviet era block on Walnut Street must have been incentive driven. It is devoid of everything, including people. It is the worst of all worlds. This past November the NIZ District map itself was altered.  I suspect that there is a correlation between the map changes and Reilly's acquisitions.

While scrutiny is limited solely to this blog,  I'm never the less reprimanded for it. Apologists label me a naysayer and hater of Allentown.  Public officials,  who are entrusted with monitoring the district, have told me they just know how dedicated Reilly is to Allentown.  I'm also dedicated... I'm dedicated to making sure that no person, organization or institution is beyond scrutiny.

May 5, 2020

Allentown's Covid-19 Pie

Allentown is preparing to hand out $400,000 of federal money to starve off evictions in the city. With a limit of $3,000 per tenant,  they might end up helping out 135 landlords.  I say landlords instead of tenants, because those tenants will probably be moving out anyway, just a month or two latter.

In trying times, which these certainly are, most landlords will work with good tenants.  However, with bad tenants,  a landlord's mistake in judgement quickly becomes known.  Usually tenants who seek assistance in normal times are bad bets.  I suspect that they will be bad bets now.

So while $400,000 won't be helping that many people, it does raise the question of how this federal  Covid19 aid is being put to use.  While the eviction aid sounds good on paper,  it has me shaking my head.

I can only hope that the other uses of the federal financial aid package make more sense.

Well, apparently they don't.

The other aspect of the $2.1 million dollar Covid aid package to Allentown is $500,000 to small businesses.  Who exactly at City Hall is qualified to decide who gets the grants?  Grants will be for $5,000, meaning 100 lucky businesses.  Supposedly it's first come, first serve.  Often in government that means best connected, best served.

With 400 to some landlords, and 500 to some businesses, that leaves $300,000 of our federal money unaccounted for.  Often in such programs the local government entity can keep an administrative fee.

Addendum: O'Hare's Ramblings reports another local proposal

May 4, 2020

Courting Mediocrity In Name Of Wokeness

Allentown School System tabled naming the new elementary school after General Hays, a nurse who became the first woman general in the army.  An incredibly accomplished person, Hays would have been the first woman an Allentown School is named after.  Hays had served in WW2, Korea and Vietnam.  However Hays, who graduated Allentown High in 1938, had a defect, she was white.

The local black leaders want someone who reflects the current diversity of the system.  Rev. Gregory Edwards and Phyllis Alexander both wrote the school board complaining about Hays.

Perhaps they should name the school after 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, scooping up everything their backpacks could hold. Meanwhile at City Hall, woke mayor Jim Kenney stayed silent about this decline in civilization. Only this weekend, 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. Likewise,  Allentown students are being neglected, not by a lack of computers, but of leadership by the school board. They had done well in choosing Hays, and should stick to their decision.  Character and accomplishment should be more important than complexion.

photo of Hays being awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by Westmoreland in 1971  

May 1, 2020

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 Black and Decker 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

Apr 30, 2020

Markets Of Allentown's Past

When I was growing up my parents lived on two ends of Allentown, first the south side and then the west end.  I was fortunate to have experienced two great independent markets of Allentown's past.

The Lehigh Street Superette had a great section of small inexpensive toys for a small boy.  An easy walk from Little Lehigh Manor,  I could keep my Hopalong Casidy six shooter in caps, and replace my lost water pistol each summer.  The ice cream fountain featured hand dipped Breyers.  While the kids took a cone, the parents would have a quart or gallon scooped and weighed to take home.

Before  Food Fair was built farther west on Lehigh Street,  my mother would do all her shopping, except for meat,  at Lehigh Market.  Although I didn't pay too much attention, I do remember the cookie selection.

In the late 1950's my parents moved to the west end, and my times at Deiley's West Gate Market began.  Although too old to notice the toy selection,  the soda fountain became a hangout.

In addition to numerous corner markets, every section of Allentown had a popular larger independent, like Lehigh or Deiley's.   A few like Hersh's Market, have survived to this day.

photo of Deiley's Market in 1938

Apr 29, 2020

A Former Factory And Neighborhood Of Allentown, Pa.

The Wire Mill was a sprawling industrial plant along 13 acres of the Little Lehigh Creek, just east of Lehigh Street, near the current Martin Luther King Drive.  An 1899 map of Allentown contains the footprint of various industries of the time, and the Wire Mill was the most prominent.  The Lehigh Valley RailRoad constructed two bridges over the Little Lehigh, to bring its Barber Quarry spur line into and out of the plant. Began in 1886, it produced wire and nails until 1943, and then sat abandoned for another twenty years. During WW1, it employed up to 1,200 men around the clock, producing barbed wire for the trench warfare in Europe. The factory sat on the south side of the former Wire Street, which housed narrow row houses on the other side of the street, and the neighborhood above it.

That entire neighborhood was demolished in the early 1970's, as Allentown embraced the modern urban renewal models of the time. The old, modest neighborhood of small row houses, between Lawrence and Union Streets, and on both sides of Lehigh Street, between 4th and 8th Street, were bulldozed away.  It was, in a large part, home to Allentown's black community. How ironic that we destroyed the cohesion of a neighborhood, but renamed Lawrence Street after Martin Luther King. The only remnant of that community and neighborhood still there is the St. James A.M.E. and Zion Church. A former vibrant neighborhood was replaced by a sterile bank call center, sitting alone on a large vacant hill. That building is now the new Building 21 city operated charter school. I would have complained about that urban renewal plan if I was blogging back then. Now, 50 years later, I still consider that plan a failure. Hopefully, future bloggers will have something better to say about Allentown's current revitalization.

The Wire Mill was at the bottom of the Lehigh Street hill, shown above

reprinted from March of 2016

Apr 28, 2020

Allentown's First Black Bar

In a neighborhood that no longer exists, Allentown's first legal black liquor establishment had a short tortured run.

McLaughlin's Cafe was on the corner of Wire and Lehigh, at the bottom of the hill. Wire was the street that ran along the Wire Mill, another long forgotten part of Allentown's industrial history. By the mid 1950's, things were getting rough in the old bar. Police became a regular referee as fights and prostitution frequented the establishment. Finally the state liquor board decided to pull their license. 

The neighborhood had two complexions. There were the white descendants of the factory workers, and it also was the center of Allentown's small black population.

Hamp Webb was a popular figure in the black community. Just outside the straight and narrow, he was courted by the white officials for his influence with his community. Hamp operated unlicensed speakeasies with some success.

In the final days of McLaughlin's, they featured black entertainers from Philadelphia, and even referred to it as the Black & White Club. As McLaughlin's license was being revoked, he negotiated a sale to Hamp Webb.

The Morning Call reported that he fought to secure a license to provide a drinking establishment for his fellow Negroes, where they could congregate without being molested. After a court hearing, he was finally given the license in 1957, and Ham Webb Bar&Grill opened.

Hamp Webb was killed the following year in an automobile accident. While operation of the bar was taken over by his sons, they apparently didn't have local connections to deflect legal citations that came with operating a rough bar in a tough neighborhood. The property and license were liquidated at a tax sale in 1960.

Apr 27, 2020

Allentown Flood Of 1936

In 1936, northeast United States was decimated by extensive flooding. While Johnstown, Pa. and Nashua, N.H. made national news, Allentown certainly wasn't spared. While locally flooding of the Lehigh and Delaware received the most attention, the Jordan and Little Lehigh Creeks also caused widespread damage. Shown above is Lehigh Street, in the vicinity of the Acorn Hotel, south of the Little Lehigh. The building on the far left would become the Sherman Hotel, which operated for about twenty years, from 1942 to 1961. None of the buildings pictured still stand.

The low lying areas between the Jordan Creek and Lehigh River were flooded.  Numerous people were rescued by rowboat from porch roofs. At that time there was still many houses on the lower section of Hamilton and nearby Streets.

photo courtesy of the Schoenk family.

Apr 24, 2020

2nd & Hamilton

Up to the mid 1960's,  before Allentown started tinkering with urban redevelopment, lower Hamilton Street still teemed with businesses. The City had grown from the river west,  and lower Hamilton Street was a vibrant area.  Two train stations and several rail lines crossed the busy thoroughfare.  Front, Ridge and Second were major streets in the first half of the twentieth century.  My grandparents settled on the 600 block of 2nd Street in 1895, along with other Jewish immigrants from Russia and Lithuania.  As a boy, I worked at my father's meat market on Union Street.  I would have lunch at a diner, just out of view in the photo above.  The diner was across from the A&P,  set back from the people shown on the corner.  A&P featured bags of ground to order 8 O'Clock coffee, the Starbucks of its day.
please click on photo
photocredit:Ed Miller, 1953
reprinted from previous years

Apr 23, 2020

The Wildlands Conservancy, A Dam Shame

When I was a boy my mother would contribute to Father Flanagan's Boy's Town. It was an orphanage made famous by a movie staring Spencer Tracy as Flanagan. Years later it was discovered that Boy's Town had literally hoarded away rooms of cash.  So has it always been with sacred cows, they're not what they always appear to be. However, they do provide an easy opportunity for people (and newspapers) to feel good about themselves. Here in Lehigh Valley we have such a sacred cow, The Wildlands Conservancy. This week they have been featured by both an article and editorial in the Morning Call.

They are headed by Chris Kocher, another Father Flanagan. Father Kocher wrote in 2015 that whatever South Whitehall decided to do with Wehr's Dam, that the Conservancy would respect the decision. In reality they have been conspiring behind the scenes, before and since, to have the dam demolished. 

Pennsylvania brags that this state has demolished more dams than any other in the country. Years ago a high ranking state official lost a family member by drowning at a dam. He went on a Moby Dick like rampage against dams. Locally, the Wildland Conservancy adopted the cause, and has profited from it. They get to keep an administrative fee (15%) of the demolition costs. In Allentown they demolished the 9inch high dam by the Robin Hood Bridge, and the dam built to feed the fish hatchery.

While the Wildlands has been successful in influencing Allentown Park policy, their greatest success has been in South Whitehall. In 2014 they installed a son of their financial director as head of parks in the township. They then formulated a master plan for the park system in which the dam is removed. A cooperating long term commissioner, Tori Morgan, has aided their domination of the township. Morgan is now again president of the commissioners, and the park director, Randy Cope, is now in charge of the entire Public Works Department, The Wildlands was recently commissioned to oversee a $multi-million dollar project, building a greenway near the jeopardized dam.

Although the residents approved a grassroots referendum in 2016 to preserve the dam, the Wildlands has conspired against the picturesque destination with studies sent to Harrisburg. They claim that the dam isn't the low hazard, concrete fortress that it appears to be. Meanwhile, also in conflict with the voter's intent, the township has not been defending the dam. Randy Cope remains elusive about the dam's fate.

I have met with nothing but resistance from the Morning Call in notifying the public about this conspiracy. Although I provided a copy of a letter proving ex parte communications between the Wildlands and the State, the paper refuses to publish my letter.

This week the paper published a feel good article about the Wildlands and Earthday. While they show children playing in the Little Lehigh, they fail to reveal that such events are paid for by Nestle Bottling, which sucks the Little Lehigh almost dry.

Sacred Cows and complacent newspapers go hand in hand in deluding the public.

photo by K Mary Hess

Apr 22, 2020

Geriatric Rants Hurt Allentown

The other day on facebook, I stumbled upon these kind words about me, You can never trust Molovinsky's geriatric incessant rants about the city. He hates the city.... The young man who wrote this is one of the city's new gung ho boosters. I find his animosity curious. I understand those who are enthralled with Allentown's transformation. These new buildings, if on Hamilton Street or the waterfront, are the city's new reality. Hopefully, they will prosper, and give Allentown a long overdue awakening. However, these changes were not without victims and consequences. These changes deserve some scrutiny, which was for the most part was not provided by the local press. I'm proud that this blog could shine a light on some of the shenanigans, even if it makes some people uncomfortable. With the local paper acting practically as a promoter, I would think that a little balance is in order. The young man must think that my negativity will stop the city's renaissance. I assure him that J.B. Reilly will continue building, as long as the NIZ keeps transferring the tax money to him. But, what happens with no scrutiny is that too many people are tempted to get a taste for themselves, sometimes even a mayor.  Allentown is actually in for some real hurt, much more severe than my ranting. The mayor refuses to resign, and the city charter provides no remedy until which time he is actually convicted.  When that pending calamity finally occurs, Allentown will be rudderless for an extended period.  Hopefully, I will not be blamed for that coming commotion.

above reprinted from March of 2016

UPDATE APRIL 22, 2020: Of course now in 2020, Mayor Pawlowski is old news.  I'm in my sixth year of defending Wehr's Dam.  Despite the voter's referendum in 2016 to save the dam, the Wildland Conservancy continues their plot to demolish it. While the Morning Call refuses to publish my expose about that conspiracy,  they continue to promote the Wildlands Conservancy.  Hopefully, my incessant rants will continue, because the backroom shenanigans against the citizenry certainly do.

photo of blogger at Wehr's Dam 2014

Apr 21, 2020

Morning Call's Tired Opinion Page

This past weekend Bill White wrote that readers should send him their tired and poorly written sentences for a bad writing contest. Bill claimed that he was only recycling an old column idea because the coronavirus forced him to stay in.  Actually, before the virus, Bill must have stayed in a lot anyway. Year after year, chocolate cake recipe after chocolate cake contest, he recycled old columns. Every year we read about his hall of shame and his Christmas light tour. Bill himself has been recycled by the Morning Call. Let go last year in another cutback at the Call, he's now back, two columns a month. But, as repetitive as he is, he is more original than the paper's normal go to people on the opinion page. 

The Call's tired roster includes Tony Iannelli on local business... Alan Jennings on fair housing... A Muhlenberg professor on politics.  It was because of this staleness that Richard Anderson's letter on St. Lukes, even though it condemned the paper, should have been published.

The Morning Call should welcome some beef. It's not like they're prospering with the old formula. They no longer own their own building. They no longer print the paper in Allentown.  Although they have a monopoly on a huge market,  they demonstrate no imagination.  They will take offense at this post,  rather than consider their own shortcomings.

Apr 20, 2020

Another Storm, Another Old Willow Lost

When Irene stormed through Cedar Park, she knocked down and broke a number of the old willow trees. The sight of these magnificent trees along the creek banks is the view-shed cherished by us proponents of the historical park system. As a boy in 1955, I remember the same damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Diane. Many of the remaining willows are now about 75 years old, and at the end of their life span. Although they held the creek banks together for three generations, they have lost favor to riparian buffers.

It's nice to sit by the bank under a willow tree and watch the ducks swim by. Hopefully, somewhere along the banks of the Little Lehigh and Cedar Creek, there is still some open space for a few new weeping willows.

above reprinted from 2011

UPDATE APRIL 20, 2020:  The last nine years haven't been any kinder to the old willows. The photo above is from the most recent storm.  Although I purchased a willow to be planted in Cedar Park a few years ago, they refused to plant it along the creek edge.  Seems as if that is not permitted by the Wildlands Conservancy, which instead demands riparian buffers.  I put more faith in General Trexler's landscape architect of 1928, who ordered willow trees planted every 25 feet along the creeks.  Their shallow roots spread out and held the banks together for four generations of Allentonians.  They allowed us to enjoy the creeks as envisioned by the General and city fathers of the time. Hopefully, someday, some mayor will again reclaim our park system for the citizens of Allentown.

Apr 17, 2020

Morning Call Taken To Task

While I'm still battling with the Morning Call about their not allowing my expose on the conspiracy against Wehr's Dam, I am now in good company criticizing their editorial policy.

Yesterday, Richard Anderson, CEO of St. Luke's Health Network, publicly revealed that the paper refuses to print his response piece to an article which appeared on March 29th. That article questioned how much financial help hospitals actually need as a consequence of the corona virus situation.

I have no expertise in the merits of either the paper's article, or Anderson's reply to it. What interests me is the audacity of the paper not printing his response.

Even after I documented my claim that the Wildlands Conservancy was communicating inappropriately with the state about the dam, the editor responded that it didn't prove anything. It did prove that he feels the purpose of the opinion page is to reflect his opinion, and not that of the public.

When the rejected editorial is from a local blogger, with a limited audience, the damage of that repression is limited. When a rejected editorial is from a respected CEO of one of the valley's largest and most important institutions, that editor will have to defend his decision.

Apr 16, 2020

Relics Of Our Past

One of the surviving relics of our industrial past is the right of way of former railroad spur lines. Allentown literally had hundreds of factories serviced by several spur routes and numerous rail sidings. The area between Second and Front Streets was crisscrossed with tracks.  Even the west end had service. A line ran behind the current site of B'nai B'rith Apartments, across 17 th St. and up along side of the dry-cleaners. The B'nai B'rith was the site of the former Trexler Lumber Yard, which burned to the ground in a spectacular fire in the mid 70's; The heat from the fire could be felt in West Park. The rails and ties are gone, long ago sold to scrap yards. In many cases the space occupied by the right of ways can still be seen to the knowing eye. They appear as alleys which were never paved. Here and there a surviving loading dock provides another clue. Show in this photo from 1939 are the Mack Truck factories on S. 10th Street, now part of the Bridgeworks Complex. Here the components for Mack Trucks were manufactured. The parts were then trucked to the Assembly Plant (5C) located on S. 12 Street, right off of Lehigh Street. "Built Like A Mack Truck" became a figure of speech across America. It was a prouder time than the lyrics from Billy Joe; little did we know that things could get worse.

reprinted from September of 2009

Apr 15, 2020

Allentown"s First Waterfront

Although cheerleaders for the current waterfront NIZ think that they're inventing the Lehigh River, Allentonians already had a river port in the 1800's. As this section of the 1899 map shows, Wharf Street, which is still partially there, led to a man made river port, with two channels back to the river. The Lehigh Port was dug out in 1829, and was used in conjunction with the canal on the other side of the river. In the early 20th century, as the canal commerce was replaced by the railroads,  the port was filled in,  by an expanding Arbogast & Bastian Meat Packing.  Currently, a private boat club utilizes the river front near that location.  I exhibited the map at a recent session held for those interested in Allentown history.

The river port was slightly north of the current America On Wheels Museum, by the Hamilton Street Bridge, going over the Lehigh River to East Allentown.

reprinted from April of 2016

Apr 14, 2020

A Changing Confluence

Future cartographers will locate the confluence of the Little Lehigh Creek and the Lehigh River as south, and slightly east of the current LCA sewage plant. Historians will know better. Up to forty years ago, nature joined the Little Lehigh with with western channel of the Lehigh, halfway down the side of Kline's Island. In the mid-1960's, the City of Allentown decided to reclaim the river channel north of the confluence, ending Kline's status as an island. What is now the last section of the Little Lehigh, was previously the Lehigh. The map shown was produced in 1900. Also gone from current geography is the man made harbors, shown north of the Hamilton Street bridge. The new google map shows that the
former bridge to Kline's Island still stands, crossing the now reclaimed former west channel of the Lehigh River. Also visible is the footprint of Allentown's former gas tank.

reprinted from June of 2013

UPDATE APRIL 14, 2020: I surmise that the change noted above was done to make the sewer plant less vulnerable to flooding, and the Lehigh less susceptible to contamination. Shown here is a portion of the city blueprint from May of 1964, clearly showing the abandoned western channel of the Lehigh. Note that the current last portion of the Little Lehigh was formally the bed of the Lehigh itself.

Apr 13, 2020

108-110 Union Street

When the illustrated map of Allentown shown above was marketed in 1879, 108-110 Union Street were already long standing twin houses. Behind the houses was the western channel of the Lehigh River, which went around Jeter's Island. Years later the island would be called Kline's, and become the city sewage plant. In the mid 1960's, that portion of the river would be filled in and no longer exists. While maps now indicate that the Little Lehigh joins the Lehigh at the southern end of the former island, previously it joined the channel on the western side of the island.

When the map was produced, 108 was owned by William Goetz, and 110 was owned by the Remaley family. Over the years the two sides appear to have been occupied by a number of families,  as both owners and tenants.

In 1921, both houses were purchased by H.H. Steinmetz, a former meat manager for Swift Packing. Steinmetz built a modern 10,000 ft. addition, opening his meat packing plant in 1922. Steinmetz Meat Packing supplied the chain of Economy corner markets with meat and provisions.

In 1941, the packing house was purchased by the Molovinsky family, and renamed Allentown Packing Company. While wholesale operations ceased in 1949, the business continued as a retail meat market until 1970. The plant was demolished several years later to provide parking for A&B Meats. The vacant parcel was then purchased by the neighboring commercial property.

Apr 10, 2020

Parkway Memories

We who lived in the Parkway during the 1950's have a special bond. We know we grew up in one of the most nurturing neighborhoods possible. Slow driving parents would keep a sharp eye out for dashing kids. The Halloween Parade would start and end at our own elementary School. The Easter Egg Hunt would take place on an open slope of our beloved park. 

reprinted from April 2010

Apr 9, 2020

When 6th Street Was West Allentown

In 1903, the 600 block of 2nd Street housed one Russian Jewish family after another. They built a small synagogue there, which was kept open until about twenty years ago. My grandfather, who then worked at a cigar factory, had just saved enough to bring his parents over from the old country. They lived in an old house at 617 N. 2nd. The current house at that location was built in 1920. By the time my father was born in 1917, the youngest of five children, they had moved to the suburbs just across the Jordan Creek.

My grandfather lived on the corner of Chew and Jordan Streets. He butchered in a barn behind the house. The house is still there, 301 Jordan, the barn is gone. He would deliver the meat with a horse and wagon. On the weekends, when the family wanted to visit friends, the horse insisted on doing the meat market route first. Only after he stopped in front of the last market on the route, would he permit my grandfather to direct him. excerpt from My grandfather's Horse, May 13, 2008

Allentown has just designated the neighborhood west of the Jordan to 7th Street, and between Linden and Tilghman Streets, as Jordan Heights. The area encompasses the Old Fairgrounds Historic District. Allentown's old fairground, in the years between 1852-1888, was in the vicinity of 6th and Liberty. It was an open space, as is the current fairground at 17th and Chew Streets. When my grandparents moved to Jordan Street it was a modern house, just built in 1895. Many of the Jewish families moved to the suburbs between Jordan and 7th. The Jewish Community Center was built on the corner of 6th and Chew, today known as Alliance Hall.
I wish the Jordan Heights initiative well. There's a lot of history in those 24 square blocks, and hopefully much future.

reprinted and retitled from previous years

photo: Opening of Jewish Community Center, 1928, 6th and Chew Streets.  Now Alliance Hall

Apr 8, 2020

Hurricane Diane, 1955

Hurricane Diane hit the Lehigh Valley in August of 1955. Living in Little Lehigh Manor, I remember huddling in the house, while the metal garbage cans of the era flew around the neighborhood. My father, whose meat market was on Union Street by the Lehigh River, worked throughout the night. Fortunately for him, his market had an second floor backup cooler, and a small freight elevator. While the retail business district on Hamilton Street is elevated enough to be unaffected from flooding, center city Easton was devastated by the Delaware. The next morning was rather surreal for a nine year old boy. A large willow tree on the corner of Lehigh Parkway South and Catalina Ave. was lying on it's side. Although the Little Lehigh receded quickly, the park road and basin had been flooded. Diane remains a record in flooding and damage. Let us hope it remains that way.

photo from August 1955. Lehigh River rising by former A&B Meats. The row of houses shown were demolished to make way for a new bridge approach several years later.

reprinted from previous years

Apr 7, 2020

All Aboard For Model Train History

Going into center city Allentown during the Christmas season was a thrill for boys of all ages during the late 1930's and early 40's. Going to see a large display of model trains, built to professional standards, was the icing on that cake. Once a holiday season, the Lehigh Model Railroad Society would publicly exhibit a large display of their handiwork.

While the society maintained a permanent resident on a 3th floor in the 100 block of 7th Street, the holiday shows occurred in various vacant 1st floor storerooms.

The photo shown above is courtesy of the Salomon family. Gerhard Salomon was a local historian of both trolley and train. I considered him a valuable resource when I began this blog, and would impose on his vast knowledge at his family's jewelry store.

Apr 6, 2020

Reflecting On Cameras and WW2

We are all being challenged by the "Stay At Home" order, and the stress from the reason for it.

Over forty years ago, for a short period, I operated a photographic darkroom in center city. During that period I purchased a box of camera accessories from a then-old camera dealer. These objects are what is referred to as new old stock. Among the items in their original small boxes is a lens hood, from the Reich-Hela Corporation. For what camera was this shade produced?

You won't find much about the Reich-Hela Corporation on google. However, I did discover that they applied for a trademark, Reflecta, for a camera in 1937. It turns out that this camera, with the same logo, named Reflecta, had already been produced for years in Germany, by Richter Company. While that camera manufacturer went through a couple of ownerships, and was even distributed by Sears and Roebuck under a different name, there exists no other mention of the Reich-Hela Corporation, except for one... In 1944 they are listed as a contractor and producer of technical journals for the United States Department of Defense.

I don't know how you spent Sunday, but this was one day in the life of a shut-in blogger/photographer.

Apr 3, 2020

Constitution Drive

As an advocate and student of the WPA, I'm often asked about the stone walls on Constitution Drive. None of the walls there invokes as much curiosity as the one I'm shown photographing. Locals refer to this structure as The Spring. Notice that there is a small short wall in front. This stone barrier protects vehicles from driving into the pit, designed to drain water through a pipe under the gravel roadway. Culverts and other practical structures were common WPA projects. Constitution Drive has several WPA culverts, but none of the other retaining walls are as elaborate as the spring structure seen in the photograph above. Although Lehigh County designated funds several years ago to repair this wall, the work was never done. Such neglect is also the case in Allentown. The top wall of the double stairwell descending into Union Terrace is in dire jeopardy. This blog will soon once again document the condition of that structure. While our history and legacy crumble, this community and its leadership is preoccupied with the arena and Philadelphia cheesesteaks.

UPDATE: Since I published the above in November of 2014, I successfully advocated to have the top wall of the Union Terrace Stairway repointed. However, the landings on that structure and the landings on the Lehigh Parkway Staircase desperately need work.  The  two cheesesteak establishments have come and gone in the same spot on Hamilton Street... One was a famous Philadelphia operator, the other a local vendor. The opening ribbons were both cut by a mayor who also has come and gone.

photograph by K Mary Hess, 2014  

Apr 2, 2020

The Aineyville Viaduct

The other day I referred to myself as a local historian. I earned that self appointed degree by a long standing interest in local history.  Another interest, photography, enabled me to record some things that are no longer here to see. My degree is not unique. As I mentioned several times before, the local rail buffs are the real local historians. Their knowledge of our former industrial base is unsurpassed. Shown above is the Aineyville Viaduct (Bridge), which allowed  Lehigh Valley Transit's Liberty Bell trolley to cross over Trout Creek,  on the way to Philadelphia. Shown in the background is the Good Shepherd Home.  The bridge was in line with St. John Street.   Aineyville refers to the area south of Trout Creek, now referred to as South Allentown,  in the area of S. 4th  and Basin Streets.  The photo dates from 1948, photographer unknown.  The viaduct was dismantled in 1953.

reprinted from August of 2013

Apr 1, 2020

Nagy Novelty Company

In Downtown Allentown's commercial years, stores extended 3 blocks out from Hamilton Street. The only remaining remnant of that era is the parking meters, which apparently haven't noticed that the stores have been gone now for over 30 years. A magic shop mentioned in the previous post was on 9th Street, between Linden and Turner. On 8th Street, also a couple blocks off Hamilton, was the Nagy Novelty Company. The dictionary defines novelty as a small, often cheap, cleverly made article, usually for amusement. The Nagy's had thousands of them, floor to ceiling. There were little jokes and gags, sometimes risque, passed around parties in the 40's and 50's. When you pulled " Miss Lola, The Snappy Bubble Dancer" leg's out, your finger got snapped. The Nagy's, an ancient father, son and dog, stayed open till around 1980. I was never sure which one was the son. To me, as an aficionado of the old and curious, the store was a shrine. Items which they sold for a few cents, now sell on ebay for many dollars. They manufactured their own greeting cards. Shown here is the front and inside of an embossed card probably dating back to the 1920's.

reprinted from December of 2008

Mar 31, 2020

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

Mar 30, 2020

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.