May 4, 2009

Stairway To Shame

In the mid 1930's, Allentown, and especially it's park system, was endowed with magnificent stone edifices, courtesy of the WPA; Works Progress Administration. This was a New Deal program designed to provide employment during the aftermath of the depression. Stone masons from all over the country converged on this city and built structures which are unreplaceable. The walls and step structures in Lehigh Parkway, as the Union Terrace amphitheater, are legacies which must be protected. Pictured above is the grand stairway from Lawrence Street (Martin Luther King Drive) up to Union Street, built in 1936. The steps are in a state of disrepair. They lead to the great Union Street Retaining Wall, fifty feet high and two blocks long, which was completed in 1937. I call upon the Trexler Trust and Allentownians of memory, to insist these steps are re-pointed and preserved. The current Administration knows little of our past; save the things in Allentown that matter.

The City of Allentown is embarking upon a $3.8 million dollar capital plan to change the nature of our parks, funded in large part by the Trexler Trust. Although a number of fads will be accommodated, not one dollar is earmarked to preserve the existing WPA treasures. General Trexler envisioned the parks as a reserve for the passive enjoyment of nature. Among the new Disney-World type plans are a wedding pavilion in the Rose Garden, and the largest playground in eastern Pennsylvania to be built in Cedar Park. The trail through Cedar Creek Park will have lights installed, and the picnic area's will be expanded. Anybody driving past Cedar Beach on a Monday morning sees the trash generated currently by only a few picnic tables. How many more park workers will be required to deal with the consequences of these new plans? The playground is being billed as a "Destination Playground", who will pay to keep that clean? Allentown should build and monitor numerous playgrounds throughout center city, within walking distance for children and parents. The Trexler Trust and The City of Allentown have a responsibility to first repair and maintain these iconic stone edifices which are unique to Allentown.

photo info: the dedication stone is on the Union Street wall. The steps shown in the photo here go through a tunnel in the wall and climb up to Spring Garden Street. They are in total disrepair. This posting is a combination of two previous posts, which appeared on this blog last September.


Andrew Kleiner said...

Is it possible to see the draft of these park plans? I can't seem to find any of it online and (especially after reading this post) I have become very concerned about these plans. Thanks for the info again and you are darn right. It is never a good idea to plow into a future without preserving the things that got us to where we are to begin with. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This photograph cannot be explained as the Trexler Trust trustees are pledged to protect and maintain the city's parks.
Whatever is their excuse for this?
Keep up the good work. The more the current parks conditions are revealed, the more citizens can get involved in their community or forever be silent.

Anonymous said...

The city's inner parks that serve thousands of children who cannot get to Cedar Beach on a daily basis should be city officials first concern. Summer will be here in just a few weeks. Last week two days of 95 plus. These children need safe and fun places downtown to play. MM. Are there plans to provide bus shuttles to and from Cedar Park?

Anonymous said...

A similar set of steps exists as one enters Lehigh Parkway to the right. There must have been light fixtures affixed to the posts at one time. Those steps also need repair but nothing as bad as this. There are other smaller steps throughout the Parkway that call for updated repair. Maybe you could ask park officials to come on here and comment in an effort to create a voice of reason and to showcase their concerns and responsibilities to taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feeling about restoring the steps. I have lived in the neighborhood of the steps since 1948.

While Mack manufactured trucks on South 10 TH. all our neighbors walked those steps daily for years. As a child we watched the long lines walk them home.

A long long line of men came home across the park and up one or the other set of these historic old steps daily.

As children we climbed them nearly everyday going to the "Old Lawrence Street Boys Club" after school for a great time.

During the summers again the steps were always full of bathers going to the pool at Fountain Park. Others used them to attend baseball games or to go the park to play sports of some kind.

Now both the Boy's Club and Mack Trucks' are both gone.

The steps are now occupied manly by people using them for drugs or prostitution.

They aren't safe now. Not only because of their condition, but because some really bad people use them now.

They should probably be sealed off. I live within sight of the set on Union Street down to MLK.

NONE of the people on our street use them or would because of the dangers. Only when a car stops on Union ST. and it passengers go there to do drugs are they used.

It would be foolish and unsafe for good citizens to use them. I would not believe you would see any protest if they were closed and sealed off.

The steps going from Union to Spring Garden allows felons to access properties from the rear as well for break-ins.

They are Historic for sure, a better population of Allentown citizens build them. Those people and their principals are long long gone.

The people living here now would never allow themselves to do such physical work to earn their pride. Many could not read the English Language Dedication Blocks on the steps.

No this bunch will pull a gun on you to prove their pride when you walk to the library.

I loved this city and its' people when some of you were still eggs in your mothers womb.

But the Allentown we grew up in and loved is gone, to be NO MORE.

Allentown is the Bad Lands of Pennsylvania now.

Anonymous said...

The parks plans can be found in the 'Adventure Allentown' magazines, which can be found in all city buildings and the Parks HQ in Cedar Park. The city also plans to have a trail network connecting all of the parks, with priority given to getting center city kids to those parks. I would like to see the WPA structures protected, I'm pretty ambivalent about the playground, but I do know there are some good things coming out of these plans. I don't know why everyone is freaking out over a wedding pavilion - I'm sure it will look nice. Any complaints about the stagnant mirror ponds? (they are fixing them) and the goose poop surrounding the lake?

michael molovinsky said...

anon 4:58, glad to hear the opinion of a true "citizen" of the neighborhood. although the steps may well be used now for nefarious purpose, they should, never the less, be preserved. i inspected them this past september; at this point in time the saplings can still be poisoned and removed, and the stones re-pointed. in another few years they will start to crumble, especially the horizontal surfaces, and that option will no longer exist. unfortunately, the solution to the social problems you described, is much more complex

michael molovinsky said...

anon 5:33, you wrote;
Any complaints about the stagnant mirror ponds?

they were not stagnant mirror ponds, they were water lily ponds, which were low flow by design. once upon a time muhlenberg lake was populated by ducks, dredging the lake resulted in surfacing accumulated heavy metals which killed off most of the ducks, allowing the geese infestation. several years later they dredged the lily ponds, which finished off the remaining ducks on the lake. i hope the ponds and park survive these "improvements"

Anonymous said...

MM: Keep up the good work. Keep dialogue flowing so an exchange of ideas in civil manner can continue. Are city officials informing the public of park plans is a debate to continue.

Anonymous said...

I have noticed those steps and used them too, but I admit to being a bit scared. That whole area is overgrown and obviously attracts people who go there for the wrong reasons.

If they are repaired the forrest of summac and "gift" trees should be cleared so that these steps are able to be seen.

Another horible thing in that neighborhood is the shanty-town being built under the north side of the 8th street bridge. This has to be cleared out. Just looking at this makes me wonder how the mayor hasn't noticed this dangerous situation so close to a soon to be opened community swimming pool.

Mr. M. thank you for making us all aware of these situations.

michael molovinsky said...

i received the following comment from a well informed citizen, unfortunately, i found it necessary to edit some social commentary;

Mike I respect and salute your appreciation for these old stone steps.

Yes it is a crime they have been allowed to decline as they have.

They should be put on the Federal Historical Listing as is the Eight Street Bridge.

I recently read the Eight Bridge needs $4.5 Million dollars worth of repair.

To replace it would cost many times more.

It was the longest bridge of its design in the world for almost a decade after being completed.

I am the citizen who lived and grew up in this neighborhood.

Growing up a day did not go by that we did not use those steps safely.

If you were to go to the very top of the walls on Union Street. They have a cement path to collect and funnel the rain water away.

It was to keep the wall from coming apart from moisture.

It has long been filled in with all kinds of dirt and the drains no longer drain the water away.

Anonymous said...

Tuesday. Mr. Molovinsky,
Thank you for your essay
in today's Call. Folks can have opposing views as is evident from your blog, but at least you are offering the public a venue.
If Allentown's new park director is so convinced his plans to forever alter park lands is the only way to go, why isn't he here defending his decisions?

michael molovinsky said...

anon 7:29, actually the inclusion of this post in the newspaper was the decision of the opinion page editor, glenn kranzley. unfortunately for us, mr. kranzley's position was among those included in the current morning call cutbacks. kranzley is a native allentownian, and that historical perspective is crucial if the paper is to continue meeting a local need.

Anonymous said...

I hope they fix those steps, pick up the trash and cut down the jungle growth. The area at present is just urban decay. And where are the people? Why do neighbors allow this to happen in their back yards. This is but one example where community work is needed and part of the reason the area is blighted. There is no outrage.

Anonymous said...

they were not stagnant mirror ponds, they were water lily ponds, which were low flow by design. once upon a time muhlenberg lake was populated by ducks, dredging the lake resulted in surfacing accumulated heavy metals which killed off most of the ducks, allowing the geese infestation. several years later they dredged the lily ponds, which finished off the remaining ducks on the lake. i hope the ponds and park survive these "improvements"

can we get references on this? This sounds like uninformed information. the problem with 'news' blogs. No sources.

cranky curmudgeon said...

The city has not had a parks director worth a damn for years.

The City can't encourage competent stone workers; the SEUI simply can't do the work. To live in Allentown around these wonderful stoneworks, is to watch them disintegrate through incompetent repairs or through 'improvements' that bulldoze them.

For instance, most of them at Jordan Park are gone as well. The most recent calamity there was laying a concrete pad on the low lying bridge across the Jordan Creek. They didn't have a clue that the old stone work was designed to handle increase flows; their new concrete has forced high water flows over the banks on both sides of the creek. Now, it's just a matter of time before the stonework is washed away. And maybe a couple trees.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 8:52, i assume your doubts pertain more to the fate of the ducks than the nature of the ponds, but either way, i feel no obligation to cite "sources" here on this blog. i can tell you there were always ducks in the lake 1. before the dredging, and there were always lilies in the pond. 2.

1. molovinsky, duck feeder 1950
2. molovinsky, pond watcher 1950

Anonymous said...

There were ducks in that pond. Older photos and postcards show both. Go to LCHS and check out old photos if you don't believe MM.

Anonymous said...

Actually, there are outstanding stone masons in the Lehigh Valley. If the city would hire one of them, the mason properly could repairs these stone walls and bridges and steps. Union workers w/o stone mason knowledge and expertise could never do this kind of technical work. SEIU shouldn't demand its workers be put in a position where they look foolish, resulting in city's landmarks disappearing.

Anonymous said...

I don't doubt there were ducks in the pond! I just don't like hearing a statement "there were heavy metals released" with no facts to back it up. That would have been an environmental catastrophe that would have affected the creek and all aquatic flora and fauna. People read blogs as 'news' and not opinion, and opinion is often presented as fact here.

The mirror ponds WERE stagnant before dredging, silt accumulates from the creek (yes, they are designed as low flow) and as long as the creek exists in an unnatural state (eg. grass up to the sides) they will continue to need dredging every several years due to stormwater run-off. Water lilies and many species of aquatic plants are well equipped to handle anoxic conditions.

If the lake had a vegetated buffer, or was allowed to return to a more natural state (e.g. more wetland, less lake) the geese would disappear, They LOVE the grass.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 3:36, i must assume you're the same person who keeps mentioning the desirability of natural banks. (i suspect i might even know you, m. a. ?) you are correct, blogs certainly do reflect opinion more than facts. often those who cite facts and sources are in essence just citing someone else's opinion anyway. i inquired back when the lake was dredged what had happen to the ducks, and was told by several knowledgeable people at the time about the metals. the building just downstream was a metal coating industry way back. the area has flooded completely several times, exposing the area to possible contaminants. most unfortunately, there was the necessity of a "cluster case" study at union terrace school. perhaps you should do some research about the area before assuming conclusions are fabricated. historically, in the 50's, 60's and 70's the ponds did not need dredging every "couple of years" and the banks then were also grass. The parks in allentown are not natural, neither are the wpa stone landmarks. the topic here is preserving the stonework. if you care to identify yourself, and write a posting advocating natural creek banks, i will print it.

Anonymous said...

Heavy Metals. And we're not talking rock. Allentown had a number of chemical and metal industries, including the former Exide plants on Lehigh St and Lehigh Parkway East. A metal plating plant was also located near 7th & Washington, and elsewhere in town, as we’ve been told by old-timers. These waste products easily could have been poured down drains or in industrial backyards as in the 1940s, there was not the wealth of pollutant awareness there is today.

Anonymous said...

MM wrote: "The parks in allentown are not natural." All one needs to do to verify this information is correct is to find any of the old time photos of the Parkway. Just go the library old book room, they're there. This land
was "wild," w/ tall grasses, huge bank Willows, untouched.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday's Morning Call wrote about Trexler Trustees not being able to allocate as much funding this year to the city's parks. The paper said the city will not be able to have new hires. If this is so, will city officials continue with plans for a revamped Cedar Beach park, and who will keep it clean and safe? Maybe someone here knows and can tell us.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a good community project for some young people who want to do things to impact Allentown. What do you think ? We may not be able to do the concrete re building but we would be happy to pull weeds.

Alfonso Todd

michael molovinsky said...

alfonso, from a practical view, the growth must be poisoned and allowed to die, especially the saplings, before being removed. otherwise, in addition to re-growing, yanking them out can cause damage to the masonry. there are certainly many opportunities for supervised volunteers, should the city tune into this situation.

michael molovinsky said...

Anonymous said....
DONALD MARUSHAK was the parks director who commissioned a consultant to tell the city to plant certain native species of shrubs and grasses along Cedar Creek near the Cedar Crest Blvd. Cetronia Rd. intersection. He was a total incompetent. I'd forgotten that he owned a small nursery on the side and then sold his wares to the city... items to plant that were recommended' by these outside experts'. I believe it was a Philadelphia firm Marushak hired. One did not need to be an Einstein to draw up a plan to naturalize the banks of the Cedar Creek. There is just no regard anymore for throwing away the taxpayer's money for outside consultancy fees. This NEVER went on in Allentown in its 'golden era' (1920's through the 1950's)when we had competent, sensible, native, (primarily Penna. Dutch) citizens running this city... people who had been born and raised, and schooled in Allentown.

Malcom Gross, III, and Bob Wood should be ashamed of themselves for enabling this renegade administration. Gross in particular has contributed nothing to this city... just take, take, take.

DONALD MARUSHAK was a teacher of biology in one of the local high schools outside of Allentown, who applied for, and was hired to be the Parks Director. His hiring marks the decline in our park system. He was totally unqualified, ethically challenged, and, as a non-Allentonian had no appreciation for restoring and maintaining the historic integrity of our parks. The late Mr. Harald Messersmith was the last great Parks Superintendent... a good, hardworking German who came from the city, and respected the design and purpose of a 'passive park'... which Allentown's parks are intended to be.
What enabled all this to happen right under our noses (The Marushak outrages) was a Morning Call owned a run by outsiders from the Los Angeles Times, and reporters they hired who came here from God knows where... no roots inthe community or any understanding of what a passive park is designed kto be. They all could have cared less, because Allentown's Morning Call was a short stepping stone to another job in New Jersey or California.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 5:18. i agree with you about marushak, his greatest sin was tearing down the trexler greenhouse. although many will take exception to this, both dadonna and heydt gave him a green light. also problematic, was the planting of tree's. this first started near the fish hatchery as a memorial to aid's victims, certainly a worthwhile cause. soon tree's were being planted in wholesale quantity, for no reason, complicating grass cutting. in years previous, the grass in the parks could be efficiently cut by a tractor with large gang mowers. the nature of the parks has changed, for the worse.

leadpipe58 said...

I hope They do fix them because it is A tribute to the people of the time.
My great uncle (Willam Ostock) was one of thous workers.he was proud of his work and would remark that he worked on the walls in the parkway for WPA when we went by.He is gone now and I think of him what I drive buy.

Anonymous said...

Many of the problems seem to arise from outsiders being hired both as City employees as well as planning and design consultants hired by those City employees. Nobody really knows our parks yet they are willing to propose all sorts of changes based on a couple months of studies.

But there is no secret as to why "improvements" are proposed to parks in the vote rich West End as opposed to Center City Allentown where the parks are desperately needed. I guess it is more politically prudent to "help" parks that really only need maintenance than to take on creating open space downtown.