Feb 7, 2012

Allentown's WPA Bounty

When the WPA started in 1935, Allentown was in a unique position to benefit. In 1929 the city decided to expand it's park system, and acquired hundreds of acres for that purpose. We had both the space and the unemployed needing the work. A project was built in almost every park in Allentown; Cedar, Irving, Union Terrace, Lehigh Parkway, Jordan, and of course, Fountain Park. The stairwells leading from Lawrence Street (now Martin Luther King Drive) up to Union Street (Junction Street) and next up to Spring Garden Street became essential several years later. Hundreds of men would use them every day as Mack Truck turned their production to the War effort. As well built as the stone structures were, they are now over 75 years old. Steps are missing on the Grand Stairway, columns are being undermined at Union Terrace, and these monuments of our past need attention. Although they are beautiful, irreplaceable, and the icons of our parks, they are not a priority for the current Administration and Park Department. Please join me this evening at the Allentown Library, (February 7, at 7:00pm, lower level) and endeavor to change their priorities.


Anonymous said...

Please try to get into Lehigh Parkway today to take some of your excellent photos of the stone walls and steps that are falling apart. Once there were even lights and it looks like a water fountain at the staircase you often photographed near the popular spot called the
Robin Hood.

Anonymous said...

But how can these old things connect our community? I don't see riding my bike on them. I for one will be at the meeting Wednesday at the Library. The public can see there what a great idea the bike lanes are and why people like you should be ignored.

Allentown Democrat Bike Rider

michael molovinsky said...

dear democrat bike rider, ironically, at the last city meeting they promoted their paths to connect the city with the park system and fight childhood obesity. nothing connects the city better with the park than the stairwell, and try going up and down a couple times for exercise. in a city with proper priorities, a cycling club would be having a meeting tonight in the small room, and the city would be showing their WPA restoration plans in the large room tomorrow. for what the city spent so far on consultants for the bike paths, they could have repaired several of the WPA structures. democratic biker, although you are most welcome to attend the WPA meeting this evening, this is a bipartisan issue. the stone structures have been the pride of our park system for generations, and deserve our care, regardless of political persuasion.

Local said...

Mr. biker, there are plenty of places to ride.
There are many more walkers than bikers and stairs are good for walking.
And PLEASE, forget the asinine plan to further screw up the traffic flow on Linden and Turner streets.
Ride the parks, MLK drive, rails to trails, Trexlertown etc.
And spend your own money for personal recreation.

michael molovinsky said...

allentown made a mistake when it combined the park and recreation directorships. we now have a recreation person for park director, at the expense of other important things in the parks. ironically, pawlowski has since hired a managing director, a budget analyst, and created several other positions, long ago negating any savings.

Anonymous said...


I applaud your conviction on this topic. I too am concerned about our parks and our history.

I will try to get to the meeting this evening, if not, I will be in touch.

I have potential solutions to make this happen.

It would be much easier to work with the administration and the parks department to achieve this goal. I believe this can be accomplished.

Anonymous said...


What a FABULOUS photo.

The heavyweight champion of local culture and history has scored another one-punch knockout.


Anonymous said...

There is absolutely no reason private citizens should have to fork out any of THEIR money so that we may right our bikes wherever we damn well please when there is just so much TAXPAYER MONEY being spent on everything under the sun, including magnificent $ 160.0 million dollar Palaces of Sport.

Not only is our secret, underground bike lobby VERY POWERFUL ...

... we also provide kick-butt refreshments.

Secret Underground Allentown Bike Lobby

michael molovinsky said...

anon 9:03. nothing will be accomplished independent of the park department. these are big projects, requiring substantial budget allotments. for this to happen, it is necessary to move the priorities of the administration and park department toward the WPA structures. despite my lack of diplomacy, and abrasive frankness, the park department has sent representation to our previous meetings. i'm happy to report that the brush has been cleared away from the hill above the union street wall, adjoining the second stairwell of the lawrence street steps. new faces and idea's are most welcome.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 9:38, yes it is a great photo, but your comment demands a confession on my part. although the photo looks exactly like the first stairwell up from Martin Luther King drive, it is not. the photo was taken in seattle, in 1936. the exact method was used for building the steps here in allentown. carpenters first built forms, then the stones were laid. everything about the photo, down to the telephone pole, grade of slope, and stone post at base is identical to allentown.

Anonymous said...

"so much TAXPAYER MONEY being spent on everything under the sun"
This is not a valid excuse to spend even more money for a very small users group.
Close the golf course too!
These are my taxes too.
Spend your own hard earned cash on hobbies.

Brian said...

Rolf - (Viktor - Allentown Democratic Biker - whatever moniker you are hiding behind at the moment) - it would be nice to see you actually turn out for a meeting instead of using half truths (at most) to rant anonymously on a blog. If you had been to previous meetings you would understand that most of those who actually ride bikes are against these changes - especially as they are proposed on Linden and Turner Streets. I would hope that those who live in this corridor turn out en masse to voice their opinions - although those in "charge" do not have a great track record of using the voice of the people to form their decisions.

I have been involved with the "commitee" since its inception and will tell you that I feel taking a lane of traffic from Linden and Turner Streets is not only unnecessary but a disaster to the residents of those streets and to anyone who uses them for transportation. I can tell you this view is shared by many on the "committee". I make no apologies for riding my bike - I do take offense to your vapid rants against those who do.

michael molovinsky said...

brian, thanks for stopping by. your comment about being against the turner and linden street bike lane is interesting, hope the cyclists who feel this way go on the record wednesday eve, as such.

i must remind all readers to address comments to the topics, and not to others who comment. i will not host a chat room, friendly or hostile.

Anonymous said...

Michael -

I'm always glad to see your posts on Allentown's history, I'm glad you take the time to share your knowledge and memories. I completely agree that the WPA projects are worth preserving.

I don't think we have to choose between restoring the key WPA projects OR having a user-friendly bike system throughout the city.

I understand you don't agree with the way projects are being prioritized, but this doesn't have to be Us vs. Them. It sounds like the City has actively pursued grants to make the limited budget go as far as it can. Allentown should preserve its history while also looking to add amenities to improve our quality of life.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 12:57a.m., unfortunately, the park department does not see it that way. while they have pursued grants for the bike paths, they haven't looked for any toward maintaining the WPA. the clock is ticking against the WPA structures. After leaving the jerome street stairs at irving park deteriorate from neglect, they removed the middle set, rather than repair it. i was actually told by the park director that i should look for grants for WPA restoration. apparently, it's not his thing, this history and beauty stuff. tonight he conducts a meeting about the bike path through center city. the consultation fees alone could have repaired the stonework in union terrace.