Jul 11, 2016

A Baby Boomer Allentown

molovinsky on allentown is meant to intersect local politics and history. I grew up during a very prosperous era in Allentown's history. The post war (WW2) factories couldn't produce enough goods, despite some having three shifts. Local government was small, concerned mostly with infrastructure and public safety.  There was little concern with affordable housing and other social programs. Then, as now, there were always poor people. Eleanor Roosevelt visited Allentown for the opening of Hanover Acres, the public housing above the east side of the Lehigh River. For many residents of that project and Cumberland Gardens, the public housing was a stepping stone, not a lifestyle.

Hamilton Street was a thriving shopping district.  No subsidies needed there.  Those successful merchants handled their own parking system, no Parking Authority needed.  There might have been some nepotism and cronyism in city hall, but no need for FBI investigations.  Information and news came from your television screen and newspapers, but without agendas and misdirection.

A reader asked me why I made commenting more difficult.  Question.......isn't one of the purposes of your blog to foster discussion of the matters you raise? Purposely seeking to curb comment responses and possibly readership, seems counterintuitive to me.  Topics are not chosen in regard to expanding readership, nor do I count comments as a gauge of success. This blog is not monetized, directly or indirectly. I address those topics which are either under-reported, or misrepresented by the local main stream media. Consequently, I want the comments to be as relevant and responsible as possible.

When Walter Cronkite gave the news in the early 1960's,  he signed out each program by saying, "And that's the way it is."       


freddo said...

The Allentown you refer to in your blog article is the city I grew up in. When I moved away in 1983 to continue my college education in Philadelphia, the first signs of rot had only just begun; and I never thought the city would become what it is now.

Paul Fiske said...

Thanks Michael,
This Posted Commentary clarifies without a doubt the purpose and reasoning behind your "blog" You will never suffer from readership, because it doesn't fit into the "narrative" of a few....
Paul J. Fiske
"The Old Allentown Curmudgeon"

Jamie Kelton said...

Allentown can be categorized into two eras

The before Daddona era
The after Daddona Era

I don't ever see it returning to the before Daddona era. Pawlowski changed downtown, but the city around it was changed by Daddona.

You can't go home again, because home isn't there any longer

Jamie Kelton said...

If people care enough to comment on your articles Mr Molovinski, they'll register. It doesn't really take much effort.

doug_b said...

I remember the Sesquicentennial parade in 1962 - I was 14. Still have a metal sign: "Allentown - An All American City" and some wooden nickles.

Allentown was a special place because it was compact, the people were polite and hard working, and the surrounding housing stock fit the needs of the residents. That has all changed.

Met my wife at Penn State. She was from NW PA - near Erie. In 1969 she thought Allentown was fantastic.

Left the Lehigh Valley for good in 1972. Each time my wife and I returned - you could see Allentown going down and down. When I heard that Hess's was sold, and they were opening stores in Malls - I knew it was doomed.

IMO there is no original character left. If Allentown ever recovers, it's not going to be by design. It will happen organically, just like it originally grew.

Dave said...


Allentown is a welfare state these days. Although the Hispanic business class is growing, the old Sears building at 7th & Allen is a prime example of what Allentown will be like in the future.

I doubt that the industrial base that grew Allentown in the first half of the 20th century will return, as those old industries have all moved overseas where labor is cheap and unions don't exist. A clothing mill in Thailand can pay workers 10 cents an hour and we just can't compete with those wages here.

What is needed is to attract technology-based companies to the area to replace that industrial base to grow the middle class. Right now we have health care that generally pays low wages to many of the workers, along with sales jobs. Even dual incomes working those kinds of jobs don't match what industrial jobs pay. Technology jobs need to be attracted here for the area to have the kind of future that it had in 1948

Luiz Garcia said...

Yes! "the public housing was a stepping stone, not a lifestyle"

Monkey Momma said...

I'm afraid agendas and misdirection have always been a part of the news. The news has always existed to simply sell papers or views or whatever metric is used by advertisers. This was described as occurring during the Civil War in "Team of Rivals," and it has been happening since the beginning of the "news." Everyone has an agenda. Even the delightful Molovinsky on Allentown has an agenda...although, it happens to be an agenda I am sympathetic towards, and find refreshingly honest.

The difference between the days you yearn for and now, I think, is that government has been perverted to take care of itself (and only itself) and to perpetuate a system that rewards complacency. Although the "liberal agenda" may have honestly altruistic motivations, the "law of unintended consequences" shows us that for every good deed, there is an an equal and opposite reaction. Give a person the down payment on an apartment, and they'll give you trash on the street, loud subwoofers in their car, and 8 children crammed in a space that should only legally hold 4 people total. If you find that summary statement offensive, then you are probably offended at Allentown every day, or totally ignorant.

Allentown's major problem right now, aside from a lack of well paying jobs, is an overabundance of children raising children, and a lack of a family unit. Broken families lead to broken neighborhoods, and that is what we see in Allentown, and so many other towns across the rust belt and beyond. Broken families are why the ASD is failing miserably. There is no repair the school district can make - it is up to individual families to clean up their own mess, and that doesn't seem to be happening. I think they're still waiting for someone else to clean up their mess for them. Shiny buildings cannot replace a father. And without a reliable father figure in the majority of houses in town, we're doomed.

doug_b said...

@Dave - 9:43: "What is needed is to attract technology-based companies to the area "

I don't think there's a reason for technology companies to locate in Allentown. Given the high percentage of people on welfare, and the schools, it makes no sense. Further there isn't suitable housing for middle class people in downtown Allentown. Maybe in the greater Lehigh Valley area, but not in Allentown proper.

Also PA has a decreasing population, but mounting debt. Just last year your Governor wanted to substantially raise taxes. Looks like Philadelphia and Scranton may have to be bailed out.

Jamie Kelton said...


You're correct. The ASD is a boat anchor. We used to have award-winning schools in Allentown, but the population change from families to broken homes has changed all that. Instead of the top of the hill, the ASD is at the bottom of the barrel educationally.

Now I know there are examples of students excelling, going to top-ranked universities from Allen and Dieruff, but that's the exception, not the rule.

When we chose to move up from the Philadelphia suburbs a few years ago to be closer to our parents who live in the west end, the last thing I wanted was my daughter to go to Allen, where both my husband and I attended. It's why we chose to live in Upper Perk, where she can attend a decent school and not have to worry about all the ghetto kids and gangs and all the other garbage we read about at Trexler, or Raub, and especially at Allen.

So you're correct. Why would a high tech company want to move to Allentown, although honestly, it's the taxes that would keep them out of the suburban area where they would most likely relocate. Parkland and some of the other suburban High Schools, Salisbury, aren't too bad, but the taxes in PA are crippling, and the weather here sucks compared to places in the south.

George Ruth said...

Spot on Monkey Momma.

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

Lots of good , right on comments here, as for bringing jobs, technology jobs will not come to Allentown or any other city without a real re-evaluation of our trade laws. The workers making clothing much cheaper in Thailand will also make technology in Taiwan or China. We can have free trade with countries like Germany, France UK, but not with third world countries. Free trade with third world countries will depress wages and wealth in the US. It has already been evident, without action it will not end till all countries are in the same economic boat. I guess that is the plan.

Geoff said...

Allentown didn't decline because of poor people, public housing, or because of the current mayor. Allentown declined because its core industries and businesses left and the city government/"city elders" at the time never really developed a plan B. Joe Daddona, for all his achievements, was a part of that problem.

The big and medium sized firms had a huge supply of reasonably well off middle class and executive level workers. Those jobs disappeared and largely have not been replaced, at least in terms of quality. The tax revenue that these businesses gave to the city and the school district have largely disappeared. The secondary businesses that supported the industry--accountants, bookkeepers, lawyers, office supply stores, etc., found themselves without customers.

"Rebuilding downtown" in former factory towns by replacing a former mill with a bookstore or artist colony might be "fun" for a certain class of people, but it also represents a loss of wealth and productivity to the community as a whole. We might ask those who enjoy the revitalization of Allentown how they plan to return real wealth to the city.

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

Real wealth s created by taking raw materials and adding labor to manufacturer a higher value product, most jobs today are not wealth building jobs,

doug_b said...

@Geoff: " Allentown declined because its core industries and businesses left "

You are correct. The government is trying to replace real, productive jobs / industries with circus: Sports / Entertainment / Restaurants / Gambling. Notice none of these produce a tangible product.

"Allentown didn't decline because of poor people, public housing" Well I must say that Center City Allentown is surrounded by blocks and blocks of inadequate early 20th century housing. Homes too small, streets too narrow, little or none off street parking, little or no appreciation. Middle class people would have moved to the suburbs had there still been jobs.

Jeffrey Anthony said...

You're eloquent (and elegiac) piece certainly made me nostalgic for an Allentown that was an immeasurably better place than it is today. Even in the 80s (when I was in my 20s), Allentown was one of the most cosmopolitan small cities in America. Now it's barely a shadow of its former self.

As to the last part of your piece, you certainly deserve compensation for the fine work you do in reporting topics of importance to the city large and small. I would certainly pay a subscription fee...