Oct 21, 2016

When Allentown Worked

Regular readers of this blog know that I often visit Allentown's better days of the past. I even belong to a nostalgia group, where someone recently asked where everyone's parents worked. Many group members are in their 50's and 60's. Here was the question; When we grew up the best jobs for our dad's was the Bethlehem steel and mack trucks unless they were lawyers or doctors or had another profession occupation I know my my mom worked in a factory all her life and I think most of them have closed. Where did you mom and dad work and are the companies are open? Over 90 people responded, actually constituting a survey. In current Allentown, this would be a study, which taxpayers would have to pay for; Here, it's on the house, no charge. Fourteen of the fathers worked at Bethlehem Steel, while five worked at Mack Trucks, and five worked retail on Hamilton Street. The others worked at Allentown's many other industries, one or two here and there. Only two respondents said that their fathers weren't much for working. Twenty mothers were stay at home, while eight worked in various sewing factories. The remainder worked as teachers, nurses, factory workers and various other jobs. One person wrote, "My parents sound like the scene you described. My dad worked at Beth Steel and my mom at Penn State Mills on a sewing machine. They owned their own home and sent me to college where I graduated without the burden of a loan. Thanks, Mom and Dad." Shown above was the General Electric plant on S. 12th Street, just beyond the old Mack 5C.
reprinted from November of 2013.

ADDENDUM: There is a current proposal to convert the enormous Adelaide Mill into apartments. Although, we hear catch words like loft and middle class, that won't happen; The size and location of the building, along with the developer's MO, dictate more young, single mothers and children, living in a former factory now broken up into a cheap urban motel. There is something ironic about a former place of production now being a warehouse for people. There is something sad about a city looking upon these conversions as progress.


Scott Armstrong said...


If I am correct/KOZ this will need the approval of both the board of county commissioners and the ASD school board. The school board will roll over on this so the best hope of stopping this stupidity is the Lehigh County Commissioners.
By the way, when I led the charge to kill this plan two years ago from the school board Deb Tretter/president of the teachers,union wrote in a Call op-ed that I "denigrated the poor". That is an indication of co-ordination between the the union and the city's leader. No surprise here.
One more thing, our wiser city fathers designated this land as industrial for a reason, it is on a flood plain.

Scott Armstrong said...

One more thing, Scott Kraus has an excellent story on a looming apartment bubble in today's paper.

Jamie Kelton said...

I'm unclear with several things with regards to converting the old Phoenix Mills building. Isn't it in a flood plain? Also, that's not exactly the best of neighborhoods either. Do they really expect Young Urban Professionals to move into a 140 year old mill, when there are the new Strata Flats available?

Where are the jobs in the area to support all of the "Young Professionals"?

Who did the market research on the viability of this project ? I suppose that's a silly question, given all the hoopla about Strata Flats II and III when there aren't any lights on at night in Strata Flats I. Must be because I'm Blonde, I suppose....

michael molovinsky said...

jamie@9:13, indeed, there will not be any "young professionals" living there. as i have said before, allentown's problem isn't a lack of affordable housing, the real problem is that there is too much of it. more low income apartments just lowers the bar for all the existing units in center city. all of this continues to energize the poverty magnet, and the associated problems in the schools, etc.

doug_b said...

Can you imagine a 'young professional' taking a job in Allentown.... And then when he brings his 'bride' - and she gets one look at the place... the look on her face... priceless.

pathfinder said...

Maybe the young "millennials" that Ce-Ce Gerlach paraded in front of City Council on Wednesday night during courtesy of the floor will be interested. They are looking for "affordable" housing and an exclusionary zone. Can you imagine how long any young professional or millennial would react after their first Friday or Saturday night in their new apartment and witnessing the characters and activities of Catch 22?

Dave said...

A major issue tha goes unaddressed in the NIZ, and I suppose the Adeliade Mill can be considered part of the NIZ even though its outside it's official boundary is the Allentown School District.

The schools in that part of the city are very old not very attractive to a young educated couple with elementary-school age children. I believe Jefferson, over in South Allentown is the nearest which is a significant distance from all of these apartments, which will require the parents to drive their kids to school and pick them up. That would be very hard on a two-worker family.

If I were a year or two out of Penn State or Lehigh, and looking at career opportunities, the NIZ of Allentown would not be my first choice. That seems to be the target market for Reilly & Company and whomever is wanting to convert this mill into "lofts" or whatever.

Dave said...

Pathfinder As in most things of life, you get what you pay for

pathfinder said...

Dave, I agree with your statement. Closest elementary school to the Old Phoenix Mills building is Sheridan on 2nd St. Since it was completely rebuilt, it is one of the newer schools in ASD.

Geoff said...

It seems astonishing that a city with the number of corporate headquarters as Allentown never built a national-quality research university during its heyday. Such a university would have buttressed the loss of the manufacturing jobs that many northeastern cities experienced in the 1980s and beyond. Bethlehem, in retrospect, has been quite lucky to have Lehigh for this reason.

Agree on the lofts though--absent a sensible economic strategy to bring youth-oriented employers to the region, it is hard to imagine this leading to a lot of high-end young workers living downtown.

C PG said...

It's either warehouse work or welfare.

Phila Back said...

The Lehigh Valley's loss of good manufacturing jobs is largely due to bad trade policy which includes NAFTA and PNTR for China. The president wants to ram the Trans-Pacific Partnership "NAFTA on Steroids" through Congress in a lame duck session. The Pennsylvania Fair Trade Coalition is sponsoring a Stop TPP event in Allentown on Halloweeen. https://www.facebook.com/events/196663880760138/

AuH20 said...

Geoff: Allentown is 20 minutes from Lehigh University. There was no need for its own research university. The nation was flooded with great universities, not to mention those in Europe, that provided all the research the world needed. And community leaders over the past half century actually promoted the concept of the Lehigh Valley as a single economic unit. Among the leaders of that concept was the Morning Call. Yes, the same Morning Call that printed 5 or more 'different' editions to appeal to the parochial interests of local cities and suburbs.

Geoff said...

What I would suggest is that the legacy of Allentown's great corporations is a lot smaller than the legacy of Bethlehem's. For all we were (and are) proud of those companies, we really don't see much remaining of them, other than a slowly dying car museum.

For whatever reason, Bethlehem's leaders were a little more farsighted--not just through developing a close relationship with Lehigh (and Moravian) when the Steel was strong, but its endowment and current reputation anchor Bethlehem as a quality educational place in an economy where education is king.

WallyEly said...


Thanks for “When Allentown Worked.”

My mother was a waitress at the Superior Restaurant, 828 Hamilton Street. (Owned by George Kalfas.) Helen Ely worked the breakfast and lunch shift.

My father’s only connection with Hamilton Street was when the Queen Of The Valley passenger train stopped at the Jersey Central Terminal before crossing Hamilton Street. Tom Ely was the conductor.

Wally Ely, as a teen-ager, worked part-time at Phillip’s Department Store at 4th and Hamilton Streets.

Suzanne Ely, as a teenager worked part-time at McCrory’s 5 and 10 on Hamilton Street.

Son David Ely, as a teen-ager worked part time at Hess’s

Daughter Linda Ely and son, Scott Ely, worked part-time and summers at Wally Ely’s Holiday Rent-A-Car franchise at 2020 Hamilton and at THE Car Wash on Hamilton Street at Dorneyville (Across from the King George Inn and Roy Fink’s service station.)

Wally Ely

Scott Armstrong said...

The blame for Allentown's problems lies at the feet of the voters. They are the ones ultimately responsible for putting into power, and keeping them there,the people who through corruption, partisanship, cronyism, and personal advantage have completely mismanaged the city's government, finances,and neighborhoods.
If you want to see a city that works look at Bethlehem. Apparently those voters take their role responsibly.

doug_b said...

Grew up in A-Town in the 50's and 60's. Got two STEM degrees, left in 1972. Even in 1972 it was impossible for me to get a STEM job. Here's my take:

In the 1800's there was the first industrial revolution. It lasted 100 years and made our country prosperous. Allentown area had all the right stuff: the Lehigh River, good weather, good farming. Around 1910 came the 2nd industrial revolution - assembly lines, electricity, etc. That lasted only 40-50 years. At the end of WWII, Germany's and Japan's manufacturing capabilities were destroyed. This gave the US (and Allentown) a boost to produce products, until they rebuilt. By 1970 the remnants of 2nd industrial revolution were completely over. The tech revolution stated in 1970 and went to 2000 - only 30 years. Allentown was never an intellectual hot spot - there was no way they could participate in this new revolution.

Thus Allentown's economy crashed, lowering property values, fueling an influx of indigent people. Adding to the problem is that the city center is surrounded by blocks and blocks and blocks of tiny row homes - that comprise a low income ghetto - you have too much affordable housing.

It would be great in Allentown could rise out of the ashes like the Phoenix - but I don't see it happening.

TRENT HALL said...

Globalization in the late 1960's hit Allentown hard. The ease with which textile/steel/assembly products could be manufactured/transferred/imported back meant industry could leave Allentown. Those union jobs aren't coming back and they were the foundation of the 1930's thru 1950's prosperity.

Tech will help some, but, for many the future is minimum wage service jobs. That means a lot of the young will leave the area, further increasing the ratio of underemployed & senior residents. Allentown is like the coal regions were 15 years ago...just took 15 years to catch up to us.

michael molovinsky said...

I have done away with an essentially private conversation between AuH20 and myself. His comments remain welcome. Likewise, this explanation will also be deleted later today.

C PG said...

Ross Perot 1992 Presidential debate

"We have got to stop sending jobs overseas. It's pretty simple: If you're paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor,...have no health care—that's the most expensive single element in making a car— have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don't care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south.
...when [Mexico's] jobs come up from a dollar an hour to six dollars an hour, and ours go down to six dollars an hour, and then it's leveled again. But in the meantime, you've wrecked the country with these kinds of deals."
Quote from Wikipedia