Feb 28, 2017

Growing Up Parkway

I'm a baby boomer. I was born in December of 1946. As soon as my mother climbed out of the hospital bed, another woman climbed in. I grew up in the neighborhood now called Little Lehigh Manor, wedged between Lehigh Street and the top of the ravine above Lehigh Parkway. That's me on our lawn at the intersection of Catalina and Liberator Avenues, named after airplanes made by Vultee Corporation for the War. We had our own elementary school, our own grocery store, and the park to play in. On Saturdays, older kids would take us along on the trolley, and later the bus, over the 8TH Street Bridge to Hamilton Street. There were far too many stores to see everything. After a matinee of cartoons or Flash Gordon, and a banana split at one of the five and dimes, we would take the bus back over the bridge to Lehigh Street.

Not that many people know where Lehigh Parkway Elementary School is. It's tucked up at the back of the development of twin homes on a dead end street, but I won't say exactly where. I do want to talk about the photograph. It's May Day, around 1952-53. May Day was big then, so were the unions; Most of the fathers worked at the Steel, Mack, Black and Decker, and a hundred other factories going full tilt after the war. The houses were about 8 years old, and there were no fences yet. Hundreds of kids would migrate from one yard to another, and every mother would assume some responsibility for the herd when it was in her yard. Laundry was hung out to dry. If you notice, most of the "audience" are mothers, dads mostly were at work. I'm at the front, right of center, with a light shirt and long belt tail. Don't remember the girl, but see the boy in front of me with the big head? His father had the whole basement setup year round with a huge model train layout. There were so many kid's, the school only went up to second grade. We would then be bused to Jefferson School for third through sixth grade. The neighborhood had its own Halloween Parade and Easter egg hunt. We all walked to school, no one being more than four blocks away. Years ago when I met my significant other, she told me she taught at an elementary school on the south side, but that I would have no idea where it was.

reprinted from January of 2013


Dave said...

In the days when Allentown was a good place to live and grow up in. A middle-class city with most people having some disposable income. Our industrial base provided jobs and supported a vibrant retail service sector known as Hamilton Street. A true "All-American" city that the city received in 1962. We also had a public school system that was noted in Life Magazine as one of the best in the United States.

This was also the Allentown I grew up in Mr Molovinski, and I remember it fondly as well. Had a really good friend in high school that went to Lehigh Parkway Elementary, met him at William Allen.

Also, and this is important, we welcomed immigrants because we needed the industrial workers as well as workers who were employed on Hamilton Street, as well as the many other businesses, restaurants, pharmacies, markets, and other opportunities. Yes, Allentown did have some less well off that lived in public housing, but they weren't on lifetime public assistance. And immigrants didn't come to Allentown because of the public assistance it offered.

Then the music died in the 1970s.... and we have the Allentown of today

Robert Trotner said...

I don't agree with the general assessment that people or life was generally better for all people in the old days but as a fellow baby boomer with nostalgia for the good old days, I really enjoyed this blog. it brought back a flood of similar memories.

doug_b said...

I was born in 1949. Grew-up in Allentown. I'm not the nostalgic type, but A-Town was, what I think the 'perfect' urban town. I was compact, you could easily walk just about anywhere. Hamilton St offered stores with quality merchandise, there were good restaurants (some a few miles out of center city). I believe it was what today's 'livable city' planners talk about.

I went to Penn State (State College) In the late 60's, I brought several girl friends home for the weekend. They were from western PA. All were amazed with A-Town, the stores, Lehigh Parkway, restaurants, etc.

In retrospect, the unfortunate part was that nobody did any planning for the future. This should have started around 1960. Allentown fell way behind the times. In 1972 (right out of Penn State) I interviewed at Western Electric and Beth Steel. Even at 22 years of age, I could see these people were still wearing green eye shades. Who would ever want to work for them?

Then there was the economic collapse. Looks like the 'leaders' said 'gee whiz, that's too bad'. Allentown had a total lack of leadership, which resulted into Allentown becoming a low income dump. With that, the collapse of the schools, and white flight to the burbs. All the while they argue about the school board - like that's going to fix anything.

If Allentown is to recover it needs a 'Strategic Plan' here's a definition from the web:
"Strategic planning is an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals, establish agreement around intended outcomes/results, and assess and adjust the organization's ..."

The NIZ is the opposite of a Strategic Plan. The only plan is: Build it and let's hope they will come.

Amy said...

I love reading stories and seeing pictures about the old days in Allentown. I grew up on N. 16th St. and went to Herbst School for kindergarten, where part of Sacred Heart Hospital medical buildings are now.