Martin Tower: Not all icons were built to last (4)

(4th in a series on Martin Tower)

Gadfly has felt ripples and rumblings about the fate of Martin Tower.

An old controversy whose closure has not been fully digested in some quarters.

No surer sign of the recognition of that reality in the minds of some (probably inclined to be vocal) residents than this Morning Call article by our past Mayor.

The Cunningham piece has the feel of a strategic attempt by the business/developer community to get out in front of resurgent public controversy over demolition.

The article has the feel of an attempt to preempt a resurgence of controversy, at least over the fact of demolition.

This Cunningham essay is, frankly, a rhetorically effective and powerful piece of writing.

It would have received an “A” in Gadfly’s writing class.

If there is to be a fight over Martin Tower, as Gadfly strongly suspects there will be, its focus must squarely be on the nature of future development.

Which Cunningham does not raise here.

Not at this point wasting grief or grumble, however justified, over the fate of the building itself or the process by which that fate was determined.

Or do you disagree?

What do you think?

Don Cunningham, “Business Sectors: Not all icons were built to last.” Morning Call, February 7, 2019.

Selections, but you need to read the full article:

“There’s a historic gem hidden on a wooded hillside of South Mountain in the tiny borough of Fountain Hill. It’s just beyond the southern end of Lechauweki Avenue where the road dead ends at Moravia Street and the mountainside. The casual visitor won’t notice much. There’s a small pond with a gazebo, a nature trail and lots of trees just beyond a borough sign that reads ‘Lechauweki Springs: a public recreation area’.”

“The hillside looked much different 140 years ago, in the late 1870s. It was home to the Lechauweki Springs Hotel resort. There were three buildings on the site that could house up to 120 guests. Wealthy travelers from New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia came by horse-drawn carriage to rest and relax on this hillside and to drink and bathe in the mineralized natural springs of Lechauweki.”

“Lechauweki Springs was known for its exquisite cuisine. Gourmet meals were prepared by a French chef who served all that was fresh and in season from the area countryside.”

“Lechauweki Springs Hotel resort lasted about 20 years from 1872 to 1891. The end came when a fire destroyed the main building. . . . Today all that remains other than the springs and the rebuilt pond and gazebo are some fascinating stone cisterns dug into the ground around the hill and three former resort cottages on the west side of Lechauweki Avenue that are now six twin homes. Lechauweki Springs Hotel resort disappeared almost as quickly as it surfaced.”

“About two miles across the river as the crow flies in west Bethlehem another economic icon of its day is about to meet a similar fate. . . . Martin Tower, the last corporate office home of the Bethlehem Steel Corp., on Eighth Avenue in the Lehigh County section of the city will be taken down this year. It’s been vacant for 12 years.”

“The construction of Martin Tower for $35 million was just one example of a corporate leadership often more focused on building monuments, golf courses, country clubs and leasing suites at the Waldorf-Astoria than modernizing steelmaking operations and remaining cost competitive with international steelmakers and American mini-mills.”

“There are some who don’t want to see the tower go. I understand what underlies that sentiment. I was not alive to see the grand hotel of Lechauweki Springs but whenever I hike the site I wish it were still there. Of course, it can’t be there because its time came and went. Today, it would be antiquated, unsafe, wouldn’t meet modern building codes and couldn’t be cost competitive enough to stay in business. Just like Martin Tower.”

“All can’t be preserved just to make us feel better.”

“If something can be saved and repurposed it should be. The first inclination should not be to tear down and start anew.”

“But, there’s also a difference between something old and something historic.”

“The history of Bethlehem Steel happened on the South Side. . . . It was in those blast furnaces that raw materials were cooked into molten iron. And, it was in those mills where tens of thousands toiled to produce those iconic I-beams. We are fortunate the blast furnaces, former corporate offices and many of the mills remain there to remind us of our past.”

“Martin Tower is the youngest of all the steel buildings in Bethlehem. The company occupied it for just 30 years. Some things disappear nearly as quickly as they come. That often happens.”

Did you get the memo?

(3rd in a series on Martin Tower)

Nicole Radzievich, “Martin Tower ‘is a proud part of our history, but the reality is we are forced to move on,’ and other reactions to its looming demise.” Morning Call, January 30, 2019.

Martin Tower demolition: What readers are saying, Morning Call, February 1, 2019.

These folks got the “move on” memo

Martin Tower “is a proud part of our history, but the reality is we are forced to move on. That building served a purpose in its day, but it is now an anomaly in the market. There have been many efforts over years to repurpose it, but there simply is not a demand for that type of office or residential space. Unless people want an incredibly big museum that stands there empty, it’s time to move on just as we have on the South Side. … We need to build a new economy for this new generation.”

”It was a great part of my life, and I’ll never forget that, but you have to move on.”

“But it’s not going to be redeveloped, and I’m realistic enough to know its time to move on.”

“A lot of us are sad to see it go, but it’s progress.”

“Life goes on.”

Gadfly believes it’s been a half-dozen years since the Martin Tower conundrum’s been in the news.

Gadfly was in another life at that time, but he remembers the gnashing of teeth and the rending of garments.

Are we going down that road again?

Did the developers think that “we” had forgotten?

These folks didn’t get the “move on” memo:

“I think the plans for the removal of the building are a business decision. Having said that, for historical and sentimental reasons, I think it would have been great if the business plan could have included the tower. That was not the case.”

“What could be more sustainable than preserving this iconic building? Are we as a community to just shrug our shoulders and walk away from this gift that Bethlehem Steel gave us?”

“Remove the tower for sure, but how about setting some of those 53 acres aside for future generations to appreciate?”

“Imagine how our downtown would benefit from parkland with some apartments thrown in. Burnside Plantation adjacent to this land could replant some of the land too.”

“We have climate change that is exacerbated by overdevelopment.”

“Future generations will thank the smart planning that saved all this open land.”

“This demolition of Martin Tower is a bad joke against the Lehigh Valley perpetrated by the outsider property owners who recklessly abandoned the property for close to a decade.”

“They then asked Bethlehem City Council for a change of zoning that may allow demolition. This was done after they donated funds to a few of these council members who, for some reason, didn’t recuse themselves as they ought to have done when the vote came to the floor.”

“What resulted was a nearly unanimous vote by council to permit the zoning change despite those who spoke on the public’s behalf just as nearly unanimously opposing the measure.”

“I recommend a total ban on any contracts to be bid on this property until a complete investigation is made into the process that led to the development.”

We need a glorious implosion and a party following it

(2nd in a series on Martin Tower)

John Marquette is a retired librarian/archivist, author, historian, and a resident of Bethlehem. His current project is focused on the restoration of the interior of the Archibald Johnston Mansion in Housenick Park. 


Martin Tower is coming down. The developers have decided.

For some, the demolition of the tower is painful. For others, it’s overdue. I confess to expecting the building with its gaping windows to be taken down sooner rather than later, but hearing it today was still a shock.

My first thought was to post the news link on the “You know you’re from Bethlehem…” Facebook group, and found that I was beaten by one minute. My later reflections were about something more important: the life and spirit of our city and how we’ll explain Bethlehem’s history without being able to point to Martin Tower.

And then I thought about how I’d like to be remembered. My uncle’s ashes were loaded on board a small boat and the family attempted to set it ablaze in the middle of a pond. They were not successful, but their hearts were certainly in the right place. A friend wants a New Orleans jazz-style funeral, with trumpets and celebration and music. I prefer joy to sadness.

The end of Martin Tower deserves an event the likes of which this city has never seen. With the cooperation of Messrs. Ronca and Herrick, we need a glorious implosion and a party following it to collect, share, and celebrate our collective memories of the building and of the Steel. I can think of only one party organizer big enough to handle this: Jeff Parks.

Maybe Jeff has been planning something in the background all along and his (and ArtsQuest’s) plans will be announced tomorrow. Or maybe in the turbulent months since the end of Musikfest, the flapping plastic from Martin Tower’s windows haven’t been front-and-center. Now we know. Let’s plan for a party to laugh, cry, and celebrate our love for the city and for the women and men — Nikolaus and Benigna Zinzendorf, Lenape Chief Lapowinsa, John Fritz, Archibald Johnston, H.D., Eugene Grace, Gertie Fox, Edmund Martin, Charlene Donchez Mowers, and many more – on whose shoulders we stand.

Jeff Parks, let’s have a party!


Movement on Martin Tower (1)

(1st in a series on Martin Tower)

Nicole Radzievich, “Martin Tower, landmark of the Bethlehem Steel era, to be demolished. Morning Call, January 28, 2019.

The headline in the print edition is:


“Martin Tower, once Bethlehem Steel’s world headquarters, will vanish from Bethlehem’s skyline this year after a 47-year reign as the Lehigh Valley’s tallest building, a representative of its owners confirmed Monday.”

“The developers have not yet determined whether the 332-foot building will be imploded or dismantled, Duane Wagner, director of development for HRP Management, said Monday on behalf of the owners. Wagner’s comments mark the first time the owners, a partnership of investors Lewis Ronca and Norton Herrick, have revealed their intentions for the skyscraper since the 53-acre property, at 1170 Eighth Ave., was rezoned a little more than three years ago.”

“In a 2017 interview, Ronca said he wasn’t sure of the tower’s fate even as he began a more than $4 million project to remove the asbestos from it and demolish surrounding ancillary buildings. ‘Over the past several years, even prior to the abatement process, we 009explored reuse internally and with several third-party groups, and were not able to create an economically viable plan for [its] reuse,’ Wagner said. Removing the tower opens for development the valuable property just off a Route 378 interchange. Wagner said the developers will submit a master plan for the site during the first quarter of this year.”

“Mayor Robert Donchez said the building proved over the years to be too inefficient to market. It’s better for the city as a whole, he said, to start fresh with tax-generating projects, rather than let the property continue to languish. While some may mourn the tower’s loss, Donchez said, the city can take solace in saving older symbols of Bethlehem Steel: the Steel General Offices, where famed executives Eugene Grace and Charles Schwab ruled, and the blast furnaces. ‘A certain number of people feel strongly about Martin Tower, but I think there is a stronger attachment to the blast furnaces, which really has become the skyline of Bethlehem,’ Donchez said.”

“The Martin Tower site, in the Lehigh County portion of Bethlehem, has been eyed for redevelopment since the final tenants moved out in 2007. The property was included in 003the 5-year-old City Revitalization and Improvement Zone, a tax incentive that allows developers to pay off construction loans with certain state and local taxes. Demolition will prevent the use of federal tax credits developers once eyed when they successfully petitioned to get Martin Tower on the National Register of Historic Places. It was a noteworthy application because the building was younger than 50, yet preservationists agreed its ties to mighty Bethlehem Steel made it noteworthy.”

“In 2006, Martin Tower landed in the hands of the company that now includes Ronca and Herrick. There was little demand for the tower’s 600,000 square feet of office space. Its size and shape were unattractive to investors and its mechanical system was outdated. It was difficult to find a single occupant to fill the building, and its layout was inefficient. Developers had first envisioned a $200 million residential community, but that faded when the residential market took a downturn. Those plans were shelved after the housing crash. The property lingered until 2015, when city zoning was changed to make it easier for Martin Tower to be demolished and allowed a mix of office, commercial and residential development.”