A Lost Neighborhood (11)

(11th in a series of posts about Lehigh University)

(See also our thread on Neighborhoods)

 Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem’s lost neighborhood rebuilt.” Morning Call, May 14, 2015.
Lehigh University, Still Looking for You: A Bethlehem Place + Memory Project
PICTURES: Bethlehem’s lost neighborhood

Good things happen to Gadfly.

He had been researching Mary Pongracz. Reputed to be worthy of charter membership in the Bethlehem Gadfly Hall of Fame.

Gadfly has a department here on the blog called “Gadfly History,” where we will memorialize and immortalize local gadflies. Currently in the department are posts on Stephen Antalics and Bill Scheirer.

Gadfly is looking to do a piece on Mary.

While researching Mary, Gadfly found Nicole’s above-linked article on “Bethlehem’s lost neighborhood.”  It whacked him ‘tween the eyes.

Neighborhoods have been on Gadfly’s mind (we have a thread so-titled and threads on Northside 2027, and the Rose Garden, etc.), and the ominous phrase “Lehigh sprawl” (conjuring up some hydra-headed monster) from the anonymous poster #4 in this series has been pinging just below his consciousness.

Enter “Bethlehem’s lost neighborhood.”

The web site — “Still Looking for You” — is fascinating. Go there!

The “lost neighborhood” is “the solid, working-class neighborhood community that once existed within the borders of Vine and Webster streets and Morton Street and Packer Avenue.” Now Lehigh University campus.

With trembling hand, Gadfly quotes at length from the “Lost Neighborhood” section:

During the 1950s, Bethlehem’s the neighborhood between Packer Ave, Martel, Morton and Webster Streets was a bustling community that was home to local families, small businesses, two schools, and communities of faith, and it surrounded a growing Lehigh University that was contemplating expansion. In the early fifties, Lehigh began its expansion by purchasing land in the neighborhood using “straw buyers”—for example, the secretary at the university’s law firm—to obscure the university’s interest in acquiring land for expansion and keep property-owners from raising prices. Throughout this time period, the federal government’s urban renewal plan encouraged cities to promote development through the acquisition of blighted properties and their subsequent demolition and redevelopment. Urban renewal provided a potential mechanism for university expansion at Lehigh. By the late fifties Lehigh had acquired a critical mass of local properties and the City of Bethlehem agreed to request federal urban renewal funds to acquire the other homes in the neighborhood. Vague federal guidelines required cities to identify targeted areas as “blighted” before they could receive federal money for “slum clearance.” Taking advantage of this vague designation, the city condemned entire blocks by identifying just a few properties on each one as evidence of urban blight. Residents recall that many of the rundown properties had been acquired by the university early on in its expansion planning, and had been neglected, with peeling paint, overgrown weeds and bushes, and broken sidewalks. Homeowners, led by businesswoman and Vine Street resident Anna Pongracz spoke out at City Council meetings and accused the university administration and trustees of deliberately seeking the “blighted designation” for the city blocks needed for campus expansion. As the project unfolded into the early 1960s, some residents fought to save their homes and the neighborhood from acquisition through urban renewal while other property owners were happy to sell their homes. Once houses were condemned and families had moved, demolition workers tore down both run down properties and well-maintained homes, gardens, and yards at a rate of five houses per day.

Is there any wonder that Lehigh’s latest off-campus “moves” are causing community palpitations? Memory glands are twitching.

Let’s keep asking (forcing!) Lehigh to be up-front about what they are doing.

If this memory nugget has anything to do with the parking issue with which this thread started, it is that Lehigh has not always been mindful of lower-class City residents and taxpayers.

A shout-out for this wonderful web site to my former Lehigh colleagues Julia Maserjian, Rob Weidman, Kimberly Carrell-Smith, Scott Gordon, and Vincent Munley.

The Rose Garden in Bloom (1)

(1st in a series of posts on the Rose Garden)

(see the Northside 2027 and Neighborhoods threads as well)

Mount Airy Neighborhood Association

Rose Garden masterplan

Rose Garden Toulouse

Gadfly has been buzzing only for about six weeks now, but one of the topics drawing his interest almost right away is Bethlehem’s neighborhoods.

He said recently that he’s aware that when he thinks of “Bethlehem,” he tends to think of downtown, especially the Northside downtown.

Not fair. Not right.

Lots going on out on the frontier.

Northside 2027. Streetscaping on the Southside. Now Gadfly would like to add the West Side and specifically the Rose Garden to the line-up here.

Back in his first post in the Neighborhood series (Oct. 18), Gadfly lays out the cluster of bullet points that he realized added up to his own awareness of the neighborhood pulses and his own almost subconscious yearnings for a greater feeling of “neighborhoodliness.”

Let me add to that cluster Senator Ben Sasse’s new book Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal.  I didn’t really know Sasse except as an occasional bright, articulate talking head on tv news. Turns out he’s a PhD from Yale. (Ha! Big whoop, some of you will say!) Anyway, he was on the morning news shows pitching the book. And talked about neighborhoods, which piqued my interest, especially with all going on in our town. I’m not far into the book yet, but here’s a few early bullet points:

  • loneliness is killing us
  • there’s a loneliness epidemic
  • people yearn to belong, and when healthy forms of belonging vanish, people will turn to more troubling forms of tribalism (and you all know what he’s talking about!)
  • lots of us miss the “hometown-gym-on-a-Friday-night” feeling

Enter the Rose Garden as a space for healthy forms of belonging.

Take a few minutes to digest Rose Garden Toulouse and the Rose Garden masterplan.

And we’ll come back and talk more later.

(Whom should we be reading about urban quality of life these days? I saw Jane Jacobs’ name on several stickies at Streetscape – she still the guru?)

Memories of William Penn (4) (5)

(4th in a series of posts on Northside 2027)

(5th in a series of posts on Neighborhoods)

As you can tell, Gadfly’s been thinking about neighborhoods.

Sometimes at Town Hall meetings or even reading the Call, you get the idea that Main St. “is” Bethlehem. Look at our official (and even unofficial) iconography. Hotel Bethlehem. Central Moravian Church. And such.

To wit: much of what Gadfly has “covered” in the first month of life has to do with the Northside historical district (Airbnb, 2 W. Market, parking stuff, etc.).

What’s life like out on the frontier?

Councilman Reynolds talking of the importance of William Penn and Thomas Jefferson schools to the Northside 2027 neighborhood really caught my attention.

Gadfly was a teacher. And at some level of consciousness – especially as you are older and wonder “what it all means” and “where all the time went” – teachers wonder if they had impact, if they will be even remembered.

Think of how many teachers you had in your life – and how many you remember, can name.

Probably not many. Sigh.

Was it all worth it, teachers ask, in those dark nights of soul?

The Gadfly’s have six children – all boys – who went to William Penn, some even before it was “open concept.” Gadfly was even PTA president for two years a hundred years ago. Years in which the “Ladies Auxiliary” did everything. That’s the way it was. Gadfly wonders when the first female PTA president was chosen.

As far as Gadfly can tell, we don’t even have one picture of a William Penn teacher from those days. He’s rummaged through all the shoe box collections. But there is one picture of the championship basketball team son Chris the UPS driver was on — Greg Zebrowski, the coach, a teacher, but I don’t believe Greg was assigned full-time at William Penn.

So I asked “the boys” whom they remembered.

The memories were vivid.

Mrs. Tachaguchi, the librarian, who always had a tissue in her sleeve.

English teacher Mrs. Lutton getting angry and threatening to “shake the liver out of you.”

Mr. Antry, “the very, very cool” science teacher, who got the boys fake addresses in Bath so they could play on his basketball teams.

“Everyday Mr Dolak Ate Soap,” Math teacher Mr. Dolak’s mnemonic for learning the mathematical order of operations (exponents, multiply, divide, add, subtract).

The “imposing” head lunch aide Mrs. Avate keeping order – the sound of her name makes them shiver still.

The crossing guard at Main Street, Mr. Chuck (“we called him Mr. Chunk, RIP”), who was missing half of a finger.  (Boys will be boys.)

Toss in the fiery red-head principal Jack Burke, who knew everybody’s name and patrolled from dawn to dismissal and beyond.

Gadfly loves these little walks down Memory Lane.

We don’t want a lot of random, fragmentary mentions more appropriate to one of the Bethlehem Facebook groups, but I wonder if someone would do a paragraph or so sketch of a teacher or an anecdote from school  — especially but not limited to William Penn or Thomas Jefferson — as a “local color” piece for the blog. Gadfly would surely help put it together if desired.

Hey, remember a teacher once in a while, wouldya?

Northside 2027 Takes a First Step (3) (4)

(3rd in a series of posts on Northside 2027)

(4th in a series of posts on Neighborhoods)

Daryl Nerl, “With $100,000 investment, Friendship Park finds friend in Bethlehem’s North Side 2027.” Morning Call, October 12, 2018.

“This week in Bethlehem history: Tank Park.” Bethlehem Press, January 17, 2013.

Let’s be sure to keep Northside 2027 on our radar. As a first tangible move, Mayor Donchez plunked down $100,000 for renovating Friendship Park, “the square-block pocket park framed by East Garrison, East North and Penn streets.”

I know that some of you will recognize the location better if I say (hem, hem) that it’s kinda behind Mach’s Gute.

Daryl’s story outlines the projected improvements:

“The city will buy new play equipment for young children to slide, swing and climb on; install a spongy ground surface around them; add benches, trees and other landscaping; and reduce the amount of macadam.”

Daryl’s story also outlines better than Gadfly could last time some of the motivating reasons behind the Northside 2027 project as a whole:

“The neighborhood includes both Thomas Jefferson and William Penn elementary schools, which have both seen an increase in recent years of transient students and more pupils who qualify for free and reduced lunches, school district officials say.

The rate of unemployment in the neighborhood is higher than the city average and there has also been an uptick in the number of homes that have gone up for sheriff’s sale for tax delinquency, city officials said. Housing stock in the neighborhood is also generally older and has a lower sale value than other homes in the city.

Fifty-five percent of the houses in the neighborhood contain rental units, 37 percent are owner-occupied and 8 percent are vacant, according to statistics provided by WRT, an urban design and planning firm that is leading an analysis of the neighborhood.”

The Gadfly visited the park on a recent unfortunately pretty dismal afternoon weather-wise. His first impression was how unexpectedly huge the park is as it opened up on the left as he pulled down the narrowish Garrison St.

001Who named the park “Friendship” and why? Anybody know? Can you hear kids saying, “I’ll meet you at Friendship”? Nice. (Gadfly hopes that great tree survives reconstruction!)

008The Friendship Park has found a “friend” in Mayor Donchez, Councilman Reynolds, and other City officials.

007Felt like a “Twilight Zone” episode on the dismal day Gadfly visited. Where are the kids? I hope not immobilized by their mobile devices. Gadfly hopes the park is not too late to save their souls from tech-rot.

009Huge! Look at that space! Gadfly can just hear a kid cocking a football and yelling, “Go deep!” Macadam? They were tough in the old days.

012Every playground in America has a net like this. Gadfly couldn’t resist. Grabbed the bb from the back of the car. Wanted to see if the jump shot (now a hop shot) still worked.

 

Tank Park 2
“Tanks” to an unnamed writer at the Bethlehem Press (see the link above), we know that the park has a history. It was once “Tank Park.” And its roots go back to Bethlehem’s origin!  On the site of an original Bethlehem water reservoir, a huge tank – holding 800,000 gallons of water – was erected in 1872, and tanks resided thereon till 1965.  (Eeerie. What is going on here? Looks like the apes around the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”)

Great start to a great project. Gadfly looks forward to following the progress.

Northside 2027 Gets Movin’ (2) (3)

(2nd in a series of posts on Northside 2027)

(3rd in a series of posts on Neighborhoods)

“Just about everyone who has ever run for elected office in a city has talked about the value of neighborhoods.  This is especially true in Bethlehem where neighborhoods provide the backbone of our city. Neighborhoods and the community institutions within those neighborhoods have helped to develop and maintain the quality of life that people in Bethlehem appreciate and cherish.”

So spaketh Councilman Willie Reynolds in his “Bethlehem 2017” (see the Gadfly sidebar for the full report), and back on Oct 11 he and Mayor Donchez put some spit behind those words kicking off Northside 2027 at a meeting at Liberty High School.

Mayor Donchez and Councilman Reynolds

The program will soon have a website, but at Liberty the organizers talked of such main goals for Northside as creating a sense of place and identity, fostering economic vitality through the commercial corridors, supporting the housing market, and generally serving the neighborhood in a variety of ways.

When we talk of “Northside,” what exactly are we walking about? Take a look at the yellow section here: roughly Broad St on the south, Laurel on the north, Mauch Chunk on the west, Maple on the east.

Northside

These two sections below cribbed from the City’s call for consultant proposals will give you an idea of what’s up.

PROGRAM GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

The goal of the study is to enhance the Northside 2027 neighborhood by stemming declines in housing stock, promoting homeownership, improving the visual attractiveness of the area, ensuring vehicular/pedestrian mobility and safety, strengthened community facilities and improving general quality of life in the neighborhoods.

The areas of study will at least include streetscape, traffic, recreation, community facilities, housing and population changes and commercial vitality. Recognizing the limitation of City budgets, the plan should provide a combination of capital and program improvements to balance the number of low, moderate and higher cost recommendations.

SCOPE OF WORK

– identification of trends in housing changes, programs for housing improvements and priorities for such improvements

– enhancement of the area to retain and strengthen commercial and mixed use development along East Broad and Linden Streets

– identification areas where public improvements consisting of lights, landscaping, paving, signage, and street furniture may be used to enhance the area, along with a prioritization of the projects

– a review the existing transportation system for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists and provide recommendation for improved safety and mobility

– a review the existing zoning or other ordinance provisions that apply in these neighborhoods and provide recommendations for ordinance amendments that can improve quality of life in the neighborhoods

– how existing programs within the neighborhood can contribute to maximize resources in the neighborhood enhancement process

And the City has already put some muscle behind the spit. More on that in an upcoming post.

The Gadfly selfishly wishes the line could fly three blocks north!  How about a new neighborhood: “North Northside” or “Northside North” or “North of Northside.” Help me out here, folks!

 

The Value of Neighborhood Associations (2)

(2nd in a series of posts on neighborhoods – see also Northside)

Barbara Diamond enjoys retirement as Lehigh University Director of Foundation Relations by engaging in various activities and organizations hopefully for the betterment of the community. Her particular interests at the moment are preventing gun violence, local government ethics reform, and Bethlehem Democratic Committee work.

Thank you Gadfly. You mention the Airbnb issue, and that is all about the threat they pose to neighborhoods. Commercial operations (whole house rentals with absentee owners) are popping up in Bethlehem’s neighborhoods, not just the historic district. We are fighting to protect Bethlehem’s neighborhoods. Thanks for creating a thread about the Airbnb issue.

As a resident of the historic district, I can say that it is not so much the age of the houses that makes us a cohesive neighborhood; it is the existence of our neighborhood association (BHDA) that makes it possible to know and interact with our neighbors. (BTW – BHDA is not just an organization of home owners; anyone can belong. We even have members who don’t live in the district.) As you have noted with Mt. Airy and their terrific work with the Rose Garden proposal and Armory issue, the benefit of an association is its ability to be a vehicle for community engagement and action. Perhaps identifying neighborhoods could lead to the development of more neighborhood associations. That would contribute a lot to maintaining the small-town feeling of our large city.

You’ve Got Me thinking about “Neighborhoods” (1)

Gadfly seems to be thinking a lot about neighborhoods.

  • people concerned about Airbnb in the north Historical District
  • people concerned about 2 W. Market in the north Historical District
  • concerns about my own neighborhood listening to the concerns of others
  • my consciously subscribing (paying) to the Bethlehem Press, a community paper
  • Northside 2027 starting
  • discussion of improvements for the Rose Garden
  • Streetscaping yesterday
  • concern about “Lehigh sprawl” just expressed on these pages
  • to name a few of the recent mental dots

Bethlehem is actually a pretty big town, isn’t it?

But Gadfly chooses to think about it as a small town. Gadfly chooses to look at the town through Norman Rockwell paintings, which he has said several times in these pages from the very “About” page onward. Gadfly chooses to look at Bethlehem through Frank Capra movies – I think of Greg With-No-Last-Name who showed up at a Council meeting and extolled the “Capra-esque” quality of the town.

Gadfly wants Bethlehem to have the feel of a small town.  Gadfly wants Bethlehem to have a neighborhood feel.

Bethlehem is actually a pretty big town. But it is made up of neighborhoods. Gadfly is getting to realize that more and more.

Southside. Streetscaping yesterday was wonderful. I guess I missed presentations. But when I stopped in the place was bright, colorful, full of buzz and chatter. People giving ideas about the Southside Gateway area. Helping to create their space. Exciting. Empowering. Kudos to the organizers. (Gadfly, whose bladder is out of warranty, offered the need for public restrooms for walkers and tourists. I was politely told the dark place where I could post my stickie with that idea!)

Northside 2027. Councilman Reynolds talking about the importance of William Penn and “TJ,” drifting me back to the Highland Ave. playground in Lansdowne, Pa., where Gadfly (he was then known as “Gig” or “Giggy” – you can’t make this stuff up!) learned about life (like how to open a contraband quart beer bottle without an opener). Reynolds and Gadfly #2 Bill Scheirer reminding us how certain major streets are configured to get traffic “through” neighborhoods and thus detract from, even destroy neighborhoods.

West Bethlehem – wow! Gadfly caught a whiff of the neighborhood bonding when the Armory issue was hot earlier in the year, and then in the last couple Council meetings the Rose Garden discussion has really opened his eyes. O, my, take a look at the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association https://mana18018.wordpress.com/mission/. Councilman Callahan has remarked several times that the City has not done enough for the west side, but the residents certainly haven’t been sitting on their hands.

It pains Gadfly that people may be quietly worrying about “Lehigh sprawl.”

Gadfly remembers Seth Moglen at Council eloquently describing developers swallowing up the properties in his section of the Southside.

Gadfly #1 Antalic’s lamentations over Montclair Ave. and thereabouts return as regularly as the full moon.

Gadfly is not being very coherent here. He’s just recognizing that for him an important theme is percolating that may result in some coherent thoughts later.

Think of this post as Notes on Neighborhoods for Future Writing.

But maybe I can bring this ramble to a point by asking for a census of neighborhoods.

If we had a map (maybe there is one, maybe somebody could do one) that clearly shows our neighborhoods. You can look at a Philadelphia map, for instance, and see Old City, Society Hill, Fish Town, Strawberry Mansion, Brewerytown, and so forth.

What is our town like looked at that way?

Do people still talk of “The Village”?  If you are going past the Sands toward Hellertown, what is that area called if you turn right on Lynn? I’ve never been there. And when the street was closed for a while, I wondered if supplies had to be helicopter’d in.

Help me think about neighborhoods in Bethlehem.

There’s some homework.