Martin Tower stirs controversy in community

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There are mixed feelings regarding the demolition of Martin Tower in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The building was previously the former headquarters of Bethlehem Steel. (Courtesy of Stefanie Aranyos)

As the demolition is nearing for Bethlehem’s Martin Tower, the former headquarters of Bethlehem Steel, reality is setting in within the community.

After a decade of efforts to preserve the tower, some feel upset that the tower will come down, but have come to terms with the decision.

“I think that public opinion, perhaps the majority, is that it’s too bad it can’t be preserved, and I’m saddened by it too, but a lot of us are also realistic about the cost of redevelopment and the marketplace,” said Tony Hanna, executive director of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority.

Lynn Cunningham, the senior vice president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said she was surprised at how many community members she’s heard from who feel it’s time to move on and make progress on the property site.

But Lynn acknowledged that the controversy lies in if people believe the community and developers have exhausted all options to preserve the tower, or if they think that more initiatives could have been made. She said in issues like the demolition of Martin Tower, there will always be mixed responses from community members. 

Stefanie Aranyos of Allentown has led preservation efforts since 2013 through her Facebook page, “Save Martin Tower.” 

“For some people, (Martin Tower is) just very sentimental,” Aranyos said. “I had people tell me that it was the best place they worked. They knew the best people in there. I talked to one woman that met her husband there. Then for other people, the building is a landmark to them.”

But again, that resignation from regional officials bounces back.

“I mean, we don’t like things to change,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. “We don’t like things to look any different. The reality is, the whole world’s changing every day and it’s always looking different.”

Bill Kelly, a former Bethlehem and U.S. Steel employee, said the tower is already gone, whether it stands or not. Because Bethlehem Steel is no longer around, Kelly views the tower as being gone as well. 

Aranyos looks at the 42-year-old tower through a historical lens. She said she has gotten comments on the Facebook page asking why the city is tearing down a piece of history.

“When it’s gone, it’s gone,” Aranyos said. “You can’t get it back.”

But Don has a different take on the tower’s significance, highlighting the historical debate of the issue. The real history of Bethlehem Steel, he said, was made in the building on Third Street, while the Martin Tower was just the company’s last headquarters when it was beginning its decline.

The original headquarters are a part of the Bethlehem Steel Stacks tour, and the building on Third Street is vacant with no plans to remodel or demolish. Don said he feels as if there is no better way to represent Bethlehem Steel’s history than through the protection the Steel Stacks complex receives.

“We already have an ode to Bethlehem Steel in the city of Bethlehem, and its those blast furnaces on the South Side,” he said.

Hanna said the Martin Tower does stand for something, but nothing that the city or the former steel giant should be proud of.

“(Martin Tower) was a symbol of everything that went wrong with corporate America,” Hanna said. “The design was full of corporate hubris with lots of wasted core space and no thought that the building would be anything other than the world headquarters for Bethlehem Steel.”

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8 Comments

  1. Andrew Dorman on

    Don Cunningham brought this area to an economic decline that continues to this day. In this rather biased article, where’s mention that it was the property owners, who bought the Martin Tower property in 2007, who left the property to rot over the last decade? Now, the city plans to throw at them more tax incentives and grants. This article just feeds into local corruption. A major audit ought to be conducted on top city officials, and their campaign contributors, dating back to the Cunningham administration.

  2. Amy Charles ‘89 on

    This whole thing is weird. Tony’s absolutely right. When the tower was built, it was seen as an ode to managerial hubris and refusal to wake up and smell the chicory-laced coffee. The economy was tanking, American competitiveness was waning, Beth Steel would soon be a dead man walking, the rest of the world had dusted itself off from WWII and was making its own fancy steel, the unions were yelling, and the manager class was busy with three-martini lunches at Saucon Valley Golf Club and building themselves an enormous monument to unending managerial wealth and importance.

    It’s an okay building, architecturally, but it’s no Penn Station, it’s in the wrong spot, and nobody wants it for anything. You don’t have to save everything.

  3. Dave Ference on

    Statements such as “we don’t like change”, and “decisions like this will always have those that disagree” are very dismissive of those that feel the city dropped the ball on this. The developers misled, if not the city, then the public on this. If the city knew all along that it would come down then they were complicit.

  4. Well Stated Dave & the City is in fact complicit in a massive deception to the State of Pa. by stating that the tower was a Historic Icon that would be preserved & redeveloped if the city got CRIZ designation from the state.

    So if the tower is now torn down, the State should rescind it’s 53 acres of CRIZ designation for the property.

    The owners of this property clearly orchestrated a flat out misrepresentation & purposely let the building deteriorate to accomplish their objective.

    • “purposely let the building deteriorate to accomplish their objective.” Sounds familiar. The Boyd Theater?

  5. Karen Yowell on

    How many “monuments” do you need to a failed chapter in history. How much acreage needs to be dedicated to that purpose? The Third Street property was a long time in coming and addresses all of the truly important aspects of The Steel’s dominance. Miller Tower is beyond redemption at this point and only represents excess.

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