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The year the Martin Tower was built was a busy one. It was 1969 and Led Zeppelin had just come out with their first album - which was an awesome album mind you!
Joe Namath was named MVP after the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts.
Richard Nixon was sworn in as president.
Woodstock was held in New York, Judy Garland died and Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon.
1969 is also noteworthy for Bethlehem’s Martin Tower. Erected in 1969, the Tower is being demolished on Sunday, May 19th.
If you did an online search for “martin towers,” "martin tower demolition" or “martin tower bethlehem pa”, you’ll find a great deal of information about the Martin Tower. Its early years represented growth in America as the steel industry was strong.
Steel workers - - both men and women - - took home good pay. Women would come to work at the factory when there was a shortage of men due to the war draft in the early 1940s. There was pride if you could find work at Bethlehem Steel. It meant you could provide for your family and the company provided benefits and a pension package.
The Martin Tower was the city of Bethlehem’s only skyscraper. At 21-stories or 332-feet high, it stood 8-10 feet taller than the PP&L Tower in Allentown.
Martin Tower became a well-known landmark in the Lehigh Valley. But, for Bethlehem Steel, troubling times were on the horizon. They would go from employing over 122,000 people to 25,000 in 1990.
By 2001, they were filing for bankruptcy.¹
But, what happened?
A Culmination of Events
Speculation about mismanagement are what some say led to the Martin Tower’s collapse - figuratively and now literally.
In 2010, when the Martin Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places, documents stated,
"The Board and top executives of (Bethlehem Steel) had traditionally come from within the company's very insulated executive community. This led to myopic and uncreative thinking and insulated the executive branch of the company from both lower-level managers and effectively segregated them from the workforce and the entire outside world.”
Others saw it as a culmination of events. But, most agree, it started at the top.
For one, the collapse of Bethlehem Steel indicated an obvious shift from industrial manufacturing.
For another, the business was unable to compete with foreign competitors who offered cheap foreign labor. Additionally, some attributed the collapse to management’s ongoing concern over securing profits.
For those that saw the Martin Tower built, Sunday May 19th will be hard. It will also be difficult for those that had hopes and promises dashed. It may bring some bittersweet sense of justice for workers that fought in a class action lawsuit against Bethlehem Steel after their pensions were taken. And, for those that pass the Martin Tower as they drive on Route 378, the demolition will bring with it a bit of nostalgia.
The Martin Tower collapse is indicative of the end of an era or what happens when greed and money take over.
However, one might perceive it, there is a lot of history behind those steel beams.
And, maybe that’s where this story about the Martin Tower should begin. It should start with the history and the dreams and hopes of Americans. It should start with what the steel industry meant to America and pride for our country.
1857 - 1960s
Bethlehem Steel was founded in 1857 as the “Bethlehem Iron Company” or “Bethlehem Iron Works”. “Bethlehem Steel Corporation” began in 1904 while “Bethlehem Steel Company” started in 1901.
The latter would work with the former after 1904. And Bethlehem Steel Company eventually merged into Bethlehem Steel Corporation by the 1960s.²
Bethlehem Steel was once the second largest steel manufacturer in the U.S. It provided steel for warships and bridges and helped with the subsequent skyscraper boom.
Bethlehem Steel had projects all over the United States.
There was the pristine Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the world famous Empire State Building. And, the Baltimore Beltway or the Walt Whitman Bridge.
And, then there was the plan to build the Martin Tower in Bethlehem, PA.
Bethlehem Steel had outgrown a main office area adjacent to their plant. Instead of adding to office locations they already had around the city, they consolidated into one location.
They chose Eighth Avenue and Eaton Avenue in Bethlehem. This was 2-miles away from their blast furnaces. The land was acquired in 1957 and while envisioning an office district, they started with a smaller office building, a print shop and a tower.
Construction on the Martin Tower started in 1969 and it was finished in 1972 and the dedication took place in 1973.
The tower cost $35 million to build. Architects and design work were completed by George A. Fuller Construction Co. and Haines Lundberg Waehler Architects. The Martin Tower was built at 1170 Eighth Avenue in Bethlehem, PA on a 53-acre property. It was named after its chairman, Edmund F. Martin who retired 3 years before the tower’s completion.
In 1973, the Martin Tower was open and Bethlehem Steel was operating with 10 large manufacturing facilities.
At the time, Bethlehem Steel was producing just over 22 million tons of steel. They would net just over $200 million in profits and within a year, production increased to almost 24 million tons of steel.³
While net profits rose to almost $350 million. The Martin Tower was a successful project and it would stand tall in the Lehigh Valley for 46 years.
Once Martin Tower was open, workers and residents were able to take tours. A record 21,000 people were in attendance. Historical register documents stated,
"As the tallest building in the region, Martin Tower was evidently intended to stand as something more -- a visually preeminent icon of the company's status as the Lehigh Valley's chief employer and as a leading firm in the American steel industry."
Martin Tower was made using their own steel and the design was a cruciform shape that allowed for corner offices. There were 1,500 panel steel plates that stood 8-feet high and were 20-25 feet wide.
The offices were all well-equipped and boasted of pristine skyline views. Corner office suites for executives included maximized windows for breathtaking views overlooking Bethlehem.
On 19 of the buildings floors, there were spacious corridors that led to adjoining offices. While most floors had carpeting over steel panel flooring.
Movable partitions made of steel allowed for conveniently expanding office space. And, most furnishings were made from steel, based on historical register findings. The lobby interior included steel and wood beam kiosks.
The 21st floor was designed with walnut wood-paneling. There were offices for Bethlehem Steel’s president and for his chairman. A large narrow boardroom was adjacent to a private dining room. Executive offices included original artwork and carpets were hand-woven. Door knobs included a logo with a steel I-beam.
The space also included private dining rooms and conference rooms. An executive bathroom was made with marble and stainless steel. There was a full commercial kitchen, a cafeteria, gym and even a barber shop.
Because of shifts in construction methods, the demand for high grade steel became obsolete. By 1990, Bethlehem Steel had decreased its staff to 25,000 employees and steel production decreased to 10.5 million tons per year.
Pensions were cut in 1998 and a class action lawsuit was filed by the workers’ union. The settlement would become one of the nation’s largest.
Some say the demise of Bethlehem Steel was due to the executives themselves. An entry in the National Register stated part of the blame was attributed to the executives. They isolated themselves from the outside world and failed to keep up with the changing market.
The National Park Service’s application notes that "Martin Tower reflects (Bethlehem Steel's) corporate culture of extravagance and laissez-faire attitude that flew in the face of a workforce continually being asked to reduce costs in order to make the company more profitable.
As corporate executives flourished in their modern skyscraper fit with the finest furnishings including valuable artwork and meals served on silver, profits plummeted, plants were shut down and workers were laid off."
2001 - 2007
By 2001, Bethlehem Steel would file for bankruptcy. They sold off their remaining assets and six plants to International Steel Group. Bethlehem Steel didn’t merge with International Steel Group but dissolved in 2003. International Steel Group would later be acquired by Mittal Steel.
In 2003, Bethlehem Steel vacated Martin Tower. It’s remaining tenants would leave by 2007.
The building remained vacant for 12 years.
The property was rezoned a few years ago as investors Norton Herrick and Lewis Ronca sorted out what to do with the land. Rezoning allows for a combination of retail space, offices and residential housing. A $4 million project was started to remove all asbestos from Martin Tower and surrounding ancillary buildings would be demolished.
Director of Development for HRP Management, Duane Wagner said about the project,
“Over the past several years, even prior to the abatement process, we explored reuse internally and with several third-party groups, and were not able to create an economically viable plan for [its] reuse.”
And, this is a move that Mayor Robert Donchez supports.
The demolition of Martin Tower allows the city to start fresh. It can use the land for tax-generating projects rather than to see a skeleton of Bethlehem Steel which is all that remains.
While some will mourn the loss of Martin Tower, others are taking solace in other structures that encompass Bethlehem Steel.
These include the blast furnaces and the general offices where Charles Schwab and Eugene Grace once worked. This Charles Schwab has no relation to the broker by the same name.
As Donchez pointed out, “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.”
And while the skyline might change over Bethlehem, one thing remains. And, that’s pride in the workers from Bethlehem Steel.
The memories of the hard-working men and women of the Lehigh Valley are what matter. They put their blood, sweat and tears into Bethlehem Steel and should not be forgotten. They had hopes and dreams for better lives for their families. They are the real heroes that should be honored and remembered when Martin Tower comes down.
2019 - The Demolition 5/19/19
Most of what’s left of the Tower is now mostly steel and concrete as all interior demolition measures have already been completed. The demolition of Martin Tower has been a carefully orchestrated process.
Steps have been taken to ensure the controlled demolition is handled properly:
Asbestos remediation has already been completed. Additionally, an independent third-party will test the air quality levels before, during and after the implosion.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be on hand during the demolition.
The demolition is scheduled for the early morning hours.
Areas are being set up for public viewing. While some areas will be restricted.
A map will indicate street closures and restricted areas.
Drones are not allowed from 6:00 am - 8:00 am. Flight restrictions are within a 2,500 foot ceiling and a one-half mile radius.
About the demolition, Robert Donchez, Mayor of Bethlehem stated, “While we acknowledge the nostalgia associated with Martin Tower, the definitive plan to demolish the tower, and redevelop the 53-acre site, provides the opportunity for new jobs and new opportunities on that site."
Timeline for the Demolition
5:00 am Bethlehem Police will block Eighth Avenue from Bradford Street to Union Boulevard; Easton Avenue from Ralston Road to Elizabeth Avenue; and Route 378 North and South at the exit ramps for Eighth Avenue.
6:00 am An exclusion zone surrounding the Tower site will be blocked off to the public.
6:30 am Bethlehem Police will close off Route 378. This will extend from Catasauqua Road through the Main Street ramp.
7:00 am Martin Tower is scheduled to be demolished by an implosion.
7:10 am Teams will make an assessment on opening the area roadways and the planned clean-up activities.
Mid-Morning This is the estimated time for the exclusion zone area to be lifted. Public right of way will also be open again.
Martin Tower Drone Footage of Implosion
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