Lackawanna is on a tear lately in an ill advised effort to eliminate its historic heritage. The latest news from the former steel city is that it is compelling the demolition of the old Lackawanna Steel office building (later known as Bethlehem North Office Building). The demolition has been set for today, Friday May 18. Demo equipment is already parked behind the building.
The old Lackawanna Steel headquarters has been empty for probably three decades and neglected for probably four. It may be the most historic building in Lackawanna after the OLV Basilica. It was the heart of the WNY steel industry for many years as Lackawanna Steel (later sold to Bethlehem Steel). I believe that this steel plant was once the third largest in the country, employing 10s of thousands of workers. WWI an WWII were fought out of this plant and many many WNYers made their living off of the decisions made in this building.
Lackawanna’s nickname of the Steel City, of course, came from the massive plant which was operated from this building. But that is long lost history. Today it is in rough condition after its owners allowed it to rot for so long. The City of Lackawanna has stated that they are sick of trying to save the building (although there is no record I can find of them trying to save it – if anyone knows of efforts put forth by the City to save the building let me know). The City also claims that there are collapsed stairs and floors within the building. There is a collapsed staircase, but there appears to be no evidence of collapsed or near collapsing floors in the building. There is a rich record of recent images (Facebook) showing the interior, and recent reports from inside refute any claim of collapsed floors. We are left with a neglected building that is still very beautiful but which is seen as an impediment to progress by the leaders of Lackawanna today. As I see it, they are calling for progress in the form of elimination of their heritage.
Photo: Steve Siegel
For a good look at the type of progress Lackawanna can expect at the Bethlehem site, take a short journey up Ridge Road to the vacant site which formerly held the very beautiful St. Barbara’s Church. Just about a year ago the Catholic Church declared the church unfixable and had it hauled off to the garbage dump. That piece of cultural heritage is gone and in its place we find this crummy real estate sign practically begging for any offer on the property.
Luckily the preservationists didn’t do any obstruction on this one – we need these shovel ready sites right? Perhaps they will get a better price if we can convince someone to tear down that crappy old building to the left. Or maybe we can convince the county to close that lovely old library across the street and tear that down too. Once we sterilize the old stuff off the land it should be a lot easier to get some Burger Kings or a car wash or something really good in there. An Olive Garden is probably too much to hope for at this point.