Hank Barnette boarded an elevator to the top floor of the Martin Tower, walked to the empty spot where his office once stood and stared at the expansive view, which had been too busy to fully appreciate when he ran the second largest steel company in the United States. United. .
Barnette was there to say goodbye to the old world headquarters of Bethlehem Steel Corp., shaped like a cross and steel skin. When it opened in 1972, Martin Tower became vacant for a dozen years after the steelmaker closed its doors.
On Sunday, it is scheduled to be imploded.
"I'm very sad because it's running out," said Barnette, president and CEO of Bethlehem Steel from 1992 to 2000, "but I understand why."
The current owners of Martin Tower spent years trying to redevelop the 332-foot (101-meter) structure, the highest in a densely populated region that includes the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, but eventually concluded that it made more economic sense Knock it down and start over. The plans require a $ 200 million development with medical offices, retail stores, a restaurant, a convenience store, a hotel and 528 apartments.
Bethlehem Steel, an industrial titan that armed the US Army. UU., Forged steel for the Golden Gate Bridge and helped shape the profiles of buildings across the country, was still at its height when corporate executives decided to build a gleaming office tower less than 2 miles (3 kilometers) of the company's flagship mill.
Built in three years, Martin Tower was built of … what else? – Steel, a lot and a lot of steel, from beams and cladding to mobile walls, furniture and even blinds. It was a dazzling display of the company's manufacturing prowess.
Bethlehem Steel was "at its peak in terms of success and prestige," according to a corporate history attached to the building's 2010 list on the National Register of Historic Places. Martin Tower, he said, "served to express and commemorate Bethlehem Steel's sense of itself as important to the national economy."
The building had expensive works of art and fine furniture, and the senior managers ate silver. But the good times would not last. Not long after the opening of Martin Tower, the US steel industry UU He entered a severe and prolonged recession. Bethlehem Steel failed to innovate or modernize against foreign competition, weakening demand and increasing labor costs. The company, which employed more than 120,000 people when Martin Tower was opened, filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and closed definitively two years later.
D & B, a commercial information provider formerly known as Dun & Bradstreet, was a long-time tenant on the West Bethlehem property, both in the tower and in the annex building, but his contract expired at the end of 2006.
While Beth Steel was coming down the tubes, some people looked at the Martin Tower and its distinctive cruciform shape, designed to maximize the number of offices in the corners, and saw 21 stories of swelling, arrogance and lack of vision. "It was a symbol of corporate greed in the eyes of many people," said the mayor of Bethlehem, Robert Donchez.
Historian Mike Piersa has a more sympathetic view of Martin Tower, noting that Bethlehem Steel had outgrown its existing corporate offices and simply needed space. The steelmaker was enormously profitable at that time, and the opulence of the building is what one would expect to see at the headquarters of a large corporation, he said.
From the point of view of the company's leaders, "if you have an optimistic point of view, then it's not a big problem to put a skyscraper like that," said Piersa, who works at the National Museum of Industrial History, located at site. of the shuttering mill.
The imminent demise of Martin Tower has generated some controversy, with conservationists mourning the loss and hundreds signing a petition calling Martin Tower a "local treasure" that must be saved.
But the mayor said that most residents have a stronger emotional bond with Bethlehem Steel's 20-story blast furnaces that have distinguished the local skyline for more than 100 years, and with other historic buildings on the closed floor. A casino that opened in 2009 transformed what was the largest abandoned industrial complex in the country into an $ 800 million destination that incorporates the site's steelmaking past.
"All hell would break loose" if the blast furnaces, which cooled down in 1995, would ever fall, said Donchez. As for Martin Tower, he said, "we have to move on."
When Barnette, the former CEO, visited last week, the building was a concrete and steel shell. The teams had eliminated almost everything else to limit the debris and dust that will be generated by Sunday's implosion.
The explosives will eliminate the building's structural support columns, which have been cut at strategic locations, and the gravity will do the rest, according to Jim Santoro of Controlled Demolition Inc.
The steel will be recycled.
This article was written by Michael Rubinkam. Follow him on Twitter. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.