(My Dad worked for many years at the Bethlehem Steel as a chemist. He was very proud of his work and loved his job. As a photojournalist this is my tribute to the place that gave my family so much.)
Towering defunct steel stacks, silenced machinery, abandoned buildings. Surely it all adds up to a veritable wasteland, a hazard, something to be torn down, disposed of, leveled.
Not so the once mighty Bethlehem Steel Works in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. An impressive rebirth is taking this industrial ghost town from once being the second largest steel manufacturer in the world to a place of robust artistic, historical, commercial and cultural activity.
It is becoming an eclectic paradigm, showing the nation that what looked like an old decrepit horse worthy of being sent to the proverbial glue factory has a salvageable future. It is a wondrous turn around and a worthy monument to the thousands of steel workers and families who built an industrial giant, earned their livings, and raised their families under the auspices of mighty steel.
Here’s how the insightful powers that be of the Bethlehem community and surrounding area are reclaiming the newly formed Bethlehem Works:
1) Keeping what remains of the historical industrial buildings intact and safe to view from behind chain link fences with well-paved walkways providing for a pleasant stroll through what was once a dynamic, integral part of our nation’s development as a super power.
2) Providing a visually appealing horizon blending new structures in with the old using brick lined streets with adaptive and appealing street lights. The effect is at once nostalgic and modernistic.
3) Creating practical yet artistic adaptations for the use of steel, e.g. flower beds in steel wheel barrows and shaded steel I-beam benches.
4) Providing tenant opportunities for an eclectic array of businesses. Among these are the Channel 39 PBS Television Production Studio, the SteelStacks, and Bethlehem Commerce.
5) Working in partnership with the Smithsonian Institute to develop the National Museum of Industrial History which will be located in the heart of the 1600 acre complex.
6) Establishing SteelStacks, an arts and cultural campus. Located on the campus are:
Air Products Town Square providing a free venue for local festivals, an al fresco performance stage, and free space for community and non-profit groups.
ArtQuest, a four story contemporary performing arts center
Levitt Pavilion, presenting free concerts from May to September each year and
PNC Plaza which will host the main stage for the area’s largest yearly festival, Musikfest.
7) Developing the land for retail enterprises. The Sands Casino and Restaurant opened there in 2009. Still in the construction stages are a hotel and shopping complex.
The Bethlehem Commerce Center, also on the site is involved in industrial truck to rail transportation and vice versa.
8) Allowing for self-guided tours using Heritage Trail signage throughout the area complete with free audio downloads by internet. Also available are guided tours on foot, van or tour bus.
9) Providing opportunities for all manner of visual media including artists, photographers, historians, and documentary filmmakers.
10) Establishing an information center open daily providing visitors with a starting point for a plethora of activities and events. Ample parking in several areas of the Bethlehem Works make for a leisurely stroll to any number of central activity areas.
What an awesome experience it is to witness first-hand the loving transformation taking place at Bethlehem Works. The place formerly known to the many who worked there as “The Steel.”