On May 15, I discovered that the Bethlehem Steel North Administrative building was going to be demolished. There was a sign posted regarding the demolition on the backside of the building where the public eye would not be able to see it. In addition, the demolition equipment was strategically located behind the building as well. Gateway Trade Center intended on erasing this 1901 Beaux Arts beauty from the waterfront’s landscape without anyone knowing until it would be too late. But thanks to a couple of dedicated urban explorers/bloggers/activists, the cat was out of the bag, so to speak.
This industrial, historic, bitter-sweet building has been dormant for the last 30 years… longer than I’ve been on this planet. Critics have asked why preservationists are just stepping in now. They want to know where everyone has been for the last 30 years or even 20 years. Well, I cannot answer that. What I can say is that I (we) am here now. I am old enough, educated enough, and worldly enough to be able to try to do something… not for me, but for everyone.
Many of Lackawanna’s people have fond memories of this building that was designed by Lansing Holden. They have driven past to say their good-byes. Thankfully, however, the demolition has been postponed. With the passionate and tireless efforts of preservation gurus, Buffalo Young Preservationists, and concerned citizens, the demolition has been temporarily halted. It has been discovered that this copper ornamented, terra cotta structure was not in as rough of shape as Lackawanna wanted you to think. It was also learned that Gateway was receiving a $500,000 grant for Restore New York Communities Initiative to assist in demolition fees. Gateway tried to use those funds without completing the required adaptive-reuse study beforehand. They have now lost those funds and have to use their own money to demolish the building. The postponement buys time to get this grand building on the National Register of Historic Places as well develop more implementable reuse plans.
Mayor Szymanski has been quoted saying, ”I am tired of hearing about our glorious past. I think preservation societies are only trying to preserve what once was, as opposed to moving our region in a positive direction.” Americans, including Szymanski, are entitled to their opinion, but I can’t help but wonder if the Lackawanna Mayor is educated with the benefits of preservation. Preservation is authentic and helps to retain the fabric of an area, it is a green option, it creates jobs, brings in tourists, it is economically a wise decision for many reasons, and we owe it to future generations to keep fundamental elements from the past.
The bigger question here is, how come the city of Lackawanna didn’t enforce building codes since Gateway took ownership? If Gateway would have buttoned-up the building better and would have maintained it to code, the building would not have experienced the weathering and deterioration that it has experienced. It also would not have been victim to vandalism.
The Bethlehem Steel North Administrative building is just a few yards away from the city line. It is located on Lake Erie’s waterfront. It is the terminus of the Outer Harbor. The same Outer Harbor that has been revitalized over the last two summers. As progress continues to head in the direction of Lackawanna, this building will be fundamental. The adaptive-reuse possibilities are practically limitless. If the building goes, I am confident that we will regret it in the future when it is too late.