Pennsylvania Martin Tower implosion, landmark of steel industry’s glory days.
Martin Tower vanished from the Lehigh Valley landscape Sunday, a poignant and fittingly spectacular end to the former world headquarters of Bethlehem Steel.
As bystanders lined the streets of Bethlehem and gathered on rooftops to watch its long-awaited demolition, the building that once marked the might and influence of American industry collapsed with a crackling roar, raising a cloud of dust over the neighborhood on the city’s west side.
The implosion took 14 seconds, but the heap of debris left behind may take a year to clean up. Growing accustomed to a skyline without the 332-foot tower at its center may take longer than that.
Spectators arrived early, and in droves. By 5 a.m., the Wawa convenience store on Eighth Avenue was doing business more typical of a Saturday afternoon. Customers Serita Dunst and Sean Wundling of Saylorsburg said they left home at 3 a.m. so they could secure a good viewing spot.
“When are you going to see something like this?” Wundling said.
About 6,500 cubic yards of concrete and nearly 16,000 tons of structural steel collapsed at 7:04 a.m. after a series of explosive charges broke the steel bones of the 21-story building.
The implosion produced a series of bangs within a half-second of each other and then a boom sounding, as the demolition contractor predicted, like a strong thunderstorm.
Gravity then dropped the Valley’s tallest building slightly southeast of its cruciform footprint.
“A textbook implosion,” said Duane Wagner, a representative of site owners Lewis Ronca and Norton Herrick.
People within a 1,000-foot perimeter of Martin Tower were advised to stay inside their sealed residences or leave for a couple of hours. The demolition was delayed a few minutes because a helicopter was flying too close and some people were crowding yards too close to the exclusion zone.
Outside that zone, hundreds cheered as the tower fell.
The cleanup is expected to take up to a year, with the concrete processed, crushed and used as fill material, and the structural steel recycled.
Martin Tower was imploded by Controlled Demolition Inc., a 72-year-old Maryland company that has brought down thousands of buildings including many of the casinos in Las Vegas and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. The cost was estimated at $575,000.
“I’ll shed a tear or two,” said Steve Smith, who worked at Steel from 1966 to 2003 and described himself as “the last janitor at Martin Tower.”
Julie Rygiel of Lower Saucon claimed a viewing spot on Eighth Avenue with her husband Bryan and 10-year-old son Zach. They brought masks in case the dust spread farther than the demolition team predicted.
“It’s history, said Rygiel, who, like many people, used the tower as a landmark when she was learning her way around the valley as a young driver.
That won’t be an option when the site is redeveloped. Ronca and Herrick plan to replace the tower with a mix of residential and commercial buildings that rise no higher than three stories.
The master plan includes 528 garden-style apartments, a 132-room hotel, three office buildings, retail and a gas station at the 53-acre site at 1170 Eighth Ave.
The proposal and ultimate demolition follows a long effort to redevelop Martin Tower after the demise of Bethlehem Steel Corp., once an industrial titan that fueled efforts for both world wars and built skylines across the country.
Martin Tower, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, opened in 1972 when the company was the second largest steelmaker in the world. It was named after Bethlehem Steel Chairman Edmund F. Martin, under whose leadership construction began in 1969.
The offices exuded modern elegance with hand-woven carpets, walnut-paneled walls in the executive office and marbled restrooms. The building’s cruciform design created a glut of corner offices awarded to the company’s vast leadership and professionals. And, at 332 feet, the building exceeded the height of the PPL building in Allentown by eight feet, making it the tallest in the Valley.
Even as the office workers began moving into the skyscraper, newspaper accounts provided glowing reviews of the company’s future and suggested, using unnamed sources, that Martin Tower could be the first of two towers at the site. (Some locals still refer to the structure as “Martin Towers” today.)
But rising competition, labor costs and other challenges soon beset the company, which posted its first deficit in 1977 and downsized as it tried to modernize for a new era. The company ultimately declared bankruptcy in 2001 and sold its assets in 2003.