Hank Barnette took the elevator up to the top floor of the Martin Tower, went to the empty place where his office was located and took advantage of the breathtaking view that he had been too busy to fully appreciate when he was running the second largest steel company in America. .
Barnette was there to bid farewell to Bethlehem Steel Corp., the company's former world headquarters, made of steel in the shape of a cross. Centerpiece when it opened in 1972, Martin Tower was vacant for a dozen years after the closure of the steelmaker.
On Sunday, it is expected that he is imploded.
"I am very sad that things are going down," said Barnette, president and CEO of Bethlehem Steel, between 1992 and 2000, "but I understand why."
The current owners of the Martin Tower have spent years trying to redevelop the 101-meter (332-foot) structure – the highest in a densely populated area including the towns of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton – but have finally reached that it was more profitable to destroy it. and start again. The plans include a $ 200 million expansion with medical offices, retail stores, a restaurant, a convenience store, a hotel and 528 apartments.
Bethlehem Steel, an industrial titan who armed the US military, forged steel for the Golden Gate Bridge and helped shape horizons across the country, was still at the party when executives from around the world walked away. company decided to build a brilliant office tower within 3 km the company's flagship plant.
Built over three years, the Martin Tower was built – what else? – from steel, lots of steel, beams and cladding to moving walls, furniture and even window blinds. It was a dazzling demonstration of the company's manufacturing prowess.
Bethlehem Steel was "at its zenith in terms of success and prestige," according to a corporate story attached to the building's 2010 listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Martin Tower, he said, "served to express and commemorate the fact that Bethlehem Steel considered itself important for the national economy."
The building had expensive art works and beautiful furniture, and senior executives had their meals with money. But the good times would not last. Shortly after the opening of the Martin Tower, the US steel industry entered a deep and prolonged recession. Bethlehem Steel has failed to innovate and modernize in the face of foreign competition, weakening demand and rising labor costs. The company, which employed more than 120,000 people at the opening of the Martin Tower, declared bankruptcy in 2001 and closed its doors two years later.
D & B, a commercial information provider previously known as Dun & Bradstreet, was a long-time tenant of the West Bethlehem property – both in the tower and in the annex building – but its contract expired at the end of 2006.
When Bethlehem Steel exploded, some looked at the Martin Tower and its distinctive cruciform shape – designed in this way to maximize the number of offices in the corners – and saw 21 stories of bloating, pride and myopia. "It was a symbol of corporate greed in the eyes of many," said Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez.
Historian Mike Piersa has a more sympathetic view of the Martin Tower, noting that Bethlehem Steel was bigger than the size of its headquarters and just needed that space. The steelmaker was extremely profitable at the time and the opulence of this building is what you would expect to see at the headquarters of a large company, he said.
From the point of view of business leaders, "if you have an optimistic view, setting up such a skyscraper is not such a big deal," said Piersa, who works at the National Museum of Industrial History , located on the site. shuttered mill.
The imminent disappearance of the Martin Tower has sparked some controversy. The conservatives lamented the loss and hundreds of people signed a petition calling it a "local treasure" to preserve.
But the mayor said most residents have a stronger emotional attachment to the 20-story Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces that have distinguished the local skyline for over 100 years, as well as for other buildings located at the factory. A casino opened in 2009 transformed the largest abandoned industrial complex in the country at the time, into a $ 800 million destination incorporating the past of the steel industry's site.
"All this hell would be unleashed" if the blast furnaces – which had cooled in 1995 – collapsed, Donchez said. As for Martin Tower, he said, "We must continue."
At the time of Barnette's visit, the former CEO, last week the building was a concrete and steel hull. The teams had virtually removed everything to limit the debris and dust generated by Sunday's implosion.
The explosives will eliminate the structural support columns of the building – which have been cut off at strategic locations – and 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.