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The ghosts of Saturday.

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I finally got to go into Martin Tower today.

My three regular readers might remember Martin Tower from this November 2012 post, which is still one of the most popular things I’ve ever posted here.

Martin Tower is the tallest building in the Lehigh Valley. It was the headquarters of Bethlehem Steel Corp. from 1972 until sometime in the early 2000s, when the Steel went bankrupt and closed up shop.

For the most part, the property has been empty ever since. Nowadays it comes to life only two weeks each summer as a satellite parking lot for Musikfest, Bethlehem’s annual music festival.

The tower and its low-slung two-story annex sit locked and moldering, waiting for some economic-development equivalent of a prince’s kiss to bring them back to life — or, more likely, for a wrecker’s implosion to erase them.

The building isn’t open to the public. But the Lehigh Valley’s tourism organization talked the current owners into opening up the grounds and first floor today for an InstaMeet.

Apparently, an InstaMeet is a public gathering where people take pix and post them on Instagram, and everyone looks at each other’s pictures. I don’t use Instagram but I went anyway, armed with my Kodak point-and-shoot. (Kodak and the Steel have a few things in common, I think, so it seemed like an appropriate camera to use.)

Even in decay, Martin Tower retains some of the gravitas it once had as the headquarters of a major American corporation.

As I walked around, I couldn’t help but think of my own workplace — also a Fortune 500 company whose headquarters tower building is locally well-known.

My company’s doing OK right now, as far as I know. But the people who staffed Martin Tower probably felt that way too, once. In their welcoming first-floor entrance, I saw our welcoming first-floor entrance; in their empty conference room, I saw our full one.

I wished for a couple of minutes that I could truck everyone from my company over to Martin Tower.

We could all walk around the first floor for a while in silence, reflecting on how little it takes to get from where we are to where they are, and what we have to do to steer clear.

It would be a team-building exercise better than any ever cooked up by some jargon-spewing consultant.

(I’m even thinking of making one of my Martin Tower pictures the background on my work monitor, replacing this picture. An ever-present reminder to keep my eye on the ball wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.)

Speaking of pictures, you probably want to see those more than you want to read any more of my words.

So here’s what the aging, more-or-less-abandoned headquarters of a former Fortune 500 company looks like:

Not sure what was learned at the Learning Center.

Not sure what was learned at the Learning Center. Boarded-up windows and overgrown funk are common around the annex.

These windows in the annex wish passers-by happy holidays year-round. Or at least they would if there were any passers-by.

These windows in the annex wish passers-by happy holidays year-round. Or at least they would if there were any passers-by.

"TO ENTER OR EGRESS BLDG. ... STATE NAME, SYMBOL AND NUMBER." God bless corporate America in all its pomposity.

“TO ENTER OR EGRESS BLDG. … STATE NAME, SYMBOL AND NUMBER.” God bless corporate America in all its pomposity.

Another view of the annex.

Another view of the annex.

The trees on the heavily landscaped property are doing wonderfully in the absence of human companionship.

The trees on the heavily landscaped property are doing wonderfully in the absence of human companionship.

In the lobby.

In the lobby.

To think the titans of industry once discussed their golf games, their wayward sons and their secretaries' curves in this very space.

To think the titans of industry once discussed their golf games, their wayward sons and their secretaries’ curves in this very space.

A foam cake sits waiting for gaiety.

A foam cake sits waiting for gaiety.

A fair amount of space on the first floor was once given over to corporate libraries, apparently. The shelves are bare now.

A fair amount of space on the first floor was once given over to corporate libraries, apparently. The shelves are bare now.

In the library. Those are dead bugs. Loads and loads of 'em.

In the library. Those are dead bugs. Loads and loads of ’em.

Also in the library. It's safe to assume that's asbestos.

Also in the library. It’s safe to assume that’s asbestos.

Exterior graffiti, as seen from the interior.

Exterior graffiti, as seen from the interior.

Denuded trees at the end of one hallway. The sign on the doors says something like, "Doors must remain closed due to cold air draft from unheated annex."

Denuded trees at the end of one hallway. The sign on the doors says something like, “Doors must remain closed due to cold air draft from unheated annex.”

Turn around at the door that must stay closed, and this is what you see. The high ceilings and open wood give you some idea of the design flavor of the first floor.

Turn around at the door that must stay closed, and this is what you see. The high ceilings and open wood give you some idea of the design flavor of the first floor.

A woman in the men's room? The Steel bigwigs would have had a conniption over that. Alas, they don't get a say any more. (The bathroom was totally dark; my flash revealed it to be boringly regular. Not a gilded tap or Italian-marble loo in sight. Of course, this one was for the public.)

A woman in the men’s room? The Steel bigwigs would have had a conniption over that. Alas, they don’t get a say any more. (The bathroom was totally dark; my flash revealed it to be boringly regular. Not a gilded tap or Italian-marble loo in sight.)

Some of my fellow explorers. The Steel's old boys wouldn't have appreciated guys in baseball caps leaning against their polished wood, either.

Some of my fellow explorers. The Steel’s old boys wouldn’t have appreciated guys in baseball caps leaning against their polished wood, either.

More of my fellow travelers. Note peeling ceiling-paint.

More of my fellow travelers. Note peeling ceiling-paint.

I don't remember what I&SM stands for (guessing the S and M are "steel manufacturing?") This is the January 1990 issue.

I don’t remember what I&SM stands for (guessing the S and M are “steel manufacturing?”) This is the January 1990 issue.

No decaying rodent carcasses, but I did find this former balloon. Forensic testing failed to reveal how long it had been dead.

No decaying rodent carcasses, but I did find this former balloon. Forensic testing failed to reveal how long it had been dead.

Another library shot, with a ghost in the stacks.

Another library shot, with a ghost in the stacks.

The stopped clock behind the receptionist's desk (which is still stocked with visitor passes and an old Gateway desktop computer, among other things.)

The stopped clock behind the receptionist’s desk (which is still stocked with visitor passes and an old Gateway desktop computer, among other things.)

Outside the main entrance, a teenage girl was posing for a glamor shot atop the old Steel I-beam logo. Just another reminder that the things held sacred in times of success become only curiosities after failure.

Outside the main entrance, a teenage girl was posing for a glamor shot atop the old Steel I-beam logo. Just another reminder that the things held sacred in times of success become only curiosities after failure.

There's no "I" in Bethlehem Steel. There's not much of anything else in Bethlehem Steel nowadays, either.

There’s no “I” in Bethlehem Steel. There’s not much of anything else in Bethlehem Steel nowadays, either.

The Kubrickian monolith in full.

The Kubrickian monolith in full.

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3 responses »

  1. Likely “Iron & Steel Manufacturing”, no?

    Reply
  2. Lynn Blumenau

    Absolutely fascinating! Thanks for the trip – looks like the complex still has good bones but maybe not for long. A shame to waste the structure…….

    Reply
  3. Rod Blumenau

    Your idea of bringing a company’s corporate or divisional management to view the corporate morgue is excellent. It’s similar to bringing high school kids to a prison, or an emergency room, both of which I’ve read about.

    Definitely reminds me of Kodak. I have it from a good source that the Kodak Tower is something like 1/4 occupied currently. And the Elmgrove Plant, where I worked for almost 30 years, is owned by someone else, sparsely utilized, and the grass is growing up through the unused macadam parking lot. And as you know, parts of Kodak Park, which were pretty much dedicated facilities for film and paper manufacturing, were blown up. Sad to see.

    I was told by a Kodaker I respected that when I joined the company, as long as I didn’t molest the secretaries (actually the verb was stronger than “molest”, allowing for some minor indiscretion) I would have a good job for life and a guaranteed comfy retirement. At the same time a wise old businessman I knew from Connecticut told me to watch out, because “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”. I considered him out of touch at the time, but 40+ years later he suddenly became a sage.

    There are great similarities between Bethlehem Steel and Kodak. You know the steel story better than I – either less use of steel or cheaper sources of steel, both of which could have been anticipated and planned for. And as you know, Kodak INVENTED the digital camera but failed to commercialize it because it would destroy their film business. Everyone in a corporation should spend at least a few hours a year ruminating about what could destroy their business, and what could be done about it. And Martin Tower would be the ideal location to do that!

    Reply

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