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Chuck Kuhn | profile | all galleries >> USA Travels >> Pennsylvania >> Bethlehem Steel tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Bethlehem Steel

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One of the nation’s most important steel plants, the Bethlehem Works in Pennsylvania played a pioneering role in the development of America’s steel and defense industries. Steel from the Bethlehem Works was used to build the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, and to reconstruct the White House in the Truman era. Today, the sprawling mill lies dormant, in danger of being cleared for a retail complex or industrial park. Unless preservationists succeed in saving the birthplace of integrated steel-making, there might not be a single blast furnace, machine shop, foundry or crucible building left on the site of one of America’s – and the world’s – greatest industrial triumphs. As the birthplace of the modern American defense industry, the plant manufactured the first modern battle fleet for the U.S. Navy in 1885 and remained the nation’s largest shipbuilder and military supplier for generations. Some of steel-making’s most significant technological innovations – including the fully integrated Bessemer process, heavy steel forging, and the production of continuously wide flange structural beams and columns – were developed or perfected here. The site is unique because it possesses the greatest number of buildings, structures and equipment remaining of any shut-down steelmaking facility in the country. Now known as Bethlehem Works, the former plant, which closed in the mid-1990s, encompasses about 100 acres with more than 25 buildings and other structures dating from as early as 1863. Despite some basic infrastructure investment, virtually nothing has been done to protect the buildings, which have begun to experience deterioration and vandalism. Roofs are leaking and, in some cases, have blown off, and windows and doors have been broken and interior contents damaged. Because future ownership and development plans are in question, no significant steps are being taken to prevent further damage and deterioration. Despite vandalism and weather, the greatest threat lies in the probability of demolition. While it still owned the site, Bethlehem Steel Corporation developed a comprehensive master plan for the plant that would have retained key buildings and structures. This included investing approximately $13 million into new infrastructure for half of the site with new roads, utilities and streetscape improvements. However, when Bethlehem Steel lost the property in 2003 due to bankruptcy, the site’s future became uncertain. Currently there are several options for adaptive reuse, including a mixed-use plan anchored by a proposed National Museum of Industrial History, with other portions of the complex converted to new retail or industrial purposes. The site deserves an innovative redevelopment approach that retains the key aspects of the plant while integrating new, compatible infill construction
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