5/15/2012

Bethlehem Steel North Office Demolition - Part I

The former Bethlehem Steel North Office Building is slated for demolition this week.  Designed by noted New York City architect Lansing C. Holden, this magnificent Beaux Arts building was originally designed for the Lackawanna Steel Company in 1902.  Bethlehem Steel bought the headquarters building and steel works in 1922. Steel production ended in 1982 and coke production in 2002.  This building is located just across the City line on the south side of the Union Ship Canal.   This image depicts the Bethlehem Steel North Office Building - c. 1903.

Bethlehem Steel North Office Building - c 1903

The emergency demolition order was signed by the City of Lackawanna three weeks ago and the emergency demolition of the historic Bethlehem Steel headquarters building will begin later this week, see this notice.  Asbestos remediation has already begun and the diesel powered wreckers are tucked behind the former headquarters building, poised for action.  Demolition begins on Friday.  Here's a current rear view - Bethlehem Steel North Office Building.

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The building has suffered 30 years of neglect.  The decorative copper detail is loose and missing and the slate roof failed years ago.  The modern addition's windows were blown out and most of the interior architectural detail has disappeared.  Here's what the first floor hallway looks like.

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Most of the iconic steel making structures that were built on this site are now gone.  The hand riveted steel smoke stacks and blast furnaces that evoked our industrial supremacy have been cut to pieces.  On the other side of the Bethlehem Steel ship canal the coke ovens are crumbling.   What's left of this site, big steel and an industry that shaped this City and some of the most important structures of the 20th century  - Empire State Building, George Washington Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge?  Mostly scrap.  People who worked at Bethlehem remain as plaintiffs in various work place related injury claims and the Steel Museum now displays artifacts and objects, providing a glimpse into the lives and work of laborers, that were painstakingly salvaged from dumpsters when the steel plant wound to a close in the 80's.  In other places around the world the era of big steel and what it means is still celebrated.  Emscher Landschaft Park in Germany's Ruhr Valley provides one example.  The pairing of a casino and the preservation of five blast furnaces in Bethlehem, PA provides what is perhaps the country's current best practice in preserving the legacy of big steel's industrial heritage.   This image, from the top window, looks South.

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The City of Lackawanna, NY has no preservation ordinance or active preservation organization.     Decisions to help preserve these industrial landmarks have not entered the preservation or public dialog in Buffalo.  Aside from decades of missed opportunities to do something with industrial preservation at this site, what remains?  Patricia Bazelon captured the last days of our Bethlehem Steel, dozens of photographers have followed.  Kendell Anderson's work stands out.   Additional Bethlehem Steel North Office building interior pics are available here and as a slide show.

Update:  A new FaceBook group has formed:  Bethlehem Steel North Office - Photography and Preservation.   Dozens of photographers have been inside this Beaux-Arts style gem and are posting their pictures.  The photographic record contradicts the official City of Lackawanna line: "It's too far gone."  Check out the growing collection of images and commentary that show a structure that's stable.  There is no roof or floor collapse.  The building is not "imploding".  
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17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, its demise resulted in its only redeeming quality - the exterior. The stairs were amazing in two locations, and the control room evokes emotion as it does with any power plant as the central nervous system and monitoring of vitals to the plant for the people who worked in the building. However, its time for her to go since it's pretty much a possible hazard to safty more than any other structure in that area at this time because of its proximity to the road - noting, the rather long / open walk to the rest of the plant on that side of the street. She will be missed, and the cost of possible human life is more dangerous there now than ever since I've been visiting since 2006. Let's hope this is the start of the end for this plant - I know you won't agree Dave, but we know it was just a matter of time.

Resurrect Buffalo said...

This truly is an amazing building and quite unlike any other even within the city limits of Buffalo but one that has been sadly neglected for far too long and is definitely beyond redemption.

Makes me wonder why the more modernistic piece-of-shit down the road was constructed to replace it but I can assume even Bethlehem Steel had little to no appreciation for the grandeur of this building and had decided something newer with cleaner lines would exemplifier their company image.

However, as anonymous has already stated, this building is now and has been for quite a while, a safety hazard and liability to Lackawanna and needs to be removed.

Betty Barcode said...

That building was always an island of elegance and repose amid the complex industrial geometries of the steel plant. Both were exquisite and both are a big loss.

Anonymous said...

This is truly outrageous....another bites the dust by design. I guess those over grown trees did there job -"out sight out of mind" try to find another building in this area with copper work like this. the detail is truly amazing ..we have subway system that cost $500,000,000.00 ....and we all love the darwin martin house after spending over $50,000,000.00 ..and we all the architectural gems in the area.. but spending a few dollars on plywood, screws,tarps,etc is out of our budget to preserve this building "it's a safety hazard" however we all know somebody will make a lot of money on the copper scrap.. but what do I know

Anonymous said...

I think the best part of this story is that the City of Lackawanna issued an "Emergency Demolition". This building has been falling apart for decades. LOL

It was sitting idle for so long I actually thought someone had a plan for the building, but of course not. I will miss looking over at her on my way out of the city.

BuffaloItalianGuy said...

Here's some more pictures from the inside:

http://www.invisiblethreads.com/gallery/bethlehem-steel-north-office

Anonymous said...

If the preservationists are so intent on seeing to it that these decaying, unsafe buildings remain in Buffalo and the surrounding areas, why don't they come up with the exhorbitant amount of money it would take to restore them?

Anonymous said...

It truly amazes me that for decades we have been looking at this eyesore, and now, because it is slated for demolition, the preservationists are up in arms? Do they really think it is a display of beauty the way it now stands? Frankly, it is a symbol of what once was here in Lackawanna, which is obviously no more, and the reason why is depressing.

Anonymous said...

It's all well and good preservationist want to save every building in WNY. Just pay for it with your money and not tax payor dollars.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with the above-posted comment! I don't remember EVER hearing that these preservationists are willing to pay for anything -- just complain and try to force the hand of someone else to pay for it! So, let's save the eyesores as they stand, and absorb the empty tax base for these hideous structures.

1962 said...

Anonymous, why is it that the Preservation community has to come up with the answers/money/funding/plan/solution? Why is it ok for corporations to let historically and architecturally significant buildings rot on their premises? Can you point to specific instances of where and when this Beaux Arts building (very few of which are left in this area) was marketed by the corporate owner? Ever? Can you tell me whether there was grant money applied for by Gateway to keep it in salvageable condition? (historic money would have been available) I don't remember hearing ANY outcry from the corporate entity who owns this building about the condition as it deteriorated. There is such a thing as good citizenry and and corporate responsibility. There's such a thing as stewardship. Gateway inherited a historically significant building but I don't remember them doing anything themselves to preserve it. Demolition money, when added to the equation, speaks volumes, of course.

Anonymous said...

In the '60's I used to go by every day on the bus to downtown and thought it was a weird looking building. Well now it's a lost treasure. The repeating lesson is if there is no strong market demand for a preserved building then it will go unmaintained and ultimately require demolition.

Anonymous said...

stop the demolition now! we'll sort it out later

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Anonymous said...

This building is one of a kind and represents the best part of our heritage. No where else will you find a building of this design. We don't need more modern crap buildings. We need to save the beautiful artwork of the historic architects of early 1900's. Lansing C. Holden designed this building. The building could be restored and used as a museum for the Steele industry and the grounds could be made into a park with rides on the canal and marina history displayed. If we tare down our history there will soon be nothing left to show our children or our grandchildren. This building is too important to lose. I have grown up in this area and have many memories of Bethlehem Steele. Please help us save her.

Anonymous said...

As a native Buffalonian, but having been away for over 50 years, I was sorry to have returned to find this building just a hole in the ground. This careless disregard for our architectural heritage is happening throughout the U.S. One day future generations may ask what happened to the parks, buildings and monuments that marked our greatest era ?

Anonymous said...

Many times I had the pleasure of being in the Bethlehem Office. It was from a time of quality and solidity. The brass, granite and marble all wove permanence that in retrospect makes me cry now. I lost my job too and maybe my mind but the plant was a once in a lifetime experience and maybe some will say that's a good thing. I cannot and will not. The jobs and promise it offered stilllinger and I am proud that I participated. Good bye you lovely behemoth!