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Martin Tower implosion: Cheers, tears as iconic Bethlehem Steel skyscraper vanishes in dust and thunder

It was everything it was supposed to be: Loud, dramatic, bittersweet.The implosion of Martin Tower went off without a hitch at 7:04 a.m. Sunday — a few moments of thunderous excitement that left a hole in the Bethlehem skyline and in more than a few sentimental hearts.The 47-year-old tower, built as world headquarters for Bethlehem Steel — the industrial giant that ceased to exist 16 years ago — collapsed into a debris mound of 6,500 cubic yards of concrete and nearly 16,000 tons of structural steel. The noise was heard as far as Easton and Bethlehem Township. One man tweeted that he heard it in Flemington, N.J., 40 miles east.“It was better than the Fourth of July,” Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez exulted. “Everything went down the way the contractors said it would. It collapsed in its own footprint. It was fascinating to watch something that took three years to build be gone in seconds.”The implosion, which opened the area for a planned redevelopment into commercial and residential buildings, drew hundreds of onlookers to the areas just outside the exclusion zone and countless elsewhere in the city, many atop South Mountain on the Lehigh University campus.It was festive. Eric Evans of Bethlehem turned out to a viewing area on Eighth Avenue in a Martin Tower costume made of cardboard boxes and duct tape. “Just for fun,” he said, adding that he had worn the costume to an implosion party the night before.He made it with yellow panels meant to recall lights, said Evans’ wife, Jodi. “That’s how we remember it,” she said. “We would drive by it at night and see the lights.”But it was melancholy, too.“I was shocked,” said Steve Smith, who worked at Steel from 1966 to 2003 and described himself as “the last janitor at Martin Tower.”“With all that steel in it and how easily it came down — I feel sad,” he said.COMPLETE COVERAGE: Martin Tower implosion“It’s bittersweet,” said Patty McNamara, part of a crowd watching the implosion from the roof of Five10Flats in South Bethlehem. She said her father, Roger Scanlan, worked in Martin Tower in transportation.Others found it far more sweet than bitter. Bruce Hagenbuch, who was once the head of Local 2599 United Steelworkers, said the demolition was a fitting end to a building that, to many rank-and-file workers, was a looming symbol of corporate greed.“We all know it was built to appease a bunch of [executives],” said Hagenbuch, who started at Steel in 1972 — the year the tower opened — and was known around the plant as “Moose.”Raw video: The implosion of the former Bethlehem Steel headquarters Martin Tower in Bethlehem, Pa. (Jennifer Sheehan / The Morning Call) (Jen Sheehan / The Morning Call/)“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.Matt Meyers, originally from New Jersey, has been living in South Side for two months. The 2015 DeSales University graduate was sad to see the building crumple.“It’s a shame,” he said. “You can see it from any spot in the Lehigh Valley.”Eric Evans of Bethlehem with his Martin Tower costume. (Jennifer Sheehan / The Morning Call/)From an aesthetic point of view, the building deserved its fate, said Josh Gulotta, who grew up in Bethlehem and regarded Martin Tower as an “eyesore.”Gulotta’s girlfriend, Rae Labodie, said the building looked like something out of a “Tim Burton film,” referencing the director known for his odd and often macabre movies.Former steelworker Fred Schmidt, however, loved the building and found himself tearing up watching it fall. He worked in the audio/visual department and would do presentations in the 21st-floor boardroom.Watching it fall was harder than he expected. “It was beautiful in there. Just beautiful,” he said. “The marble, everything. I never thought I’d see it come down.”The event drew entrepreneurs, of course. “I Saw It Go Down,” said the $15 T shirts being hawked on Eighth Avenue by Jeffrey Wetzel of Bethlehem.The nearby Central Assembly of God was also selling shirts, marked “Implosion Bash.” These cost $10 and benefited the church, where lead pastor M. Cole McClenithan decided the services-disrupting event marked an opportunity to show what his congregation has to offer.“OK, if it’s going to mess up services then let’s do something associated with [the demolition],” McClenithan said. “This is one more way to invite people into our circle.”In the aftermath, as street sweeper trucks began gathering the dust, the festivities continued. Molly’s, a bar in South Bethlehem, held a wake feature a couple of special drinks: Martin Tower Implosion Bombs and an Implosion Cocktail.Morning Call reporter Sarah M. Wojcik contributed to this story.
Source: Morningcall

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