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Historic buildings are history Allentown State Hospital demolition nears completion

Only the front entrance section, crowned with an imposing cupola, remained of the original Allentown State Hospital’s main building.

The cloudy skies of Dec. 24, 2020, provided a somber backdrop to the forlorn-looking remnant of what was once a sprawling complex.

Rain began pelting it and the other doomed structures on the grounds as an approaching storm ushered in a soggy Christmas Eve.

Built in 1912 and closed in 2010, Allentown State Hospital occupied 195 tree-lined acres at 1600 Hanover Ave. By 2019, the state government sought to raze the buildings to prepare the site for private purchase and development.

Concerned citizens, seeking to protect the shuttered former psychiatric hospital from being leveled, persuaded Allentown City Council to pass a resolution in April 2019 requesting “the commonwealth do everything within its power to save the historically and culturally significant portions of the property from demolition.” The state was also asked to hold a public forum to discuss plans for the property.

Allentown-based developer Nat Hyman offered to buy the property, with all structures intact, for $2.3 million in 2019.

“I offered to pay them the same $2.3 million,” Hyman had reported Feb. 17, 2020. “They could leave the buildings precisely as they are today, and I would refurbish them - a profit to the taxpayers and a preservation of our history.”

Despite these efforts, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf supported the state senate’s unanimous push to demolish the buildings at a cost of $12.7 million. Neuber Demolition and Environmental Services Inc., Gilbertsville, was awarded the contract in early January 2020.

State Sen. Pat Browne, R-16th, and state Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-132nd, worked together on the legislation to move ahead with razing the structures. Along with officials from Allentown and Bethlehem, they currently serve on the recommending committee to select a buyer.

After viewing an Allentown Chronicles Facebook post about the demolition by Allentown School District librarian Pam Kopishke, Bethlehem residents Patrick and Alyissa Gallagher decided to see what was left of the structures Dec. 24, 2020. The Gallaghers both agreed some of the buildings should have been preserved.

Along the temporary chain link fencing surrounding the 1912 portion of Allentown State Hospital are mementos left behind by onlookers who mourned the loss of the vintage architecture to the wrecking ball. These include photographs of the hospital buildings, eyeglasses, Christmas decor and Day of the Dead skull decorations.

One visitor posted an anonymous note criticizing the state’s decision to condemn the 108-year-old hospital buildings. Besides a few insults hurled at the contractor, it read, “Stop Destroying. Start Saving!”

Demolition is expected to be completed by February. The contract completion date is May.

Only the section sporting its cupola, of what was once an historic building, remains standing as of Dec. 24, 2020. By Dec. 28, 2020, it too, was fully erased from history. The Allentown State Hospital was built in 1912 and closed in 2010. Although abandoned, the buildings were still intact in March 2019 when preservation activists sought to persuade the state to repurpose the historic structures.
Bethlehem residents Patrick and Alyissa Gallagher survey what's left of the main hospital Dec. 24, 2020 after seeing a post about the demolition on Facebook.
This toy vintage Chevy is one of the mementos left behind by onlookers who mourned the loss of vintage architecture to the wrecking ball.
PRESS PHOTOS BY ED COURRIER One of several satellite buildings on the grounds silently awaits its turn for destruction.
Two more buildings appear to be on their way to being cleared away soon.