When I discovered last week that the signature club for its marque, The 190 SL Group planned their international meeting just two hours away in Bethlehem, PA at Steelstacks, the amazing venue created from the bones of the late, great Bethlehem Steel Plant, I determined to attend for a CC Outtake.
Dad owned a silver 1959 Mercedes 190SL for about 20 years. We had a lot of fun with it, especially on our 80 mile round trip commute, which included cruising over NY Route 6 accompanied by the great live radio of legendary comedy team, Bob & Ray on WOR during the evening drive. The car and the humor that beamed out of the Blaupunkt served to bond father and son. I”m older now than he was then, and I cherish that time in the Mercedes with him.
I was born in Bethlehem, as were my brothers and both parents. The Steel, as it was known locally, was the 600 million pound gorilla in everyone’s room. You either worked there or were related to someone who did. Dad’s father, Clarence Koch, too independent and skeptical to be drawn into a newly formed union, crossed the picket lines during the bloody strike of 1941, and Dad tried out steel working for a short time, too, making extruded files in the rolling mills before being drafted into the Seabees in ‘43. (Photo: Bethlehem Steel, 1935, Walker Evans, Library of Congress)
The Steel is part of family lore. Its sheer length, at one time over seven miles, is greatly reduced, but, like an industrial age Acropolis, there is magnificence in its decrepitude. We moved out in 1956 and were spared the vision of the industry’s death, but we later watched with amazement as Bethlehem reinvented itself as the cultural nucleus of the Lehigh Valley.
The old plant, rusting and drooping, was transmuted from eyesore into art center by installing smooth new access roads, renovating key buildings and giving it a hip name.
Oh, and also by building the Sands Casino next door, on the site of the old rolling mills. Steelstacks uses as it’s symbol the four huge blast furnaces which were once the heart of the mill. They jut into the sky like a quartet of de-spiked iron ladies, bodies welded, rolled and extruded of the stuff once made there.
On its own, the venue is wonderfully photogenic.
Put a car in front of it, and you’ve got cover art.