Allentown State Hospital

Allentown State Hospital

Halls upon halls unfold themselves across overgrown lawns. Bridges which connect the shuttered wards and chambers of the hospital, a web of shadow and dust intricately spun over a century ago. The property is threaded by beautiful breezeways, their abundant windows casting a bright contrast to the murk which drapes the end of their halls. A stagnation that sits beyond the touch of window light. It all stands before you immense, grand, and now empty. When the Allentown State Hospital opened in 1912 it was admired, seen as a noble establishment, and it grew across the crest of this hill for the betterment of the people it served. At one time a city hummed within these bricks, cresting with a population of over 2,000. That was long ago though, and the hospital has sat out of service for a decade. Every patient that once called these rooms home has long gone, as well as the staff who cared for them. They've moved on, moved away. The hospital can't move on though, it can't simply go where it's needed. The hospital must stay behind, left to wither upon its hill alone. A stonework memento to a time when it had ambition. A memorial to itself.

Looking upward at the spired peak, cracked and peeling apart from years of neglect, you cannot help but envision what it all must have been like when the place was alive. When there was light here, not just in the lamps but in the people who walked the corridors. The longer you look, the more clearly you come to see the hospital. Like a face, once hazy, slowly coming into focus. It's beautiful still, even in decline - The features around the doorways, the careful placement of the windows, how they look out like many glass eyes over the city below. The carvings which punctuate corners and columns, the flow of the whole of the facility seems to have an air of reflection to it. A driving purpose to its architecture which is coldly absent in most modern structures. A hospital that is both massive in scope, but also intimate. Somehow familiar, though this is the first time you've laid eyes upon it. Eventually, you realize you've been staring at the building for quite some time, and as you lower your gaze you notice that the hospital has been staring back.

Within the walls a pillared lobby stretches itself into the dark, caked in dust. A modern ruin that simultaneously showcases the best and worst of everything we are. How much we cared, and easily we threw it away. Do artists even still exist who could approach crafting such surroundings? And if they did, would we even bother to have them? “The expense is too much” the bureaucrat would say, before getting into their car and heading home to their fenced suburban home. “Think of the taxpayers”, exclaims the councilmen on a conference call, driving past a street-corner lined with homeless.

Standing in the half-light of the lobby you question “Do we care anymore?” The hospital answers. It speaks to you through florid plaster, gilded banisters, and the woodwork of its chapels. Its voice carries down the long marble halls and reflects off the stained glass skylights. “We did” it says. The hospital isn't simply a vestige of a bygone mindset, and the importance of a building is not confined to any point in time. This hospital may have once been regarded as a modern healthcare facility, today though, it serves a greater purpose – A reminder that we, as a society, have the capacity to do better - That “we did” is no different than “we can.”

Through the years of disuse, the city of Allentown, Pennsylvania, performed moderate upkeep on the property, mowing lawns, and keeping the grounds secure. There was even a faint hum of power within the walls, made evident in evenings when dim lights could be seen illuminating choice windows on an otherwise darkened property. However, this effort was not preservation, rather hospice care for an institution that would never recover.

Buildings have stories, they all do. Some personal, some surprisingly profound. Given enough time one may uncover many teachings within the stonework of their anatomy. The Allentown State Hospital surely held countless, but we will never hear them. After a decade of limbo the end came quickly for the former hospital. In the late autumn of 2020 demolition equipment began the slow work of removing the campus from existence. When we visited the grounds in early November of 2020 we found a shell where once a dignified and respected hospital stood. Not a shell in just a literal sense, though it was, but in a more nebulous way which is difficult to articulate. The spirit of the place was gone, where there had been warmness, a tangible presence of history, there remained nothing more than an empty building. Toward the rear of the campus numerous ward wings exist in partial erasure, wretched open, their contents spilled upon the earth.

Out front the admin looked down from atop its knoll, but with most of its windows removed the facade had taken the appearance of a skull with its eyes plucked out. Perhaps most upsetting was to see the spire which stood atop it - Once a symbol of pride for the city, now gutted and prepped for demolition. A spire which once represented care, empathy, and life. Now a harbinger of death.


Allentown State Hospital - As Seen by a Drone from the Far West Wing.

Allentown State Hospital from Above

Allentown State Hospital - Drone Shot

Allentown State Hospital - A Dark Hallway
Black and 'institution blue'.

Allentown State Hospital - Patient Ward

Allentown State Hospital - Lobby
The lobby, unnaturally dark and silent.
Allentown State Hospital - Admin Corridor

Allentown State Hospital - Caged Hallway

Allentown State Hospital - Caged Hallway

Allentown State Hospital  - Ward Junction
Allentown State Hospital - Caged Stairwell

Allentown State Hospital - Blue Ward
 Though originally an open floor-plan, the wards eventually became segmented by way of partial walls. This allowed for patients to each have their own private living area without being fully separated from the whole of the ward.
Allentown State Hospital - Auditorium

Allentown State Hospital  - Auditorium Wall Sconces

Allentown State Hospital - Auditorium Ceiling Fixture

Allentown State Hospital - Patient Washroom
Just off from the segmented living areas were communal washrooms.

Allentown State Hospital - Wall of Sinks 
Allentown State Hospital - Chapel
 A moldering chapel.

Allentown State Hospital - Drone Shot of Campus

Allentown State Hospital - Admin Facade
Allentown State Hospital - Drone from Rear of Campus

Allentown State Hospital - Rooftops

Allentown State Hospital - Pink Ward

An interesting side-note - The 2019 movie 'Glass', starring Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, and Samuel L. Jackson heavily featured the vacant Allentown State Hospital. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, many scenes took place throughout the campus, the most noteworthy of which occurring in a long barren ward wing which was re-painted in bright pink for the film. 

 The same ward was featured on the announcement poster for the film.

Allentown State Hospital - Pink Ward where Glass was Filmed

Allentown State Hospital - Pink Ward

Allentown State Hospital - Top Floor Pink Ward
The iconic pink ward from 'Glass' was not made pink for the purpose of the movie, rather it was simply repainted the color it already was. Here's an identical ward, just one floor above where the actors and film crew were stationed.

Allentown State Hospital - Decay in the Halls
Allentown State Hospital - Rotting Ward

Allentown State Hospital - Patient Tunnel
Unlike many facilities, Allentown had massive subterranean patient corridors which allowed for travel from building to building without having to traverse the main hallways of the hospital

Allentown State Hospital - View from Caged Window

Allentown State Hospital - Medical Building

Allentown State Hospital - Morgue
A modest sized morgue and laboratory existed in a stand-alone building on the western side of the campus, only accessible from the main hospital via the underground passageways.

Allentown State Hospital - Mural

Allentown State Hospital - Rust in the Wards

Allentown State Hospital - In Summer

Allentown State Hospital - Prepping for Demolition
In the autumn of 2020 demolition work began in earnest on the hospital campus. 

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition Begins

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition Begins

Allentown State Hospital - Removed Windows
 Many hallways, breezeways, and wards have had their windows removed in preparation for demolition.
Allentown State Hospital - Abatement
Debris covers the courtyards, thrown from the empty windows by demolition and abatement crews.

Allentown State Hospital - Windowless
It is striking how similar the hospital, now without windows in preparation for its razing, resembles its windowless form when first being constructed.

Allentown State Hospital - Rooftop and Spire
Allentown State Hospital - Demolition

Allentown State Hospital - No Tresspassing
 There are clear signs of impending demolition on every building of the campus, including out-lying structures like this staff dormitory.

Allentown State Hospital - Ritter Building

Allentown State Hospital - Edgar Building

Allentown State Hospital - Front Lawn

Allentown State Hospital - A Sad Sight
 The hollowed-out administration building, staring lifelessly toward the city below.
The hospital as it stood in 1911.

Allentown State Hospital - Prepped for Demo
 The gutted spire, perhaps the most somber herald of things to come.

Allentown State Hospital - Windowless Spire
Our concluding visit to the Allentown Hospital property was made in two parts – The night prior to, and the morning of the removal of the administration building. Or what little endured. Pulling up the old hospital drive, outlined with giant trees that date back to the earliest years of the hospital, we were unready for what we saw. Where a sprawling facility stood when last we visited, now only the very heart of the administration building remained. Little more than the central lobby and rooms immediately surrounding it stood in a muddy field, their edges splintered and ragged with exposed beams. Even the smallest wings of the original hospital had been clipped and removed. Milled to rubble and spread around it in on half-frozen earth. Once it was such an imposing sight, but now it looked utterly defeated and feeble. A sickening mix of grief and anger swelled inside, but it had nowhere to go, nowhere to be directed, so we cast it free in the cold evening air.

The vista grew increasingly disheartening the longer we looked. Within the lobby, most all of the ornamental details remained - Marble tiled walls and floors, gilded ironwork railings, stonework columns with carved capitals. None rescued. All going down with the building, destined to be lost in some tragically misguided rush to clear the property for sale. The theft of history from the citizens of Allentown, orchestrated behind some closed doors at the statehouse. The sun had set, the last of its blonde rays flickering across the spire before all was covered in murky shadow. This was to be the last sunset that the hospital would ever witness, but at least it was a beautiful one. Before long the streetlamps hummed on, their pale yellow glow illuminating the front lawn and drive, but sadly absent were the lamps which once lighted the hospital itself. It stood there, a hulking mass of black just barely evident in the shadows beyond the lamplight. We left, to return just some hours later when the demolition crew arrived.
Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Last Sunset

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Sundown

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Torn Apart

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - From Above
Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Rear of Admin

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Spire Detail at Sunset
The last sunset that the Allentown State Hospital ever saw. At least it was a pretty one.

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Dusk

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Sundown

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - The Last Night

It was still blue out when we arrived around 6:30 am, but getting brighter by the minute. The crew had already arrived, and though we couldn't see them, we heard the idling of engines and whirring of generators out of sight behind the knoll of the hill. Not long after the equipment began moving to the front of the property, arriving in view just as the sunrise started to crest the horizon. The brilliant pink of the morning was short-lived however, as an unexpected snow-shower blew in and cast the scene in a drab grey. Admittedly a far more suiting atmosphere to the events we were about to watch unwind. Work began with the clawing away of the shortest, eastern wing, ripping out the innards of the old hospital as if it were a vulture picking apart the body of a dead animal. Before long the lobby was breached. We watched on as plaster, brick, and stone poured out of the wreckage. Punctuated at times by the removal of twisted railings from the lobby balcony and stairwells, as well as massive steel support beams. Eventually, too much of the frame was removed to support the immense spire which still adorned the roof, and it began to list to the side. The spire leaned and sunk into the roof as if toppling in slow motion. But it didn't. Abruptly it froze in place, coming to halt at an angle so unnatural that even the demolition crew seemed taken aback as they all paused to stare before clearing away from the walls, and retreating to safer ground. After no more than a minute the largest of the cranes returned to finish the task, and in short order the spire was felled, crumbling in upon itself, landing with a maelstrom of debris upon the marble floor of the once-magnificent lobby. This is the point where we need to mention that a local preservation group sought the safe removal of the spire for future use as a memorial to the hospital. Their request was not recognized. The crane worked quickly on the spire, reducing its ornate, embossed form to scraps before any sense of loss could even set in. Within no more than ten minutes the tin and steel spire simply ceased to exist. The spire which stood over the community of Allentown for a century, the spire which generations of people knew, the spire which was once a symbol of great pride, crumpled into a pile on the snow-covered dirt. Unrecognizable.

Not long after the spire fell the snowstorm gave way to sudden and dramatic sunshine over the rear of the building, casting brilliant beams of light through the haze of water mist that was now being pumped into the air by several turbine fans as a form of dust control. It would not be an exaggeration to say the scene was utterly heavenly, with almost unearthly golden beams of light cast some hundred or so feet in length, entering in through the gaping roof of the admin, where the spire stood just moments ago, and exiting through the missing windows on the face of the building. The centerpiece of this breathtaking scene was a three-story corpse, the absurd beauty of it all serving as the perfect conclusion to a series of events that should never have transpired. Within a few hours the last of the hospital was razed, and crews began work on grading the land and filling the tunnels. Thus ends the last night and final morning of the Allentown State Hospital – 
October 3, 1912 – December 28, 2020.

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - The Last Sunrise

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Dawn of the Last Day

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Beginning of the End

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Torn Apart
Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Mast Staircase Just Before it was Destroyed
The gilded ironwork of the master stairwell, visible for just moments before collapsing under the weight of rubble. 

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - The Claw

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - The Spire Begins to Fall
The supports of the spire begin to fail.

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - The Spire Falls
Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Spire Collapsed into Lobby
 By most accounts, the falling of the spire marked the true end of the Allentown State Hospital.

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Fallen Spire Detail
Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Spire Being Torn Apart
Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - In Ruin

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Final Hours

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - The Very End
Scorched earth.

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Beautiful Stonework

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Laid Waste
Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Sunbeams and Debris

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Wreckage

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Jagged Edges
Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Farewell

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Farewell

Allentown State Hospital - Demolition - Farewell



The history of the Allentown State Hospital is chronicled in depth in Images of America's 'Allentown State Hospital' by Steven Royer. 
Click the book to learn more.