Culture of Allentown, Pennsylvania

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The culture of Allentown dates back to its settlement in the 18th century. Religious groups, such as the Moravians, wanted to escape persecution in Europe and settle in the newly discovered land. Lenape Native Americans occupied the Lehigh Valley area. 19th and 20th century immigrants include Germans, Italians, Asians, and more recently, Hispanics, and African Americans. The city's culture is based on the diverse population that lives there.


Before the first European settlers arrived, the region that would become Philadelphia was inhabited by the Lenape, a Native American people. Mennonites, Amish, Moravians and Pietists moved to the state during the 17th century, because of Pennsylvania's freedom of religion. A century later, in the 19th century, many Catholics moved to the area from Germany and Ireland. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown is the head of all the Catholic churches in Allentown and the surrounding area.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, Hispanic and African American groups moved from the South into Northeast cities. In the last 10 years, many of these people have moved from New York City and Philadelphia to Allentown and Reading.


The Allentown Art Museum in Allentown

Fine art[edit]

The Allentown Art Museum is the city's main fine art institution. Also located in Center City, the Baum School of Art offers classes in making art.

Allentown has some public art scattered around the city. A monument honoring war veterans is located in the middle of Hamilton and 7th Streets in Center City. Graffiti once commonplace throughout the city, has been virtually eliminated through an anti-graffiti program administered through the city. In an effort to eliminate graffiti, the city has painted murals in some of its city parks and high graffiti locations, given out rewards for turning in people who deface buildings with graffiti and arrested graffiti artists.


The Allentown Symphony Orchestra performs at the Allentown Symphony Hall, located in Center City north of Hamilton Street on North 6th Street. The city also has some citizen bands, which perform at the West Park bandshell. These are: the Allentown Band, the oldest civilian concert band in the United States, the Marine Band of Allentown, the Municipal Band of Allentown and the Pioneer Band of Allentown.

Youth Education in the Arts makes Allentown its home. YEA sponsors The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps, a ten-time DCI world champion, as well as a senior drum and bugle corps, a competitive scholastic marching band circuit, and the Urban Arts Center of the Lehigh Valley.

Rock and hip hop performances are popular at Allentown's Crocodile Rock. Past and future performers include: Hollywood Undead, Pitbull, Day26, Metro Station, and Fabolous. The city's underground scene – centered around the now-closed venue Jeff the Pigeon gained attention when hardcore punk group Pissed Jeans were signed to Sub Pop and stoner metal act Pearls and Brass signed with Drag City.

Allentown has a large radio market boasting many genres of music.

In popular culture[edit]

Allentown's reputation as a rugged blue collar city has led to many references to the city in popular culture.

  • The city is the subject of the popular Billy Joel song, "Allentown", originally released on The Nylon Curtain album in 1982. Joel's song uses Allentown as a metaphor for the resilience of working class Americans in distressed industrial cities during the recession of the early 1980s.
  • The television production company Medstar Television, which produced the series Medical Detectives from 1996 to 2000, and the series Forensic Files from 2000 on, is headquartered in Allentown. Locations throughout the city have been used as settings for dramatic reenactments of crimes profiled by the shows.
  • The X-Files season 3 episode "Nisei", which aired November 25, 1995, is the first of a two-part episode in which character Dana Scully joins a UFO abductee group in Allentown. In the season 4 episode "Memento mori", which aired February 9, 1997, characters Fox Mulder and Scully return to Allentown to follow up with one of the women from Nisei.
  • Allentown is referenced as the secret location of a bomb planted by The Joker in Frank Miller's comic book series, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, published in 1986.
  • Allentown is the hometown of up and coming showgirl Peggy Sawyer in the long-running, Tony Award-winning Broadway musical 42nd Street, released in 1980, and its associated Academy Award-nominated movie. When Sawyer expresses her desire to leave Broadway to return to Allentown, the show's director and entire cast successfully dissuade her by singing the famed musical number "The Lullaby of Broadway."
  • Hiding The Bell, a 1968 historical fiction novel by Ruth Nulton Moore, chronicles the events surrounding the hiding of the Liberty Bell in Allentown in 1777.[1]
  • Allentown was the subject of the 1963 Irving Gordon song "Allentown Jail", which was subsequently recorded by several other artists, including The Kingston Trio, The Lettermen, The Seekers and Jo Stafford.
  • In the 1960 musical Bye Bye Birdie, character Rosie Alvarez is from Allentown. In the song "Spanish Rose," she sings: "I'm just a Spanish Tamale according to Mae/ Right off the boat from the tropics, far, far away/ Which is kinda funny, since where I come from is Allentown, PA."
  • Allentown was mentioned in the song "200 Years Old" on the 1975 Frank Zappa album "Bongo Fury."

Film and television[edit]

Allentown does not have much influence on film and television, but neighboring Bethlehem holds an annual film festival, The SouthSide Film Festival. Allentown receives most of its television from Philadelphia and New York City, but Channel 69, WFMZ-TV, covers local and regional news.


Allentown is influenced by cuisine from the Pennsylvania Dutch, Hispanic and Latinos, and Philadelphia. Allentown has a local variant of the Philly cheesesteak, and local pizza parlors. Pennsylvania Dutch foods like head cheese, liver pudding, sous, chow-chow, apple butter, and others are available at some diners across the region. Ethnic food types represented include Dominican, Puerto Rican, West Indian, Japanese, Italian, Lebanese and Syrian. Fast food and restaurant chains have established a presence in the Lehigh Valley due to the growing population. A regionally-famous hot dog chain, Yocco's Hot Dogs, maintains several restaurants in the city.

Annual events[edit]

The Great Allentown Fair, Das Awkscht Fescht[2] and Mayfair are held in Allentown annually. Musikfest is held annually in neighboring Bethlehem.

The Lehigh Valley Spring Home Show and the Lehigh Valley Auto Show[3] are held at Stabler Arena in Center Valley. The AAA minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, plays its home games from the beginning of April through the end of September each year at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown.

The Drum Corps International Eastern Classic has been held for over thirty years at J. Birney Crum Stadium, bringing together the top junior drum and bugle corps in the world over two nights of competition.


The first drops of Dorney Park's Steel Force and Thunderhawk rollercoasters in Allentown

Amusement Parks & Zoos[edit]

Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom is the area's main amusement park, since Historic Bushkill Park closed in 2006. The Lehigh Valley Zoo and the Trexler Nature Preserve are the two zoos in the Lehigh Valley. The William F. Curtis Arboretum is the area's arboretum.


Allentown is home to these museums:


The Allentown area is home to many shopping areas and a few indoor malls. Many national stores can be found here as well as regional chains.


The Lehigh Valley is home to several golf courses. Saucon Valley Country Club hosted the 2009 Women's U.S. Open. Allentown is home to a high quality city-run golf course, the Allentown Municipal Golf Course.

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