An effort to rename a street that honors a titan of industry, to one that honors a titan of civil rights, met resistance last night (Sept. 25, 2008) among members of the Lower Pottsgrove Township (PA) Board of Commissioners.
The board voted unanimously to “leave unchanged” the name of Armand Hammer Boulevard, instead of re-naming it as Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Boulevard. The change had been sought by Newstell Marable, president of the Pottstown branch of the NAACP, in a recent letter to the township. Commissioners claimed a new street name would create economic “hardship” for business owners whose firms line the boulevard, because they would bear the cost of revising documents, advertising and other materials if their legal addresses changed.
The boulevard’s most visible occupant is Pottstown Memorial Medical Center, on the southeast corner of its intersection at East High. Other businesses on Armand Hammer include Home Depot, A.D. Moyer Lumber, Aldi’s Foods, and several physicians’ offices in the Chesmont Professional Building across the street from the hospital entrance.
Armand Hammer Boulevard begins at East High Street in the borough of Pottstown, about a quarter-mile west of Porter Road, and continues south for about 1-1/2 miles into Lower Pottsgrove. It ends as a cul-de-sac in what is now called the Tri-County Commerce Park, an industrial center that contains the 257-acre former site of Occidental Chemical Company. Part of the boulevard leads to ramps on Pottstown’s east end that funnel traffic from and to U.S. Route 422.
Township Manager Rodney Hawthorne said a name change would need approval by the commissioners and Pottstown Borough Council because the boulevard crosses both municipalities. Marable presented similar requests to Pottstown officials earlier this year.
Marable’s letter said changing the boulevard’s name would pay appropriate tribute to King, the Baptist minister who was a pivotal figure in the American civil rights movement. King helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, and remained its president until his assassination in 1968.
Hammer was an industrialist and business tycoon who for decades was president of Occidental Petroleum, of which the chemicals company is a wholly-owned subsidiary. The boulevard was named in Hammer’s honor after OxyChem, as it is nicknamed, evolved from the Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corp. that operated in the industrial center. Hooker purchased the property in 1980 from its previous owner, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.
At the time, the highway was named Firestone Boulevard.