“This is What Happened”

Monessen Mayor Lou Mavrakis talks on his cell phone in front of the former Monessen Savings & Trust Building on Donner Ave. Monessen, a third-class city, faces the same problems as th other former steel towns — declining population and tax revenue after the mills shut down. The city's population has dropped to 7,600 from a high of 20,268 in 1930.

Text and Photography by Pete Marovich

Friday, August 12, 2016 – Monessen, Pa.

Lou Mavrakis is angry.

The Monessen mayor says he is tired of the federal government sending aid to other countries while communities in the United States continue to suffer.

Monessen, like the other steel town of the Monongahela River Valley, lost thousands of jobs when the industry collapsed in the 1980s. At one time the town had a population of more than 25,000 people, and Pittsburgh Steel employed more than 10,000 at the local mill.

Then the 1980’s, the mills closed and Monessen’s population dropped to 7,500 by 2015. The jobs were gone, people moved elsewhere to look for work, local businesses shut down and the town’s tax base disappeared making Monessen the poster child for America’s industrial decline.

A row of homes slated for demolition in Monessen, when the town has the money available to have the work done.
Lou Mavrakis walks out of an abandoned home in Monessen, Pa.

Mavrakis worked at the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel coke plant in Monessen before becoming an international representative for the United Steelworkers of America labor union.

He accepts no salary as mayor and his revitalization plan begins with eliminating abandoned and condemed homes, which he says lower property values.

Mayor Mavrakis says America owes Monessen, as well as other depressed industrial communities across the United States, a helping hand. “The steel that was produced in Monessen’s mills helped build the Golden Gate Bridge and New York City skyscrapers,” says Mavrakis.

Now Monessen is saddled with heavy debt, a nearly $700,000 budget deficit in 2015 and 430 abandoned houses as well as decaying downtown buildings that need to be torn down in order to attract new development.

Vines take over the brick facade of the now abandoned Saint Michael Syrian Orthodox Church on 9th Street in Monessen.
Monessen Mayor Lou Mavrakis talks to a resident about things that need to be done in the city outside of an abandoned church in Monessen.

He appealed to members of Congress and has written three letters to President Barack Obama asking for help with no response.

“This is what happened,” says Mavrakis. “We need help!”

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