Goodman Furniture – “Bethlehem’s Finest Furniture Store”

I remembered seeing an ad for Goodman’s in my father’s old Lehigh Freshman Handbook

The Goodman Furniture Building in Bethlehem PA may not be the most exotic of subjects, since my blog is supposed to be about the cool things I photograph and write about. But it is the kind of subject matter I photograph and it has personal interest for me in its connection to my Dad’s time at Lehigh, which itself is the basis for one of my current photography projects. It also has historic significance in the preservation of these buildings, which is a related professional interest of mine.

What made me write this post and travel to Bethlehem specifically to make the photographs for it was an ad in Dad’s old Lehigh University freshman handbook. He was Class of 1944. My mother had given the pocket-sized book to me a couple of years ago. She had it stored in one of the bookshelves of her secretary desk for years. Along with all the information a young man entering Lehigh would need (it was an all-male institution back then) are pages of ads from local businesses plying their services to Lehigh men.

Goodman_Furnitire_front
The facade of the Goodman Furniture Building on W 3rd Street.

On the way home from one of my picture-making excursions for the project about my Father’s time in Bethlehem (which included photographing the Goodman Building) I thought I remembered seeing an ad for Goodman’s in it. The handbook really is an amazing time capsule—my Dad’s own handwritten notes appear throughout, and just looking at the content and the ads gives a look into a different time in our country. I thumbed through its pages later that night and there it was with the tag line, “Bethlehem’s Finest Furniture Store.” It lists the proprietor, Sam Goodman (the grandson of the founder) as a Lehigh alumnus, Class of ’32.

Goodman's Ad

I’m sure it used to be a fine furniture store but time marches ever onward. The family that founded and ran the business over several decades is long gone and the building is now a ruin.

It was purchased in 1986 by a now former Lehigh University physics professor, believe it or not. Apparently, he ran some kind of flea market in it for a time and also planned it as a space for physics research. Unfortunately, he has let the building slide into worsening decay over the last 32 years despite attempts from the city to force its cleanup, so that it has now been officially designated as a blighted property. The good news is the city was named conservator in 2017 by the courts and that gives them the power to act as owner. They plan to sell the property to a development consortium that will redevelop the site.

I wanted to make this little side piece specifically about the building because it’s something my father would have remembered from his years there. The series I’m working on in his memory is entitled Lehigh and Bethlehem: Anamnesis, which  I’m expecting to complete in Fall 2018. All of the buildings in the series were there when he attended Lehigh, including the Goodman Building. The ad in his freshman handbook makes it a more tangible connection for the project and for me, personally.

To see my fine art and commercial photography please visit my website at:

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Bethlehem Steel – Close To A Family Legacy

There is an inexorable connection between Bethlehem Steel and Lehigh that fuels my work there…

 Return To A Distant Memory

For the last few years I’ve been working on a project called “The American Landscape,” an offshoot of my signature series, “Reflections on The American Small Town.” The purpose of the former is to give me a wider choice of small town architectural landscape subject matter to photograph within the conceptual construct of the Reflections series, without having to use reflection.

shop_buildings
Shop Buildings at the former Bethlehem Steel Plant in Bethlehem, PA

This project led me to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, among other places. My main reason for going was to visit Lehigh University and photograph it and the historic downtown where my father attended engineering school. He took me there only a few times between the ages of 9 and 12 and the place has always held a mystic fascination for me. Lehigh was a huge part of my Dad’s life. He would sometimes go there for a weekend to help with fund raising or other alumni-related activities…but he never took us except for two or three football games, and for his 25th class reunion in the summer of 1969.

A Family Legacy

Bethlehem Steel sign
The company logo over the former office building entrance on E. 3rd Street

Dad didn’t get there that much himself. But having spent a good amount of time working on my photography projects there, and in an attempt to reconnect with him through memory and the actual place where he spent some of his happiest days, I find it strange that he didn’t take us there more often. Many alumni families across the country are actively involved with the University through alumni engagement groups. I know because I have made some efforts to be more involved myself. I feel compelled to do this because my Dad loved it so much, and it occupied a significant niche in our family…I feel like it’s my family’s legacy.

The Steel Factory

So, what does this all have to do with Bethlehem Steel?

Bethlehem Steel has a certain connection to Lehigh…and my Dad.

About a year ago I started another project, The American Landscape, for the same purpose as the Small Town project—to be able photograph more of what I want while still creating pictures with cohesion and meaning. And that project includes photographing the ghostly remains of the Bethlehem Steel plant. Derelict and essentially abandoned for 20 years by the summer of 2015 when I first saw it (again), it is a powerful sight. This was once the flagship facility of the second-largest steel manufacturing company in the United States. Steel was made here for almost 150 years. Ordnance and huge guns that helped defend the country in two world wars were made here by a workforce of thousands. Its steel built the monumental architectural landmarks of our country. And now it is silent on the banks of the Lehigh River, although it’s an enjoyable silence.It was eerie and yet calming, serene, to stand looking at the silent blast furnaces and only hear the wind blowing…my kind of experience and one that gets my mind thinking.

Some of the abandoned buildings at the former Bethlehem Steel plant

And one of the main thoughts for me is that Bethlehem Steel has a certain connection to Lehigh and my Dad, a place that he loved and where he defined himself in his earlier life.

He lived in Bethlehem for four years and established his legacy at the University. And although it developed liberal arts programs decades ago, Lehigh was and is one of the most prestigious of engineering schools in the nation. My father studied chemical engineering, the very thing that made Bethlehem Steel work. So there is this inexorable connection between the two that fuels my work there. When I look at the steel mill buildings and blast furnace structures standing huge and decaying against the onslaught of Time (an important element in my fine art photography), I see my Dad.

Treatment Shop No. 3
Interior of Treatment Shop N o. 3 with the blast furnaces in the distance.

I remember him explaining similar operations in New Jesey to me when we would pass by the plants in the car. He went on to become an intellectual property attorney but he was always an engineer in everything he did. Meticulous and with blazing intellect he lived his life by those precepts. And that’s why the old steel mill (what remains of it) is a fascination for me and helps me to explore my memories—what are now imagined recollections—of my father and Lehigh.

To see my fine art and commercial photography please visit my website at: