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.
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.
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.
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