Dec 1, 2021

Double Down (Towns)

People often speculate as to why Bethlehem now is a destination, while, too often, Allentown is considered a place to avoid. The long answer will not fit within this short post, but here may be a few reasons. Bethlehem had two downtowns, on both sides of the river. While downtown Allentown certainly was the premier shopping area for the Lehigh Valley prior to the malls, it may have become a victim to over-planning. In the late 60's, early 70's, Allentown attempted to compete with the suburban malls by building a canopy on Hamilton Street. The viability of Hamilton Street was extended for a few years, but the magnetism of Hess's could well have been the reason. Bethlehem also built a pedestrian mall on Broad Street, but the historical quaintness of Main Street remained. Although the commerce in its southside business district languished, the architecture remained. By the time Allentown removed the canopies in the late 90's, the architecture of its buildings had long been bisected and altered. As historical became chic, Bethlehem profited from having done less in the past.

Its southside business district is a time capsule, architecturally unchanged since the turn of the last century. It now is becoming a mix of boutiques and bistros in a fashionable historic setting. Last, but not least, Bethlehem benefited from consistency of developmental leadership. While Allentown has had a succession of Economic Directors, Tony Hanna, with benefit of his institutional memory, has led Bethlehem for many years.

Shown at the top is pop up photo matches from the 1930's, promoting Julian Goldman's Fine Clothes For The Family on the South Side, East Third Street. Also shown is Tony Hanna, along side of the former Goodman Furniture Store.

above reprinted from July of 2012

ADDENDUM DECEMBER 28, 2018: Allentown lost most its historical mercantile district with the arena, and new NIZ office towers. They are without architectural merit.

ADDENDUM DECEMBER 1, 2021:When I wrote this post in 2012, I  had no idea Allentown would lose almost all its vintage buildings on Hamilton Street. Someone recently commented on social media that they're glad some older buildings were retained on the southside of the 700 block. Actually, those buildings were financial holdouts from Reilly's City Center Real Estate offers, not historical planning.  When Reilly's real estate portfolio is completed, Hamilton Street will be unrecognizable from 2012.


  1. When I lived in West Chester, PA I learned how much the Cestrians were committed to preserving their history and their borough. They installed iron ties on buildings made with sandstone to keep them from degrading, steel girders on buildings impacted by sink holes, aesthetic ordinances to ensure new construction or renovations were in keeping with the surrounding buildings, and height ordinances to ensure neighborhoods are not sunk into shadow. With the new courthouse and transport center they compromised a bit on height but the look of the buildings fit into the aesthetics of the borough.

    Allentown, no such commitment. What we have are politicians and advocates that say it's old, no historic value, just tear it down. Where do those who advocated for tearing down our historic neighborhoods go for a feel of what used to be? Bethlehem.

  2. Here’s a question ! I’m not sure which movie theater it was ! But which movie theater on Hamilton street was originally a Jewelry store?? I think it was the Capri , but it could have been the Colonial. Can you tell me which one it was !! I remember hearing about it as a high end Jewelry store .

  3. Allentown History, Vol 2, Page 605 - Zollinger, Capri, Quote Me Factory converted into Sovereign Building. I could not find a pic in the history books.