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.
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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On a bright spring day in the mid-1960s, my mother, along with a couple of neighbors, rounded up all us kids and made an outing en masse to Steinbach’s Department Store in Downtown Asbury Park. I remember traveling down the Garden State Parkway; and then the distinct memory of walking up to that entrance…and into an interior that has been lost to my memory and the ocean of Time ever since. Why is that experience burned so strongly into my imagination and subconscious? Why do our minds remember certain experiences and not others? Those are questions for another discussion, but when I think of that day it looks a lot like the picture below, maybe not as dark, but the bright sunlight is the primary element of the memory. The dark shadows and reflected nature of the image are important and fortuitous additions, as well, as they accentuate the daydream-like rendering of a long-ago memory deepened by my imagination.
Over all, that was my intent in attempting to visualize the memory of that day through my pictures. So, for my professional purposes it is a successful picture…and I simply “like” it, besides. A lot of work goes into it—I made several photographs of that entrance over the course of a year and while I would exhibit any one of them this one represents the expression of that memory best.
The photograph depicts the scene of that childhood memory so well along with others that I was compelled to photograph the building specifically for its own sub-series. It has always been a fascinating historic landmark and it makes for an engaging subject; so I’ve been working on photographing it over the long term. Last January (2016), having worked in the downtown area for the past several years on my Reflections on The American Small Town project, and increasingly focusing my picture-making there, I realized that a dedicated sequence on the building was needed.
Since these pictures are of a building in Asbury Park you might think the title of this post should be Reflections of Asbury Park. But the title aligns with my concept for the project as a whole: the thoughts, memories and reveries—my reflections—on the town and the building. And that is exactly what this series is about—memories effected and processed by the imagination, transforming them into something more. So, this mini-series is centered around a single childhood memory that has somehow managed to stay intact across the years.
…the real images we have seen in the past are engraved in memory by the imagination…
In his critically acclaimed book, “The Poetics of Space,” French philosopher Gaston Bachelard elucidates on how the mind creates poetic images, which are essentially what these pictures are. (A photographer friend has called them “visual poetry,” which I think is both a flattering and appropriate description.) Bachelard’s book is a rather thick read, but what he says essentially is that the real images we have seen in the past are engraved in memory by the imagination. The engravings replace the originals and deepen them, so that they become imagined recollections. So what we’re seeing are really reveries or daydreams, wisps of fantastical visions and yearnings. Some are not unlike scenes from a fantasy movie…that’s what my Reflections pictures are like to me.
The Modernist photographer and painter Charles Sheeler had a similar explanation for imagined recollections. In a statement describing his acclaimed paintings of textile mills in New England, Sheeler said his pictures were the result of “images of the present layered with overtones of the past.” He remembered these factories from years earlier, and the memories heavily influenced his work later in the 1940s, when he and photographer Paul Strand undertook a photographic study of the New England mills and towns. The photographs, using an overlay of multiple negatives, then became the studies for his paintings. Amoskeag Mills #2 is a very notable example, and one of Sheeler’s archetypal Precisionist abstract works.
My Reflections photographs are a bit different, in that I use reflection to render everything—all the layered and fractured effects—and compose the image right in the viewfinder; there is no layering done in Photoshop or with negatives. When I started my the series I wasn’t sure where the pictures were coming from, but I felt a deep emotional connection to the work. In the course of several years of making the photographs, my research brought me across Bachelard’s and Sheeler’s concepts. These insights brought my work to its own resolution, as I realized that the same process was producing these dream-like images in my own mind and pictures.
A treasure trove of 19th century architecture abounds in this
Puget Sound town
Poised on Commencement Bay which is part of the larger Puget Sound and roughly half-way between the major seaport city Seattle and the state capital of Olympia, Tacoma Washington has a rich array of historic buildings and an important seaport of its own. I’m not sure about what its major exports are or the volume of that commerce, but it looks to figure right in line with its size relative to its sister towns…which is right in the middle. There’s also a great Arts scene here, too.
My interest for our purposes is the historic architecture, and there is no shortage here. In fact it’s a treasure trove. Not only is downtown chock full of 19th century buildings, but the surrounding neighborhoods are also historic. And many of these buildings are still around because of the progressive liberal atmosphere (people are probably more likely to save old buildings here on the West Coast) and the relatively young age of towns out here – there are fewer generations of buildings so it’s more likely the original ones remain. I’m speaking (you may have noticed) as a recent transplant from the East Coast, where things move fast and old buildings are demolished without much thought. In fact, I’m involved with historic preservation there, and I can tell you it’s a constatnt battle to save historic structures.
While I always try to make unique pictures that express my artisic voice, these American small town/small city photos are essentially photojournalistic. That approach allows me to become immersed in a place and connect with its character, and to tell some part of its story. I’m not sure why, but I have a fascination with the idea of the American small town and small city, and its 19th century architecture. These buildings become repurposed for new businesses and residences, which is a cool concept to consider, and it makes sense. After all, they were built to last and should be redeveloped rather than bulldozed for less ornate, inspid modern structures.
It was with these thoughts—that have guided my work on this subject for several years now—that I made my way to Pacific Avenue, to see what exactly there was in Downtown Tacoma Washington. I wasn’t let down – 19th century buildings abound on both sides of the street, all the way down to the end of Pacific, where it meets Schuster Parkway. And most of them are home to restaurants, bars, cafes and all types of funky boutique-type businesses. I think they need a photography studio and gallery there – mine!
To continue, I wanted to make a short series of photos to capture my initial impressions of this awesome Puget Sound city. These were made down at the bay end of Pacific Avenue in a neighborhood that has many of the aforementioned funky new businesses. One of the most fascinating structures there is the empty Old Town Hall building. Hopefully it will be redeveloped into something that reflects and benefits the eclectic vibe of this small city. I’ll be going back for some drinks at The Matador and to visit some of the other fine establishments there, and of course, to make a lot more pictures. In the meantime, here are a few more:
A significant part of my photography work over the last several years has focused on 19th Century historic downtowns. And while my scope is broadening to include many other aspects of these places and the American Landscape as well, I’ve been concentrating lately on an idyllic downtown on Puget Sound. Port Townsend, discovered and so named in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver for his friend the Marquis of Townshend, is one of the best preserved 19th Century towns I’ve yet seen.
Many of these places lose their historic buildings over the years to abandonment, decay and newer development. But Port Townsend seems to retain a good amount of its architectural heritage, and there are also several side streets with beautiful buildings as well. The historic towns I’ve photographed typically have a main street with surrounding Victorian neighborhoods, but not much in the way of large buildings off of the main street. That was first thing that struck me as I drove down Water Street for the first time—there were several side streets to explore as well.
Restoration and Redevelopment
Many of the buildings have been restored or are in the process.
A compelling aspect of the town is that many of the buildings have been restored or are in the process. Restoration and redevelopment can often mean that a significant amount of the building’s original fabric and appearance will be lost. It depends on the condition of the building and the goals for the development project. But in Port Townsend the restored buildings seem to have much of their original fabric and character; especially the beautiful window sash and ornate window casements that are a prominent element of the Italianate style. And that’s important because then you retain the building’s (and town’s) unique character. Typically, there’s a historic preservation committee that oversees restorations and changes to architectural elements to conform with a plan for keeping the town’s historic character in tact.
On a recent visit I stayed in the Waterstreet Hotel located in the historic N.D. Hill Building (b.1889), and it’s absolutely beautiful. The building was completely restored in the 1990’s and they appear to have kept all the original woodwork—moldings, doors and windows—and the interior looks much as it must have 100 years ago. There’s a huge atrium in the center of the building where you access all of the hallways and rooms. I also had to fiddle with one of the windows in my room to make it shut evenly and keep out a cool draft in the evening. Having lived in a late-Victorian house I’m familiar with old windows, and it adds to the romance for me. As does the wonderful weather, so nice and cool in the middle of July. I’m from New Jersey and grew up with hot, humid, sweltering summers; great when I was a kid and spent my days swimming, but as an adult it’s become increasingly oppressive. I love the weather here, and I think you’ll like it, too.
Pubs, Cafes and Art Galleries
There is a lot to do and see here, like visiting the cafes, restaurants and boutique shops along Water Street and side streets. Sirens Pub (823 Water Street) is my favorite pub in town—or in the world, for that matter! It’s located upstairs in the funky and artsy C.C. Bartlett building (b.1881) and their space is stunningly original in its historic aspects. The original woodwork and large room where the bar sits are richly appointed. Tall windows look out on a vast expanse of Puget Sound and you can just imagine the 19th Century tenants working in there. There’s also an awesome deck right off of this large room where you can sit and enjoy the idyllic quiet of the bay. Port Townsend is known as a “Victorian Seaport and Arts Community” and there are many art galleries situated in the downtown area. You’ll find painting, photography and various other media in a range of galleries. I visited a few of these on my last trip and Northwind Arts Center, located on the ground floor of the historic Waterman & Katz Building (across Quincy street from the N.D. Hill Building), is a trendy contemporary gallery. The exhibit in progress had the largest collection of encaustic paintings I’ve ever seen in one place. And they were large works, too.
Port Townsend is known as a “Victorian Seaport and Arts Community.”
The stunning work by local artists working in this medium was truly inspiring, and makes me want to restart my own work with wax. While working on my graduate thesis in photography, I experimented with a partially encaustic-like process where the pictures are basically coated with wax to render an Impressionistic effect. That sort of approach appeals to me because it’s hand-applied and not a Photoshop plugin or other digital sorcery. My goal is to evolve the process so that the effect is more subtle and in line with my reasons for not necessarily wanting to make my photographs look like painting. You can read my post on that concept here on Photopaedia. And you can see those pictures in my 19th Century House Project – Elegance and Artistry series.
A Languid Pace
The great thing about Port Townsend is that you can let your wanderings take you where they may and never be at a loss for something to do…or not do. If you want to hang at Sirens and just stare out at the water, your experience will not be diminished for it. Quite the opposite, actually. The town is so laid back; the pace is languid and you can just take your time. Take a walk and check out the historic buildings. As I mentioned before, Port Townsend has one of the finest collections of original, large scale 19th century buildings I’ve experienced…and my experience is fairly expansive. Or maybe take in a film at The Rose Theater, where you can smell the popcorn from the street.
You might also hear Phil playing his flugelhorn at the intersection of Water and Taylor streets across from the famous Hastings Building. He’s a nice guy and will play your request (if he knows it), so go over and say ‘Hi.’ Or enjoy the various vantage points to take in the waterfront. There is a lot of sailing in this town and it is my intent to do as much of that as possible. I love sailing, and if that’s all I ever did in Port Townsend that would be fine with me. I’d also love to establish a second photography studio as a satellite location to my planned studio space in Downtown Olympia. We will make this happen and you’ll be the first to know about it here on Photopaedia.
Other Buildings and Interests
You will probably want to take a look at the Jefferson Museum of Art & HIstory. It’s in the historic Town Hall Building (b.1892) with the Jefferson County Historical Society. I haven’t been in there yet, but it’s on the list for my next visit. I’m involved with historic preservation efforts in New Jersey and plan to continue that work here in Washington (more about that in upcoming posts). They have a staffed Research Center used for primary research and as a repository for the Society’s archives. I imagine there’s a treasure trove of information contained within on Port Townsend’s magnificent buildings. The Town Hall Building is located at the Northeast end of Water Street near the marina. Also located there is the Northwest Maritime Center across the street. They have a boatbuilding museum, event space, sailing instruction and maritime education, along with various events and programs. Their big event of the year is the Wooden Boat Festival, which sounds cool—3 days of boating, live music and fun activities for everyone.
I’ve only covered a few of the more tangible and readily visible aspects of Port Townsend that make it a great place to visit. But there’s so much more to it in terms of feel and atmosphere, and what you’ll take away from the experience. It is far and away the most authentic historic downtown I’ve found so far. You feel like you’ve stepped back to a simpler and unhurried time—much like what most of us imagine 19th century life to have been like, I suppose. Of course, everything is relative but I have no doubt you’ll fine Port Townsend to be a great little escape.