History of the 1978

Main Street Improvements

In the late 1960s, downtown Bethlehem, in particular Main St, had fallen into disrepair.  In 1969, the firm Clarke & Rapuano was hire to do a study of the downtown.  Their recommendation was to tear most of the existing structures down, build two large department stores and fill in other shopping areas, in an attempt to compete with Allentown and other nearby shopping malls.  By 1974, when Gordon Mowrer was elected mayor, the fight over whether or not this plan should go into fruition had be ongoing for almost 5 years.  Sam Guttman, the new city planner hired the West Chester, PA based company National Heritage Corporation who recommended elevating Bethlehem’s colonial and Moravian history and making the downtown area more pedestrian friendly, a move in sharp contrast to many of the current trends of the day.  An additional plan, one for a performing arts center in the middle of Bethlehem ultimately failed, but the money set aside by the state paved the way for additional improvements, including restoration of The Sun Inn and Luckenbach Mill.  The state money ended up totaling 1.6 million.  Construction began in early 1978, and was finished a few months afterwards.  This coupled, with support from Historic Bethlehem and Moravian College resulted in a city-wide push to revitalize and preserve the historical heritage of Bethlehem which continues today.

*Main Street improvements totaling $532,000 were also completed in 2012.

Source: Mowrer, Gordon B. The Comeback Kid: What You Didn’t Know About Gordon Mowrer. Coopersburg, PA: Chernay, 2010.

Selection of photos of the 1978 Main Street Improvements, from the "Days" collection of BAPL's photo collection.