Legal Action for 24 & 30 West 4th Street

View the filed law suit here

South Bethlehem Historical Society Sues City to Stop 9-Story Building Project

A local historic society is attempting to block the construction of a $10 million, nine-story building in in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem neighborhood was lost, but not the memories…

pongracz-home centralhs lostblocks1
By Nicole Radzievich, of The Morning Call9:30 p.m. EDT, October 19, 2013

Near Bethlehem’s Packer Avenue, where Lehigh University meets the South Side business district, sprawls a patchwork of lawns and concrete plazas wrapped around classrooms, a library and campus shops catering to the country’s brighter minds.

But the collegiate image belies an almost forgotten past.

This is the site of Bethlehem’s lost neighborhood, blocks of homes that vanished nearly 50 years ago to make way for Lehigh’s expanding campus. Lehigh University students and the South Bethlehem Historical Society are trying to piece together the history of those blocks bordered by Vine and Webster streets and Morton Street and Packer Avenue.

They’re going through old records and hosted a “story-gathering” event Saturday at the Victory Firehouse. They are collecting first-person accounts, photographs and other memorabilia to preserve the collective memory of the neighborhood and using the information to resurrect it online, with interactive maps and oral histories.

“For me, it’s always been like archaeology — digging into a place that was once a neighborhood, a vibrant community, that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Chris Campbell, a graduate student undertaking the project.

What Campbell and his colleagues uncovered were memories of a solid, working-class neighborhood teeming with Italian, Irish, Hungarian, Polish, Greek and Puerto Rican families. The neighborhood was flush with rowhomes, likely built by the Italian masons who came to erect the Hill-to-Hill Bridge, and punctuated by large Civil War-era homes yawning with large porches and balconies. Also lost were a brick schoolhouse, hot dog shop, hotel, firehouse, church and synagogue.

Some streets had not a swatch of grass but gardens of tomatoes, peppers and lettuce. At least one block — Vine Street — was shaded by leafy elm, maple and chestnut trees.

Some women would sweep the sidewalks, just blocks from the Bethlehem Steel plant, every morning. Others would walk to the nearby garment factories or join the men at the Steel mill.

Depending on the day, the air would be heavy with the odor of burning trash or the pleasant aroma of baking bread.

“This wasn’t just a bunch of historic buildings, honey,” said Mary Pongracz, 83, who had lived with her parents at 462 Vine St. “This was a neighborhood, where people lived and cared about each other.”

But there were a few rundown or vacant buildings on the block or student rentals that just weren’t kept up. This is the area that the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority zeroed in on during its urban renewal program in the 1960s. The program tapped millions in federal dollars to clear what was deemed a blighted neighborhood and replace it with new development. The program led to creation of City Hall and the Colonial Industrial Quarter.

In south Bethlehem, the authority used the urban renewal program to condemn areas close to Lehigh University.

“This was after World War II and the baby boomers were coming of age and going to school. Campuses were expanding all over the country, many in smaller urban areas like Bethlehem. Lehigh was looking to expand,” said Julia Maserjian, digital scholarship project manager for Lehigh University’s Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. “It was good for Lehigh but not so good for the neighborhoods.”

The $3.7 million project meant Lehigh University would get land that would later be developed into Maginnes Hall, Fairchild-Martindale Library, Sinclair Laboratory and, more recently, Campus Square and the STEPS building. Broughal Junior High got a playground and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church a parking lot.

But 93 families, 29 individuals and eight businesses were displaced between 1965 and 1971, when the project was completed.

It was the second home Mary Pongracz’s mother, Anna, lost to urban renewal in south Bethlehem. Anna Pongracz, one of the program’s most vocal critics, called urban renewal “an absolute farce” at a public meeting. Another opponent, Simon A. Kelly, fanned those flames and called Lehigh “carpetbaggers” and accused it of “shoving us out.”

That argument was challenged by Charles Seidle, then vice president of administration at Lehigh. He said the project would “continue the progress of our city,” according to published reports of the meeting.

“More progress is required if Bethlehem is to meet its competition in other parts of the nation for new industry, new residents, new job opportunities,” he was quoted as saying. “We cannot stand still.”

The federal government was paying two-thirds the cost, and Lehigh, which had been buying up some of the properties, used its purchases to provide the match. So, the projects cost the city nothing.

Mark Iampietro, who donated a copy of his family memoir to the historical society, recalls his grandparents as second-generation Italians living in the neighborhood targeted by urban renewal.

Copyright © 2013, The Morning Call

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Union soccer team honors Bethlehem history

20130916_inq_ssoccer16-aBy Allison Steele, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED: September 16, 2013

BETHLEHEM For five golden years at the start of the 20th century, the biggest soccer stars in the country lived and worked in Bethlehem, Pa.

The Bethlehem Steel Co. soccer team, consisting of workers imported from the British Isles primarily for their soccer prowess, dominated their opponents from 1915 through the early 1920s, winning five U.S. Open Cups.

Yet even at the height of its success, the team struggled with low attendance at home games, and never made a dime for the industrial behemoth under whose banner it played.

But now, more than 80 years after the last Bethlehem Steel game, the team is enjoying a groundswell of popularity, thanks to an honorary jersey unveiled this year by the Philadelphia Union soccer team, which happens to play in another city with a rich industrial past – Chester.

The black-and-white jersey, with a Bethlehem Steel logo embroidered in red on the back, was worn by Union players in the March 2 opener and has since become one of the Union’s top-selling items.

“We’ve sold everything we’ve made,” said Nick Sakiewicz, the team’s chief executive officer. “Not just the jerseys, but the T-shirts, caps, scarves. . . . It really took off.”

To those familiar with the story of the Bethlehem Steel team, the recognition is several decades overdue.

The Bethlehem Steel team began in 1907 as an amateur league team that was one of several projects funded by the steel mill, which was at the time one of the largest manufacturing companies in America. As the company prospered, it invested money in programs for employees, such as trapshooting, bowling, and soccer clubs.

“They had somewhat enlightened leadership, and they felt it was important to keep employees happy,” said Daniel Morrison, an amateur historian who has studied the Bethlehem Steel team extensively.

Most credit the team’s gradual transformation into a professional league to H.E. Lewis, one of the steel company’s top executives, a Welsh immigrant who had a personal interest in soccer. Lewis started pouring money into the team so it could recruit top players from England, Ireland, and Scotland, who would then come to America and be set up with jobs at the steel plant, as well as spots on the team.

The jobs were often in the draft room, and involved drawing up blueprints, so as to avoid the physical dangers of working in a steel plant, said Roger Allaway, a historian for the National Soccer Hall of Fame and a former Inquirer copy editor.

“In 1915, a goalkeeper lost a fingertip,” he said. “After that, they learned to keep them away from those riskier jobs.”

The team became a runaway success, often playing against corporate teams of shipbuilders or textile manufacturers, Morrison said.

“They had all the money, and they were buying the best players,” he said.

The team was so successful that Bethlehem Steel built its own stadium – the first soccer stadium in the country, Morrison said, which is still used today by Moravian College’s football team.

But from the beginning, the team struggled to attract local support. Ticket sales were low in Bethlehem, so low that sometimes the team played games in Philadelphia to draw larger crowds.

“They were the most successful team in North America, and the stands were empty,” Morrison said.

Why the poor attendance? Allaway said that games were rarely, if ever, scheduled when mill employees had the day off. Additionally, the ethnic divide between the players and the rest of the mill may have been a factor. Most steel workers were from Eastern European countries and lived in South Bethlehem, he said, whereas most who played for the team came from Britain and lived in the north part of town.

“Why should all these Italian and Hungarian immigrants want to see a bunch of Scottish soccer players?” he said.

The low ticket sales meant the team never made money for Bethlehem Steel, despite its success. In fact, Morrison said, it cost the company money. But it remained in place until 1930, when Lewis, the team’s founder, left Bethlehem for another job.

Morrison and Allaway both were thrilled by the Union’s decision to commemorate the team this year.

“They want to connect the fans of today with the history that went before,” Morrison said.

Sakiewicz, of the Union, is thrilled that the jerseys caught on with local soccer fans.

“This whole region is chock-full of sports history,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to recognize that past and bring it alive.”


Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 610-313-8113 or

The South Bethlehem I Once Knew

The South Bethlehem I Once Knew by Carol Dean Henn

The Municipal Market—a favorite shopping experience on E. Third St.

“Um-brel-las! I can fix your um-brel-las!”

I can still hear the sing-song voice of the peddler and fix-it man who drove through our South Bethlehem neighborhood every week. His ancient and rickety truck was loaded to overflowing with brooms, pots, pans, washboards, bolts of cloth, and tools to repair almost anything.

When he stopped at the corner of Morton and Fillmore Sts., women came outside to look at his wares and make their purchases. Money came from small leather coin purses tucked into apron pockets. He spoke with a heavy accent, doing transactions among the Windish, Hungarians, Slovaks, and Italians in “broken English” that sufficed for everyone. For reasons I’ve never known, he was called “the boney man.” He seemed to have no name. Word simply preceded him from backyard to backyard: “The boney man is coming.”


One of the many “specialty shops” on Third St. was Cotton Crest, pictured third from the right.

I thought about the boney man frequently in 2010, as the Sands Hotel took form, as a new Broughal welcomed students, and as SteelStacks moved from dream to reality. Before I lose the memory of them, I want to savor the South Bethlehem places I knew in the 1950s and ’60s.

The long-gone Central Elementary School on Vine St. was built to last for centuries. Periodically, students were assembled in a large second-floor room to watch grainy black and white films warning us of the ominous threat of communism, always shown as red arrows sweeping across Europe. In frequent air raid drills, we would be quick-marched into the dark tunnels The South Bethlehem I Once Knew by Carol Dean Henn of Central’s stony basement and were told to crouch on the floor and cover our heads with our hands.


Quinn School on E. Fourth St.

A few decades earlier, my mother attended Quinn School, located where the parking lot now serves St. John’s Windish Lutheran Church. Like other children of immigrants who had yet to learn English, she wore a name tag with her address on it—labeled like a piece of doors away, the delicatessen always had a free pickle from the barrel for a kid. Movie theatres abounded in South Bethlehem, none more colorfully nicknamed than the “Bughouse,” officially named the Lehigh Theatre at 20 E. Fourth St. There you could see movies for 25 cents and, on Tuesday nights, get free dishes. baggage in danger of being lost in a new country.

I remember almost every inch of the Municipal Market at Third and Adams Sts. I can still picture Rich’s Produce stand, Peter Heinrich’s Sausages, and Joe Phillips’s Meats. The Bethlehem Police Department was crowded into the second floor space above the Market.

Next door to the Municipal Market was the tiny A&P store, with its gigantic (to a five year-old) red coffee grinder. A few doors away, the delicatessen always had a free pickle from the barrel for a kid.

Movie theatres abounded in South Bethlehem, none more colorfully nicknamed than the “Bughouse,” officially named the Lehigh Theatre at 20 E. Fourth St. There you could see movies for 25 cents and, on Tuesday nights, get free dishes.

In pre-television days, you could build a fine set of tableware, and South Bethlehem families dined for decades on “Bughouse” dishes, just as they served food from platters advertising Miller ’s Furniture, and poured beer and soda from pitchers advising “Bank on Banko.”


A Third St. “five and dime”

Long-gone stores along Third St. included Alexy Shoes, Tom Bass, Eagan’s Menswear, Cotton Crest, the Victory Shop, Phillips Music Store, Kroope’s, the HUB, and 5- and 10-cent stores including the “up and down fivie.”

Martin’s Furniture remains as a multi-generational icon of the area. Evans Street had cigar factories and Fourth Street had factories producing “intimate wear” for ladies.

Fourth Street also offered the Royal Restaurant, Archond’s Ice Cream Parlor, Zavacky’s Shoe Repair, Dora Lee’s, Geir’s Jewelers, Devers Drug Store, the Fabric Center, the New Merchants Hotel, and always Cantelmi’s Hardware.

Every block seemed to have its grocery store—the Purity, Kay-Gee’s, Johnny Gregar’s, Albert’s, and Gergar’s. On Fifth St., the Roosevelt Restaurant had homemade crab patties, and Theresa’s Fillmore St. Restaurant at the corner of Fifth and Fillmore had the best food on the planet. Period.


In the 1920s, my paternal grandfather owned the Globe Theatre at Fourth and Wyandotte Sts. Even in the Depression, people paid to go to the movies.

My grandfather once placed an ad in the Bethlehem Globe Times announcing that “America’s only female projectionist” was showing movies at the Globe—it was only my grandmother, helping in the projection booth; but people lined up to see movies shown by a woman.

I’m glad I was born at a time when back doors and front doors were left open all day, a habit my Aunt Mary on Webster St. maintained into her 80s— when people who lived six blocks away from you, knew your name and when you had to be home— when I could sit in the sun with white-haired Mr. Connell in front of Francis J. Connell’s Funeral Home and tell him all about my school day, a school day created by students’ curiosity and teachers’ skills, not by state tests.


South Bethlehem produced workers for Bethlehem Steel, the Railroad, Laros, and Sure Fit, but it also produced scores of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and engineers.

“South Side” children and grand-children of immigrants attended Harvard and Yale, as well as Lehigh and Moravian.

I’m certain that the entertainment at SteelStacks will be splendid . . . but I’ll close my eyes, at least once, and remember summer evenings filled with fireflies on Fillmore St., and once again I’ll hear Mr. Jaroschy in his back yard, three houses away, playing “When a Gypsy Makes His Violin Cry.”

I’ll offer a toast to the success of SteelStacks, but that toast will also be to the Market, the “Bughouse,” the Globe Theatre, and the magic that was small-town life in South Bethlehem.

Carol Henn lives in Hanover Township, Northampton County, and is the Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation

Commemorating 150 Years: Holy Infancy Church (2011)

Commemorating 150 Years:
Holy Infancy Church

Emergence of a Parish

Lithograph of the second edifice of Holy Infancy, built in 1886.
Courtesy Holy Infancy Parish

With an Irish labor force working on the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the iron company in the 1850s, it was not until 1861 the Most Rev. James Frederick Wood (1813- 1882), fifth bishop of the Philadelphia Diocese, established Holy Infancy as a parish in the village of Bethlehem South with permission to build a “territorial” church in the Diocese.

Technically, this appointment had no bearing on its predominantly Irish congregation living in the Third Ward, or on any other of its ethnic people: Belgian, German, English, Welsh, French, Swedish, Italian or Polish. It was the “mother church,” open to all nationalities of Catholics within the territory of South Bethlehem.

In 1862, Rev. Michael McEnroe was appointed pastor of Holy Infancy and later resided in the rectory built on the southwest corner of Locust and E. Fourth Sts.

Establishing An Identity

While both Holy Infancy Catholic Church (1864) and the Episcopal Church of the Nativity (1865) were under construction in South Bethlehem, the name “Nativity” was first chosen by the Catholic congregation; later, they relinquished use of the name in favor of “Holy Infancy.”

South Bethlehem’s first Burgess, James McMahon (1865-1866), a respected Irish citizen, had been an active participant in the organization of the borough’s first Catholic church.

Patrick Briody, an Irish immigrant who came to America in 1850, was also a dedicated founding parishioner of Holy Infancy Church. Like him, many community leaders of Irish decent contributed to the community by the close of the century: John Donegan, Charles Quinn, James Broughal, Thomas O’Reilly, to name a few.

The First Holy Infancy


Construction of the church began in 1863; it measured 40 feet by 80 feet and was located on the corner of Locust St. (now Taylor) and E. Fourth St. It was dedicated by Bishop Wood in 1864. After its completion, a plot of 2.5 acres lying on South Mountain was donated to Holy Infancy Church by Asa Packer for a cemetery in 1867. The first interment was that of James Griffin in what is now St. Michael’s Cemetery—the burial site of at least 26 nationalities.

In 1877, Rev. Philip McEnroe succeeded his brother, Michael as pastor; in time, he saw the growing congregation in need of a larger church. By 1882, Bishop Wood, now elevated to first Archbishop of Philadelphia, gave approval to begin work on the larger Holy Infancy Church to be built on the site of the existing structure.

A New Edifice

Designed by Philadelphia architect Edwin Forrest Durang, the new Gothic Revival church measured 67 feet by 147 feet and was built of stone in the Perpendicular Style. A cross topped the distinctive, centrally located 196-foot spire, later lowered and modified during WWII.

The church bell was donated “to the Church of the Holy Infancy, South Bethlehem, by three friends of the pastor [Rev. McEnroe] and his people.” The donors were William W. Thurston, John Fritz and Samuel Adams.

Italian immigrant painter, Philipo Costaginni.

James Wohlbach headed construction, John Stewart Allam provided the church’s carpentry work and millwork was furnished by Ritter & Beck—all of South Bethlehem.

The interior wall behind the altar featured three paintings: the central “Crucifixion” painted by Philipo Costaginni (1839-1904), and two others flanking it, painted by Constantino Brumidi (1805-1880)—both Italian immigrants trained at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, Italy.

Holy Infancy interior with triptych paintings behind the altar. Brumidi painted the two frecos flanking Costaginni’s center

When completed in 1886, the second Holy Infancy Church was dedicated by Archbishop Patrick John Ryan. Toward the end of the century, Holy Infancy Church offered Mass in languages other than English for an ever-increasing ethnically-diverse congregation.

The Ethnic Churches

During the 1880s, Rhineland, German- born Rev. William Heinen, came to South Bethlehem by way of Mauch Chunk and Lansford, coal regions of Carbon County. He believed the Philadelphia Archdiocese lacked stewardship in providing spiritual guidance to Slovaks, Hungarians, and Italians— Roman Catholic immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. These immigrants later created a rich and diverse cultural mix to what is now the city of Bethlehem’s South Side. In the early part of the last century, the influx of these diverse nationalities settled in South Bethlehem, having been lured by jobs at the Bethlehem Steel Co. New ethnic parishes formed to fit the needs of these non-English speaking immigrants and were recognized by the Diocese:

  • Holy Ghost (German) 1871;
  • Ss. Cyril and Methodius (Slovak) 1891;
  • Our Lady of Pompeii of the Most Holy Rosary (Italian) 1902;
  • St. John Capistrano (Hungarian) 1903;
  • St. Stanislaus (Polish) 1906;
  • and St. Joseph (Slovenian/Windish) 1913.

Today, Holy Ghost and Ss. Cyril and Methodius (now Incarnation of Our Lord Parish) are the only two Catholic churches originally founded by ethnic groups that still exist in South Bethlehem.

At 150, Holy Infancy remains the first Catholic church established by the Diocese before South Bethlehem became a borough. Today, the church not only continues serving an English speaking, multi-cultural congregation but also includes its Spanish-speaking members from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Central America and Guatemala; and Portuguese-language members from Portugal and Brazil.

To mark its 150th anniversary, Holy Infancy parish celebrates with various activities planned throughout 2011.

The Lehigh Theatre

Your movie ticket got you more at The Lehigh Theatre


What we remember most [about the Lehigh Theater on E. Fourth St.] is that it was the cheapest theatre in town, and you could sit in there all day on one ticket. It was not very clean, but if you were collecting dishes, you Your movie ticket got you more at The Lehigh Theatre got one free dish every time you went.




You dare not skip a week when the dishes were given out because you wouldn’t be able to complete the set. My mother had a beautiful set of dishes, a Renaissance ballroom scene with gold rim around the edge. As kids, we were embarrassed about where the dishes came from—but years later, they were worth something. Mother was a widow with eight of us kids, so buying a set like that was out of the question—they were our “best” set.

When we went to the “Lehigh,” we would look around to see if we knew anyone before buying a ticket because we’d be embarrassed going in [to buy the dishes]. Now, it all seems so silly.

—Lucille Bringenber