Here’s a good example of a situation where there’s no compelling citywide interest in preserving a building, but Bethlehem politicians lean toward preservation anyway. The backstory is that the Diocese of Allentown wants to demolish a 123-year old home in West Bethlehem because they don’t think the $230,000 in repairs it needs are worth it. But West Bethlehem neighbors don’t want it demolished, so City Council voted unanimously against the demolition. It’s not really clear to me what that vote committed them to do:
The Spring Street home was owned by the gardener of former Steel President Eugene Grace. Mount Airy Neighborhood Association President Mary Toulouse argued that homes of workers have an important place in historic districts just as slave quarters are maintained as part of historic plantations.
“It’s important we preserve the homes of the gardeners as well as the CEOs,” she said.
Several Mount Airy area residents said they felt the diocese failed to maintain the home to the point that it was a case of demolition by neglect, a practice disallowed in other cities. They said the city shouldn’t allow any homes in the small historic district to be knocked down.
“Why have a historic district if there’s no teeth?” Prospect Avenue resident Arnold Traupman asked.
The appropriate question to ask here is “important to whom?” I think it’s clear this is really only important to the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association. Southside Bethlehem families are not losing sleep over this. It’s not really an issue for anyone but the folks who live near it. I think that means that the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association needs to ask their members how much they personally are willing to shell out for the restoration. If they can come up with the $230,000 from within their own membership then they should go ahead with the repairs. If there’s not enough interest, then that’s that.