In 1971, the commercial center along North Fifth Street, now known as El Bloque de Oro, had only half of its buildings occupied. By 1981, the heavily Hispanic center boasted full commercial occupancy. This dramatic turnaround is the result of several individuals and organizations, especially the Spanish Merchants Association (SMA), whose projects and ambition extended well beyond this success.
Puerto Rican businessman Candelario Lamboy and six others founded the nonprofit SMA in 1969 to promote commercial and economic development activities for Philadelphia's Spanish-speaking population. The founders envisioned a voluntary organization that would help businessmen overcome language barriers and prejudice.
SMA began as a self-help group underwritten by the federal Department of Commerce contracts and grants. Within 10 years it had become a major provider of technical support services to the Spanish-speaking business community, including bookkeeping, tax returns, legal problems, and loan applications.
In addition to helping individual entrepreneurs, the SMA also promoted the 1970s revitalization of El Bloque de Oro, the Golden Block. The project lasted until 1981, when the center had become a commercial success. Today, the Golden Block's many shops, restaurants, bakeries, and botánicas make it the "Main Street" of el barrio.
The group also took on other community development projects, including a Section 8 housing project (Dorado Village), which opened in 1983, and a housing rehabilitation program sponsored by the city's Office of Housing and Community Development Technical Services program (1983 to 1986).
In 1983, the SMA purchased the Somerset Industrial Park on North Third Street, intending to build a "vertical industrial park" for light-manufacturing tenants. The project proved to be too expensive, and it closed three years later. The failure of the industrial park took a toll on the SMA, and it disbanded in 1988.