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9.27.2020

Reading Pagoda: One of PA's Coolest and Zaniest Novelty Buildings

It had been a number of years since we had last gone to the Reading Pagoda. This zany building was built in 1908 upon Mount Penn to take advantage of the stunning views of the Schuylkill Valley below in Reading. It was to be the centerpiece of a large resort, built over a former eyesore rock quarry. The resort never came to fruition, largely because they were denied an application for a liquor license. After the bank foreclosed upon the property, they sold it to an investor, who after a year opted to sell the building and land to the City of Reading for only a dollar. Reading developed the property into a large urban park, which remains the jewel of the region. It is a part of the greater Mt. Penn Preserve, which preserves 1595 acres of wooded land that has great hiking opportunities, picnic grounds, and more. It even has its own four mile long Skyline Drive (Skyline Boulevard) with scenic overlook pull offs, and beautiful public works stone work walls along the sides of the road. 

The building stands 620 feet above Reading and seven stories tall. The top level of the building has a historic tocsin, a large bell from a Buddhist Temple in Japan that was cast in 1739.  
Going here on a Saturday night was a real treat, with lots of people just taking in the views, sitting in foldable chairs with picnic lunches, getting food from food trucks trucks, and a generally relaxed vibe. It is one of the most sustainably developed public park areas in the state, built with the capacity to handle lots of people without overcrowding. Skyline Boulevard's beautiful stone work and attention to infrastructure are reminiscent of the most famous Skyline Drive down in Virginia, but the area around the Pagoda reminded me most of the beautiful Griffith Observatory in Hollywood, in regards to the building perched off the top of the mountain, the wide expansive views out in the distance, and the use of the building as a public attraction for everyone to have access to visit. The Pagoda is unlike any other place I can think of within the state in this sense and it really is a treasure. Additionally, this is a fantastic place to go at sunset, since it has a great and expansive westward view. Red neon lights outline the edges of the building, which look really sharp. 

For more than 110 years, this spot has remained an anchor for the City of Reading amidst near constant upheaval. Within that time, the famed Reading Railroad had its boom and bust, the city's famed clothing mills went from boom to bust, the outlet industry that rose up from the ashes of the crumbling textile industry had a boom and a bust, the tech industry with Western Electric/AT&T/Lucent/Agere, which had sprawling factories from Reading to Allentown also went from went from boom to bust. S

kyline Drive itself was built during the Great Depression as a way to create employment for the myriad of unemployed people in the region and it was completed with WPA support. In more than a century of great changes, the beautiful Pagoda and Mount Penn Preserve have remained a constant. The area is a lovely and diverse community gathering place.
Looking out over Reading from the Pagoda.
The beautiful Pagoda. A programatic novelty building with Eastern influences. 

On a warm summer evening, the Pagoda, Mt. Penn Preserve, stunning stone William Penn Memorial Firetower, and Skyline Drive are places for people to cruise with their cars, motorcycles, and bicycles and just relax. For how much natural beauty the state has, it is surprising to me that not that many places are developed like this. This is a wonderful and beautiful place to relax as a community and it is well worth going out of your way to check it out. 
 


1 comment :

  1. Thank you Sue for the info on the Pagoda. I often wondered about what the story was behind it. Now I know, and I sure many others do too.

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