Reading is county seat of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States. With a population of 87,575, it is the fifth-largest city in Pennsylvania. Located in the southeastern part of the state, it is the principal city of the Greater Reading Area. The city of Reading was founded in 1748 by Thomas and Richard Penn, sons of William Penn, founder of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is named after their ancestral home - Reading, England. Berks County is named after the corresponding shire in which Reading, England is located - Berkshire. Reading looks the part of a small Pennsylvania city nestled in the patch of greater greenery that is Berks County.
The story of Reading, Pennsylvania, not unlike other former smokestack cities, is almost too painful to tell. Today, nearly 40 percent of Reading residents live below the poverty line. What remains of Reading is 58 percent Hispanic - most too poor to get up and leave. Blink and you could be standing in Gary, Indiana, East St. Louis, Illinois, or Camden, New Jersey, watching a similar tragedy unfold. Factories close, the middle class takes flight to the suburbs to build better schools and tend to pristine lawns. They are among America’s forgotten cities - wracked with pervasive poverty and violent crime - populated by a forgotten people. Mostly brown, they have little voice over their own destiny. There are no finely suited Washington lobbyists pressing their interests. Presidential candidates rarely come to places like these and they almost never make the national news unless something really bad happens. There are so many problems, so many complications in Reading that it is difficult for any one issue to command its collective attention.
Reading Railroad: Coal Age Empire
Decades ago, Reading was a mighty manufacturing town where the Reading Railroad — once the world's largest company, now a spot on the Monopoly board — built a 19th-century transportation empire, and factories produced everything from hats to hardware. At one time, the city boasted so many manufacturing jobs that you could quit one, cross the street and easily land another.
The old Philadelphia & Reading Railroad from which the Reading Railroad was born was instrumental in the early development of the Industiral Revolution through its dominance of the anthracite trade. That was the mineral fuel that gradually replaced waterpower and charcoal in the developing industrial processes, and - most significantly - opened the way for the production of cheap iron machinery. And that in turn enabled the country's new factories and mills to produce the goods that started the United States on the road to economic leadership of the world.
From the Monopoly Game to International Cinemas. Between 1967 and 1972, six major northeastern railroads declared bankruptcy, and Reading was one of the moribund pack, filing for Chapter 11 in 1971. The operation of the rail lines controlled by Reading and those of its fallen brethren were consolidated by a federal government agency and given to the Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail, a government-sponsored company that began operating in 1976. The Reading Co. gradually untangled itself from more than a century of being in the railroad business and shifted its business direction by developing and operating multiplex cinemas around the world, including the Angelika Cinema in New York.
Main Street U.S.A
In the 1930s Reading, Pennsylvania, was a medium-sized city of 111,000 inhabitants. As the seat of Berks County, Reading was the social, political, and economic focus for the predominantly agricultural communities that surrounded it. It was also a faultless embodiment of Main Street, U.S.A. - that iconic place Architectural Forum described as "big enough to have most of the features and most of the problems found on Main Streets the country over, small enough to retain the small-town atmosphere in which well over half the Nation's retail business is done."
At its economic base, Reading was factory-dependent and, like many such towns in the 1930s, this "home of progressive industry" was hit hard by the Depression, experiencing labor unrest and widespread unemployment. The Depression left its mark on Reading's principal commercial corridor, densely built Penn Street, which stretched east to west for nearly a mile from the foot of Mount Penn to the banks of the Schuylkill River. Where Penn crossed Fifth Street, it became Penn Square, the anchor of the downtown core. In the 1930s it was experiencing the same fiscal and physical ills that plagued so many Main Streets at the time: a rotation of stores and other establishments into and out of business and a cycle of storefront and building occupancy and abandonment.
The war effort that finally brought increased production and employment back to Reading's factories and mills was undoubtedly a boon for downtown merchants. However, once the peacetime economy was in full swing in the years after 1945, Reading's workers were no longer spending their paychecks exclusively in Penn Square. The decentralization that began before the war only intensified with the suburbanization of the postwar period in the form of interstates, subdivisions, shopping centers, and malls. As these spread across the United States, the predominance of the historic center gradually eroded in the 1950s and 1960s. In many cases, Main Street merchants-chains and independents alike-even facilitated the outward movement, hoping to profit from the suburbs in the same way they had once profited from downtown.
In the 1960s, the federal government offered downtown assistance with its "urban renewal" that was put forth as the cure-all of the moment, especially after the introduction of the Model Cities Program in 1966.
In many downtowns, however, urban renewal looked more like suburban imitation, and Reading was no exception. Six blocks northeast of Penn Square were slated for demolition, to be replaced by an enclosed shopping mall.
Though the project never came to fruition, many buildings in the area were razed anyway, replaced by parking lots that did little to assist struggling merchants.
In the early 1970s, the city tried a more modest suburban-style intervention, building an open-air pedestrian mall along the length of Penn Square. Featuring enlarged sidewalks, benches, lighting, brick pavers, concrete bollards, planted medians, and limited vehicular traffic, the Penn Square Mall was intended to function like an open-air shopping center, encouraging window-shopping and downtown strolling.
But, like many pedestrianization schemes built in this period, the Penn Square Mall never produced the desired Gruen effect, and it was removed in 1993 to allow the reintroduction of buses on the Penn Street corridor. By that time, Main Street's increasingly dire predicament was once again a subject of intense debates at national and local levels as American cities and towns came to grips with the devastating dual legacies of suburbanization and urban renewal. Communities were forced to acknowledge that the golden era of Main Street had ended, and that it would never again be the nexus of social, civic, and commercial life that it was before World War II.
Efforts to revitalize Main Street today closely resemble efforts to modernize Main Street in the 1930s. Today there are federally approved standards and guidelines for preserving the historic modernized storefronts of the 1930s. They have apparently "gained significance over time," though they were never intended to endure much beyond the Great Depression-as virtual architectural consumables, it was understood that they would become obsolete as storefront trends changed. But at a critical moment during the Depression, these storefronts provided an optimistic glimpse of a prosperous tomorrow, one seemingly guaranteed by the machine-age luster of chrome, neon, and glass. Encountering these modernized storefronts seven decades later, we realize that the machine age has ended, that the luster has dulled, and that a prosperous tomorrow is far from certain.
One of the most famous landmarks of Reading and Berks County is the Pagoda built atop the South end of Mount Penn overlooking Reading, Pennsylvania. It has been a symbol of the city for more than a century.
Commissioned in 1906 at a cost of $50,000 by William A. Witman, Sr. to cover his stone quarry, the Pagoda was completed in 1908. It was orginally intended to be a luxury resort atop Mt. Penn, but due to the bank foreclosure and the denial of a liquor license, Witman never opened the Pagoda. By 1910 the Pagoda and surrounding 10 acres were deeded to local business owner, Jonathon Mould and his wife, Julia (Bell). On April 21, 1911 they "sold" the Pagoda to the City of Reading for the sum of $1. Since then the Pagoda has been owned, loved and cared for by the citizens and City of Reading.
Scenes of the Former Reading
Transit and Light Company
Across the ridge of Mount Penn, Reading, PA, extends the Skyline Boulevard or Skyline Drive. Motorists who fail to drive across the boulevard when visiting the City of Reading are depriving themselves of an un-paralleled view of Reading and countryside for miles around. On the hottest days, cool breezes sweep over the mountain top.
"I lift mine eyes to the hills from whence my strength cometh. In the days to come may the citizens of Reading turn to the hills - to this hill - for strength, for recreation, for the real things of living." - Lebert H. Weir, field secretary for the National Recreation Association (1910 - 1949).
In 1967, LeRoy G. Levan and a handful of friends on a break from college decided to paint a giant peace sign on a large rock on Mount Penn facing Reading to protest the Vietnam War. They chose a large rock that was a scar on Mount Penn from quarrying more than a century ago.
In September, 2015, a West Lawn resident named Kenny who had some fond memories of the peace sign, realized that the peace sign needed some TLC. Over the course of twelve to fifteen days Kenny worked in the morning and after work to give the peace sign a coat of red, white, and blue paint.
Reading Transit and Light Company
The former Reading Transit and Light Company operated trolley lines throughout the city and surrounding area until January 7, 1952, when the last streetcar (# 807) made its last run to Mohnton.
Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow" Civil Defense Film
Scenes of Reading, PA from the short film "Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow." A U.S. government-backed film shot in Reading in 1956 showing how the city of Reading, PA, would implement civil defense procedures to help residents survive a nuclear attack. Narrated by radio personality Andre Barruch, the production spotlighted the civil defense preparations undertaken by the city of Reading, Pennsylvania in 1956. The film offers superb shots of the city.
Reading Fairgrounds Speedway
Reading Fairgrounds Speedway (1924–1979) was a one half mile dirt/clay modified race track located in Muhlenburg Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania. The track opened September 24, 1924 and ran until June 29, 1979. It featured a regular weekly series of modified, sportsman modified, and late model stock car racing.
Scenes from Carsonia Park
Carsonia Park operated in Lower Alsace Township from 1896 to 1950. The park was constructed by the United Traction Company as a destination for its trolley service. Over the course of its existence Carsonia Park featured many rides and attractions. The roller coasters Jack Rabbit and Thunderbolt, The Airplane Ride, Dodgem Cars, Strato Ship, Castle of Mirth, The Pretzel, Shoot the Shoot, Cuddle Up, and a ferris wheel are just a few examples of what the park offered.