The 1960s and 1970s were marked by the effect of Federal urban renewal programs upon the City. Although it later became fashionable to criticize the effects of the wholesale demolition and, reconstruction that these programs sponsored, there is little doubt that Reading gained some clear benefits. Large areas of old, dilapidated and dense development in the downtown area was cleared and replaced with new structures or surface parking.
In the 1960s, citizens were complaining about the apparent lack of progress in the Court Street Project which resembled a bombed-out area in a war zone.
On July 21, 1960, $860,774 in federal capital grants and a federal loan of $1,598,704 was made available for the execution of the Court Street Urban Renewal Project. Court Street was widened between Third and Ninth Streets, and Cherry Street was widened between Fourth and Ninth Streets.
These improvements helped to facilitate service access to the rear of Penn Street properties. The Court Street project also helped to promote the development of Washington Towers, Plaza Madrid, the WEEU Building and eventually the Chiarelli Plaza parking garage.
Below: WEEU Building and Chiarelli Plaza parking garage.
The Cherry Street Project provided land for the Fourth and Cherry Streets Garage, off-street parking in the 600 block of Cherry Street, the South Penn Garage, Franklin Plaza, and the Rhodes and Eisenhower residential high-rises.
Below: Eisenhower residential high-rises.
It finally was finished, with the Washington Towers as a new gem on Reading’s skyline. The completion of the Washington Towers marked the first significant change in Reading’s skyline in three decades. Because the city was fairly well developed by 1920, the skyline underwent little visible change thereafter until 1932, when the courthouse was erected. The 12-story Washington Towers apartment building, a towering monument of beauty standing on stilts, added to a new and imposing skyline.
Below: Washington Towers.
Abdul Malik purchased the Washington Towers apartment building in 2017 with hopes of filling the retail space.
The Stepping Stone Academy Child Care Center of Reading now fills the retail space at 50 North Fourth Street. A new A-Plus convenience store at the corner of Fourth and Washington Streets opened on Dec. 15, 2020 filling more retail space. Ruth Flores, property manager, said that a banquet facility at the site of the former “Plaza Madrid” is also in the works. The banquet facility is scheduled to open in 2021.
Below: A-Plus convenience store at the corner of Fourth and Washington Streets opened on Dec. 15, 2020.
The Court Street Urban Renewal Project also included bank building at 5th and Washington and 6th and Washington streets, which gave the city its first new office space in decades: a new fire house for two companies, and municipal parking lots, including the large one at 3rd and Washington streets.
The 58,000 square foot office building at 5th and Washington, built in 1964, was refurbished by the Shuman Development Group and completely gutted back to its steel frame in 2008. By 2010, the building had been refurbished into one of downtown Reading’s finest office locations.
Below: Office building at 5th and Washington Streets.