The Sho-Boat was located at the northwest corner of Schuylkill Ave. and Blair Ave., Reading. The brick hotel building dated from 1893 when erected by Augustus Resh who dubbed his property Somerset Park. An 1896 map shows a very large square structure north of the rear of the hotel which was Resh’s filtering water supply. Resh suffered from strokes and died suddenly at 56 in 1917. Hotel and grounds went to son Raymond A. Resh, who retained ownership until 1939.
Below: Sho-Boat, northwest corner of Schuylkill Ave. and Blair Ave., Reading.
The Herbert (Toby) Tobias family acquired the hotel in 1939. It was at this time when the it was named the Sho-Boat, as the side street was no longer Somerset; it had been renamed Blair Avenue. Tobias decided upon the name because of the hotel’s steamboat-like profile to drivers heading north over the Schuylkill Avenue Bridge.
During Toby’s proprietorship, this was an exceedingly popular place, in large measure for its superior seafood menu and rustic ambience. On Friday and Saturday evenings, 16mm feature films were shown, a popular attraction in pre-television days. And Toby had a functioning nickelodeon, and later a shuffle-board set-up. Herbert Tobias was a sportsman into fishing and hunting. Like the old West Reading Hotel, there were mounted animal heads all around the barroom and dining area.
Lloyd H. Riegel of Lehigh Street, his wife, Anna M., brother-in-law Charles E. O’Neill and his wife, Jean, bought the Sho-Boat for $40,000 from Herbert K. Tobias on Dec. 27, 1963. As the Sho-Boat’s regular customers grew older, new customers became difficult to attract to Schuylkill Avenue, which had grown a reputation as a rough place to do business or even walk around.
The Sho-Boat was closed Sept. 20, 1998, and was sold June 28, 2000, to Ricardo A. Pena for $175,000. Pena’s brief ownership was fraught with scandal. Soon after taking ownership of the Sho-Boat, Ricardo Pena began working on the property without a city permit. As city officials struggled to enforce regulations, two employees filed ethics complaints and union grievances after Jesus Pena allegedly harassed and intimidated them over zoning and permit issues concerning his brother’s restaurant. The restaurant was soon renamed El Caribe by Maria C. Depaz-Lopez, a Muhlenberg Township woman who leased the building to run the business. It didn’t last long and was then briefly operated as a small store before closing its doors for good. This was the beginning of the end for the landmark. Six years later, passers-by were astonished to see all the mounted animal heads on the sidewalk for sale. Ricardo Pena sold the building in 2003 to Aramark Uniform Services, 424 Blair Ave. for $200,000. Demolition occurred in 2007.