Although Rajah Temple had its beginning in 1892, the year 1893 brought the actual setting up of the Mystic Shrine organization in Reading and the beginning of work in the Order. The minutes of the first Recorder, Philip Bissinger, shows that the first meeting of Shriners here to plan establishment of a new Temple, Yemem it was to have been called, was on January 4, 1892.
The first organization was that of Lu Lu Club of Reading, so named because most of the members, if not all, were members of Lu Lu Temple, Philadelphia. It was formed on January 4, 1892 with Henry P. Keiser, later city solicitor of Reading, as chairman.
The yearly membership fee was one dollar. George E. Haak was elected “Sheik”; Charles W. Edwards, first mufti; George F. Hageman, second mufti; Philip Bissinger, secretary and treasurer, and O. M. Weand, Frederick P. Heller, F. T. Berhnart, Henry P. Keiser and Dr. H. L. Johnson, executive committee.
On August 24, Lu Lu Club of Reading dissolved and all its records and members became part of the proposed new Rajah Temple. This followed favorable action by the Imperial Council at its meeting in Omaha Nebraska on August 15th and 16th at which Noble Henry P. Keiser presented the case for Rajah Temple.
An agreement was entered into for the purchase of St. Matthew Lutheran Church property at Pearl and Franklin Streets as a home for the new Temple.
George E. Haak was elected Illustrious Potentate; Henry P. Keiser, Chief Rabban; William H. Kessler, Assistant Rabban; J. William Jost, High Priest and Prophet; James Lewis Rake, Oriental Guide; George P. Zieber, Treasurer and Philip Bissinger, Recorder.
On December 5th, Imperial Potentate Melish visited the new Temple and on December 14th the first regular meeting of Rajah Temple was held. A large delegation from Lu Lu Temple was present along with many guests from Syria Temple in Pittsburgh, Mecca Temple, and Los Angeles Temple.
The second home of Rajah Temple was purchased in 1917. It was the former Academy of Music, one of Reading’s largest theaters, on North Sixth Street, site of the present Santander Performing Arts Center.
The Academy of Music was initially built in the 1800s as a market with a Masonic Temple on its upper floors. It was built on a potter’s field of a cemetery. Although the cemetery interred were supposed to be reinterred at another location, in the early 1800s there were still 30 uncovered during the building during 1873. It was converted to a theatre in 1886 and became the Academy of Music.
On May 21, 1921, after a big social affair the night before in the third floor ballroom, the Temple was swept by fire. The front portion as well as the theater were burned.
In 18 months, a new Temple and theater were built on the same site. The Temple experienced two more fires, both in 1935. These fires were not as extensive and the Temple recovered rapidly from them.
In 1954, Rajah Temple held a special program to celebrate the burning of the mortgage. At long last, the Rajah Temple had redeemed itself and owned its present quarters.
In 1967, at the annual business meeting, Temple officials approved the purchase of Willow Glen Park, Sinking Spring. The park was 21 acres and located in Sinking Spring, Spring, and South Heidelberg Townships. Rajah had been holding it’s annual picnics at the park since 1963.
In 1997, Rajah Temple purchased 50 acres in Ontelaunee and Maidencreek Townships for the purpose of constructing a new Temple. One building that was already present on the site has been used as the Rajah Office. Thereafter, a picnic pavilion, a storage building and a multi-purpose building were completed. The multi-purpose building is used by the clubs and units for meetings and informal activities. A Banquet Hall was completed in 2006 and is used for the more formal activities.
In 2000, the Berks County Convention Center Authority purchased and renovated the aging movie palace. The $7 million facelift established a permanent home for the performing arts in Reading and Berks County. At that time, the Sovereign Bank purchased “naming rights” and the Rajah’s name was changed to the Sovereign Performing Arts Center. It is now the home of the Reading Symphony Orchestra and the Reading Civic Opera Society and a wide variety of other events such as Sesame Street, Peter Pan, The Nutcracker, and many “smooth” jazz concerts. The naming rights have been purchased by the Santander Bank.
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