Iconic Reading: The Pagoda, Yesterday & Today

One of Reading’s most iconic landmarks, the Pagoda can be seen for miles beyond the city limits, regardless of season, a mountaintop sentinel of sorts, keeping watch over the city. It’s even been featured in at least one major motion picture! However, despite its prominence, many people are unfamiliar with its history, or are unaware of the myriad of activities and events that are currently offered there. Whether you’ve never seen it up close, or you’ve visited plenty of times, there’s lots to do at the top of the city!

Originally intending for it to serve as a luxury resort atop Mt. Penn, and more importantly, cover up the damage his quarrying operation had done to the mountainside, William Witman, Sr. commissioned the Pagoda in 1906 for $50,000. The Pagoda was designed in the fashion of a battle castle hearkening back to the Shogun Dynasty in Japan, complete with an antique bell, cast in Obata, Japan, in 1739. Construction was completed in 1908; however, because of an unfortunate series of events involving bank foreclosure and Mr. Witman being denied a liquor license, he never actually opened it.

In 1910, the Pagoda and its 10 acres of surrounding land were deeded to Jonathon Mould, a local business owner, and his wife, Julia, who proceeded to sell the property to the City of Reading for the grand sum of $1. Since then, it has undergone repairs and restoration twice, once in the late 60s, due to fire and weather damage, and again for its hundredth anniversary in 2008-2009.

Currently, the Pagoda is open from 12-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays. The Pagoda Café on the first floor offers free WiFi, along with snacks, hot & cold drinks, locally brewed sodas, Berks Hot Dogs, and other treats. The second floor offers a 20’x30′ room that can accommodate up to 50 people, which is available to rent for meetings, small weddings, or parties. The top floor, of course, features the observation deck, and the famed Japanese bell.

On the first Saturday of every month, the Pagoda Writers meet in the café from 1-3pm, and just last week, the city held Groundhog Day at the Pagoda. Twice a year, in June and August, the Blue Mountain chapter of the Sports Car Clubs of America hosts the Pagoda and Duryea Hillclimb Races. There’s also plenty of volunteer opportunities, if you’re looking to give a little something back!

For a full schedule of upcoming activities and information on rental rates, tours, and volunteer opportunities, visit the Pagoda website at www.readingpagoda.com. All images (except antique bell) property of photographer Justin Jermacans, who has an entire series of gorgeous Pagoda pictures worth checking out.

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