Pennsylvania City Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Pagoda

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A pagoda has looked over the city of Reading since 1908.

Credit: Friends of Reading Pagoda

It may be old and quirky, but that's exactly why a mountaintop pagoda is so beloved in the city of Reading, Pa.

Earlier this month, residents celebrated the centenary of the 72-foot-high pagoda atop Mount Penn. Their city, which has owned the structure since 1911, has committed to a $15 million rehabilitation effort, which is under way.

The pagoda was the brainchild of Reading resident William A. Witman, who built the structure as a hotel but never secured a liquor license necessary for the venture's success. The pagoda evaded demolition amid anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II. Although more than 30,000 people visit the lookout every year, the pagoda has never housed a thriving business.

The last time Reading updated its icon was in 1992, when it spent $3 million to restore elements of the pagoda and build a replica of its bronze ornamental spire. During phase I of the new project, workers will repair the roof, fences, and lion medallions; paint inside and outside; and shore up a retaining wall. In addition, LED lighting will replace the neon that has been illuminating the pagoda since 1960.

"The building is structurally in very good shape," says Michael Kautter, principal at nearby Kautter & Kelley Architects, which is overseeing the project. "While this stuff is minor, it's desperately needed—there's mold, there's peeling paint. If it's not done, you're looking at structural damage, which this building can't afford."

Kautter's firm has proposed an $11 million final phase, which would install public botanical gardens around the pagoda and potentially draw a developer to build a reception site nearby.

The pagoda is only used as a gift shop and café today, but many locals want to see a new use for Reading's icon, says Donna Reed, former city councilwoman and a volunteer for the Pagoda Centennial Celebration. "We're really sort of reinventing the wheel with it," Reed says. "It's a very cool facility."


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