Revisiting Reading’s Architectural Past: Retail on Penn Street

For decades center-city shopping districts were at the core of America’s urban areas.  In Reading, “downtown” was the place to go to buy goods, have lunch, see a movie, or simply to “window” shop.  Here, in Berks County, by the 1950s strip malls had arrived in the suburbs, such as the “Shopping Centers” of Muhlenberg, Antietam and Shillington.  By the time the Berkshire Mall was opened in 1971 Reading’s retail district was greatly diminished.  40 years later, the “brick and mortar” shopping experience is challenged by the convenience of online shopping which is keeping people out of stores.

In earlier blogs of this series I focused on two of our firm’s retail projects  – Croll & Keck Men’s Store, and Harold Furniture Store.  In this blog we are featuring additional examples of the retail building and storefront designs of our firm’s founder, Frederick A. Muhlenberg.

Bloom Furniture operated for over 71 years before its closing in 1993.  As seen in this rendering of 1926, Mr. Muhlenberg redesigned the storefront at 355 Penn Street.  The building still stands today and the Penn Street side has operated as an employment recruitment center; the 4th Street side has remained empty.

Bloom Furniture Storefront

 

Pomeroy’s, a long-time fixture at the corner of 6th and Penn Streets, was a client of ours for many projects, including the Penn Street entrance redesign which was completed in 1949-50.   Pomeroy’s was demolished in 1995 to clear the way for a new office building, another project of Muhlenberg Greene, which is now occupied by Wells Fargo Bank.

Pomeroy Department Store Entrance Photograph & Rendering

Whitner’s Department Store was located in the 400 block of Penn Street until 1981 when it closed its doors.  The storefront shown below is circa 1930s.  The redesigned storefront was completed around 1941.  The buildings were ultimately torn down in the 1980s and the Santander Bank office building and courtyard occupy this site today.

Whitner's Exterior PhotoWhitner's Exterior Photo New Facade

In 1928 Mr. Muhlenberg designed a new store for Imber Brothers which was located at 727-731 Penn Street.  Imber’s was a clothing store for women and children that had been in operation in Reading for many years – a previous store was destroyed by fire in 1918. However, this building was home to Imber Bros. for just a few years.   According to newspaper accounts of 1931, bankruptcy had been filed by the family and the real estate sold. Further accounts list the store fixtures as being sold off as well.  It would be logical to assume this was a result of the economic depression of the day.  Today this site primarily houses the parking lot for the State Office building.

Imber Bros Store Compare Photo and Rendering

The following two stores are not familiar to me personally but are beautiful examples of Mr. Muhlenberg’s storefront designs.

The Kins Co., 632-634 Penn Street, was a women’s and misses’ apparel and millinery store that opened in September 1926.  At the time of its opening it was one of four stores in the chain – the others were located in Allentown, Newark and Easton.  Around 1938 The Kins Store relocated to 5th and Penn Streets where it operated until its closing sometime in 1965.

Kins Co Storefront Photo

The Harris Store (“the Fifth Avenue Store of Reading”), was located at 652 Penn Street.  The owner then   built a 3-story structure at 7th and Penn Streets which connected to a building at 660 Penn Street.   The new storefront at 660 Penn Street included an impressive 45 ft. deep lobby, complete with show windows the entire length.  The Harris Store opened at its new location in February 1925.

Harris Storefront Photo

Today, this north side of the 600 block of Penn Street is home to the Santander Office Building, formerly Penn Square Center, and the former Exide office building (projects of Muhlenberg Greene).

Crossing over the Penn Street Bridge to the West Reading side of the Schuylkill River, in 1929 Mr. Muhlenberg was commissioned to design a building containing stores and apartments.  This is a rendering of the former Stitzer & Waldman Store at 514-516 Penn Avenue, later known as Waldmans’ Electric Co.  This building still stands today in the still-vibrant shopping district of West Reading.

 

Stitzer & Waldman West Reading Rendering

Do you have any memories or photos to share of your downtown Reading (or West Reading) shopping experiences of the past?

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3 comments

  1. Heide Kalbach says:

    Fascinating tour of downtown Reading’s architecture in its hey day. Looking forward to more.

  2. Sue Dockey says:

    I really enjoyed looking a t all the old drawing from Fred Muhlenberg.
    What a wonderful keepsake from the past.

  3. Barbara says:

    I especially liked the photo of The Kins Co. entranceway, with the showcase in the middle. I don’t think I”ve ever seen a store entrance built like that before!

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