News from West Reading PA

From Charlie Adams (Charles J. Adams III, who for 28 years, until his retirement in 2013, hosted the popular morning radio show “Charlie & Company” on WEEU in Reading), photos from the Murals Corridor (mostly Cherry St.) in West Reading, passed on to me on Facebook by Eleanor (Severin) Houck (my first cousin, daughter of Bertha Zwicky Severin). Two from the set:

(#1) “Wake Up”, 410 Cherry St.

(#2) “Clique”, 416 Cherry St.

Orientation. West Reading, a small town (ca. 4,200 in population in the 2010 census), just west of the city of Reading (across the Schuylkill River), now boasts a thriving art community, plus restaurants and interesting small businesses (I left the area in 1961, so the place is utterly changed from the town I knew).  A map of the town, on which you can find Cherry St. (you will probably want to embiggen the map):

(#3) In West Reading, US Business Route 422 is Penn Ave., which is Penn St. in Reading itself

Penn Ave. and Buttonwood St. both go over bridges across the Schuylkill just to the right (east) of this map. Penn Ave. goes off to the left (west) to Wyomissing, then Wyomissing Hills, West Wyomissing, and West Lawn (where I mostly grew up). Reading Blvd. on this map is the main residential street of Wyomissing; I lived on it during the summer of 1961. At the bottom of this map, immediately to the south of Reading Hospital (which is actually in West Reading) is the Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery, with a nice small park — all of this the source of much pleasure when I was growing up.

Northwest on this map was the site of the VF (Vanity Fair) Outlet Village, one of the largest outlet malls in the country — located in the buildings of the former Berkshire Knitting Mills, which operated from 1908 to 1975 (Berkshire was one piece of the Wyomissing Industries, which included the Textile Machine Works, where my grandfather spent most of his working life). The VF Outlet closed in 2020.

Now, from the West Reading borough web site:

Over the next few years, West Reading will be host to substantial redevelopment. Mostly centered on the former Vanity Fair Outlet complex that straddles the Borough’s western border with Wyomissing, the historic knitting mill site will feature new corporate headquarter space interspersed with additional commercial opportunities for retail and restaurants.

Even deeper history. Which will eventually end up with some reminiscences of my life in the 1950s. It’s about the West Reading Hotel. From the Go Reading Berks web site (leaving the punctuation and other aspects of the text untouched):

(#4) The hotel in the 1950s

Until 1964 the most familiar structure in West Reading was the West Reading Hotel on the north side of the Penn Ave. between 5th and 6th.

The three-story structure had been a meeting place for businessmen, farmers, traders and the scene of social gatherings and fox hunts.

The West Reading structure was first operated by John Knorr. He constructed a two-story building in 1819 on what had been part of 300 acres originally owned by John and William Penn. Knorr purchased 2 1/2 acres to construct a “two-story tavern.” [The tavern and the hotel that succeeded it eventually served as a way station on the post road west from Reading to Harrisburgh and points west, along what became U.S. Route 422.]

The tavern was sold to Adam Krick about 1850 following Knorr’s death and the name changed to “Krick’s Hotel.” From the Krick ownership it passed into the hands of George Smith in 1867 and then in 1894 to Daniel A. Mosser. Mosser added a third story and since his time it was known as the West Reading Hotel.

Ownership later passed to Frank P. Lauer who leased to several tenants, in 1927 it was obtained by the Delta Realty Co. and modernized. On August 10, 1940 Grant J. Kutz took over as owner.

On December 4, 1963 the West Reading Shopping Center, Inc., a development firm, was issued a building permit to construct a colonial-style complex at the northeast corner of 6th and Penn avenues in West Reading. The complex included a rathskellar-restaurant, a state retail liquor facility, a self-service laundry and a rug firm.

Its completion spelled the end by demolition of the historic West Reading Hotel.

On July 11, 1964 the oldest building in West Reading – the West Reading Hotel – closed its doors ending its 145-year history at 527 Penn Ave. in the borough…

Upon completion of the shopping center, Grant Kutz moved his business to the rathskellar-restaurant. The restaurant is now home to Chef Alan’s American Bistro.

Back in the 1950s, the restaurant in the hotel was a place for special meals — and often the site for my birthday dinner, an event just for my dad and me: it relieved my mother from the burden of cooking, and, more important, it allowed my dad and me to have a lamb dinner, something we both loved, but was utterly disgusting to my mother (the smell of cooked lamb nauseated her).

I’ve looked at the Google street-view images of the location, and of course it’s all completely unrecognizable, very much shopping mall on the north side of the street, though there’s a row of quirky, interesting-looking shops in the buildings on the south side. Meanwhile, the old Wyomissing Industries sites went through one complete make-over and are now about to get another. However, the museum and its park are still recognizable, and Reading Blvd. in Wyomissing still looks a lot like the way it did when I lived there in 1961, though with changes in the details; here’s a recent photo:

(#5) Aerial view of leafy Reading Blvd., with some of its big houses

And, as I noted in a section of my 6/15/18 posting “Background foods and food dscoveries”, Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette, an Italian restaurant in West Reading, was still there in 2018.

But to get back to the beginning of this posting, Charlie Adams (who took those Mural Walk photos) is still about 6 years younger than me. In my last years in the area, he was just a kid from the east side of Reading who, inspired by the Beatles, hoped to make it big in a rock band. (No, we’ve never met; I just worked this out from his life story as revealed in a 2013 interview in the Reading Eagle newspaper. The paper I worked for my last years in the area.)

One Response to “News from West Reading PA”

  1. Eleanor Houck Says:

    Thanks for the history review. West Reading is a fun destination! It seems to be surviving the pandemic. Best Wishes as always!

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