When traveling to Reading, Pa, one of the first things you will notice from the highway is a red pagoda overlooking the city. During the night you can see its glowing red light as sits on the hillside. A lot of visitors often question why the Eastern Asian inspired pagoda exists in central Pennslyvania. Today we will answer that question as we look into the story of Reading Pagoda.
Traveling back to 1908, the pagoda was completed at the mere price of $50,000 and was commissioned by William A. Witman, Sr. If the same structure was built today, it would cost over 1.4 million! The pagoda was built on 10 acres of land and stands seven stories tall, 28 feet wide, and 50 feet long! The pagoda sits 620 feet above the city of Reading, and 866 feet above sea level. Although the pagoda is similar to a pagoda you would find in East Asia, it is the only pagoda in the world to have a fireplace and chimney!
On the 7th floor, you will find a bell that was cast in Japan in 1739 that was originally installed in a Buddhist temple. The bell was bought by Witman at the begging of the pagoda’s construction in1906. From Japan, it was shipped to arrive in America by the Suez Canal to New York Harbor. It finally arrived in Reading by rail on May 5th, 1907.
Back in the 1900s, the pagoda was created to be a hotel/restaurant of a luxury resort. However, the plans to build a resort were abandoned. Witman never got the chance to open the pagoda after the bank foreclosure and being denied a liquor license. On April 21, 1911 structure on was donated to the City of Reading.
There were calls to demolish the building during WWII, but the structure was restored in 1949. In the 1960s, neon lighting was added to the outlining of its roofs which gives the pagoda its recognizable glow. In the 1970s the Japanese garden was brought back to life and Japanese cherry trees were planted around the building.
Today the Pagoda is apart of the Mount Penn Reserve and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It continues to serve as an icon for the City of Reading and is beloved by all of its citizens. If you get a chance to visit try out the cafe, check out the gift shop and take in the beautiful scenic views.