Embassy Theatre – 700 block Penn Street

Historical Society of Berks County

Built on the site of the Empire Theatre. The Embassy Theatre in Reading, PA opened April 4, 1931, with the movie “Stolen Heaven” starring Nancy Carroll. It was owned by Wilmer and Vincent Corp. The Embassy Theatre was designed by Philadelphia architect William H. Lee with his associates Armand de Cortieux Carroll and Charles E. Horn. Dazzling, semi-Atmospheric Art Deco style movie palaces designed by Lee’s firm had opened in late-1930 in Norristown, PA (the Norris Theatre) and in Philadelphia (the Erlen Theatre).

image from the Passing Scene

Like the Norris Theatre and the Erlen Theatre, the Embassy Theatre was a movie palace that combined an Atmospheric style with the new decor of Art Moderne and the more lavish materials of Art Deco. Yet this theatre was even more fanciful, and could have been named ‘The Embassy of the Future’. The futuristic design of the theatre appears inspired by Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) and the German Expressionist architecture underlying that movie.

The facade was glazed and polychrome Terra Cotta from Conkling-Armstrong of Philadelphia. The oval shaped aluminum ticket booth had carved glass and a marble base. The copper marquee had a glass ceiling. As if it were a rocket, an illuminated lantern topped the 80 feet tall, copper vertical tower! More than 2,000 feet of glass tubing was used for the neon, red neon for letters, and blue and green for the rest.

The lobby’s movie poster frames were set in a wall of black marble. The foyer had copper walls with aluminum horizontal molding and a ceiling of geometric design. Stairs from the foyer led up to the auditorium’s rear loges. A main lounge was on the lower level. Every last detail was Art Deco, including furniture, oval mirrors, drinking fountains, telephone booths, chandeliers and carpet.

The most amazing feature of the Embassy Theatre was in its 2,246 seat Atmospheric style auditorium, which used rolling metal gates instead of a stage curtain! Instead of the curtain, a metal grille with rolling gates was provided from two tons of carved wood, steel track, and steel draperies. Six grille gates with Art Deco style carvings slowly opened in series. The setting represented an aluminum gateway and arch on a terraced lawn. Silhouettes of tall tree tops faintly illuminated in the shadows of the night appeared in the distance.

image from the Passing Scene

In place of the usual stage, a green terrace rose from the auditorium floor with stone steps, such as might be used in ascending from a sunken garden to the heights of an upper lawn. On the stage level, shrubbery and ornamental garden benches furnished a screen at the sides.

image from the Passing Scene

The auditorium’s side walls near the stage had large columns to accentuate the screen as the focal point. The balcony, side walls and projection booth simulated an outside garden pavilion connected with arcades. Ornamental sea horses were at the balcony pavilions and front. The domed ceiling had a deep blue sky effect curving down behind the garden gates, and with the tall pillars and lights gave the impression of a still greater vista beyond. On the ceiling, stars twinkled, and there were moving clouds.

image from the Passing Scene

There was a section for the hard of hearing, with ear phones.

Source – CinemaTreasures.org

Click to Enlarge

The Embassy Theatre was damaged by fire on March 16th, 1970. It was was demolished on Nov. 10th, 1972 for the Penn Mall, which was never built.

Currently, the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel sits on the site of the former Embassy Theatre.

Hugo’s – 5th Street – Muhlenberg

Hugo’s was a dance club and bar, incorporated on August 17th, 1972. It was located in Muhlenberg, specifically Laureldale, at the location of the current Alebrije Mexican Restaurant in Plaza 222. Hugo’s was owned by Leonard Kochen, who also owned Grammy’s Restaurant in Reading. It was originally called Disco Hugo’s, but eventually dropped the “Disco” and was more commonly referred to as “Hugo’s”.

Hugo’s offered disco dance lessons in the 70s, but also had a lot of popular bands headlining on other nights throughout its tenure. Many may remember a few of the acts that played there; a couple notable ones being the Sharks and the Jordan Brothers. There was something to go do or see almost any night of the week.

Hugo’s closed in 1988.

In 1991 the club was revived briefly under new ownership but still went by the Hugo’s name.

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There were issues with the liquor license transfer and the club was forced to have only “all-age” shows with no alcohol. This must have been short lived because there is no other information on the club until 1996.

In 1996 Hugo’s would gain its liquor license, change its name to the Lions Den and reopen. This was the beginning of the end of the establishment.

Muhlenberg Township police have called in state troopers and county detectives to try to close down the Lions Den, a bar and dance club where there have been numerous fights and a police officer was hurt in a melee last week. – Nov 3, 1998 Reading Eagle

The club was starting to attract a less than savory crowd who caused trouble in the parking lot. Police were consistently called to break up altercations and eventually deemed the club a public nuisance. The owners of the club again changed the name to the Confetti Nightclub & Bar, assumedly in an attempt to move away from the reputation the Lion’s Den had gained. By the end, there had been two different shootings outside the club and it was finally shut down and the club’s contents were auctioned off in February of 2001.

Robert M. Flanagan, Muhlenberg Township police chief, stands outside the closed Confetti Night Club and Bar, where equipment and furniture were auctioned off Monday. – Eagle/Times: Richard J. Patrick

Today, Alebrije occupies the space, and has for a long time. If you remember anything being in here between Confetti Nightclub and Alebrije, please let me know in the comments.

The site of Hugo’s today.

4th of July Through the Decades

1957

West Reading’s Fourth of July celebration yesterday was a double event. Besides celebrating the holiday the citizens and various organizations in the borough joined in a program in observation of the borough’s 50th anniversary. A spectacular feature of the day was the parade which was held in the morning. Shown above is one of the marching groups as the parade moved along Penn Avenue. (Eagle Staff Photo)

1969

Four hundred and fifty-seven children participated in the Fourth of July program sponsored by the city recreation bureau at the City Park bandshell Thursday afternoon. The children, walking to City Park from their respective playgrounds, wore costumes of their own design and carried flags in the patriotic march.

Oakbrook housing, Baer Park and Barbey’s win the top three honors in competition involving number of participants and distance traveled. At the bandshell, appropriate songs were sung and Uncle Sam’s birthday cake was lit. In the left photo, David A. Salvi, dressed as America’s best known symbol, admires the simulated stars and stripes confection, while one playground group, in the right photo, offers an Independence Day songfest.

Below, members of the Brookline playground sport small replicas of Old Glory as they witness the proceedings. -Eagle Photo

1973

As usual, Lancaster Avenue and the New Holland Road intersection was turned into a lake during Tuesday afternoon’s series of thundershowers. Just as regular are these two youngsters who took advantage of the cool water to escape from the humid weather that preceded the deluge. – Eagle Photo

On this Day – June 19th 1972

See what was happening in the June 19th 1972 Reading Eagle-

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Hurricane Agnes hits the Florida coast, 14 people were killed. The hurricane would hit Berks County hard just three days later, wreaking havoc on the area.

This morning’s rain delayed until this afternoon the opening of Reading’s playgrounds, but it didn’t dampen things at Hillside Playground where these youngsters decided not to wait and improvised their box hockey equipment – sticks and a stone. Jeffery A. White, left foreground, 10, and Glenn A. Sell, right, 12, square off at the hockey box. Donald P. Boyer, squatting, 12, and Jeffery’s 12 year-old sister, Marcia, watch the contest while Todd D. Evangelista, left, 12, and Timothy L. Clawges, 14, find comfortable perches on the back of a park bench. – Eagle Photo

Schells in West Lawn, now the location of the Ranch House
In the theatre’s in June 1972

Bob Parmer in the Bad Habit AA/Fuel Altered Flat readies to go against Wild Willie Borsch in the Winged Express Saturday night at Maple Grove Dragway in the East vs. West Fuel Altered Challenge. Parmer set two Grove marks in this final run as the East was a 4-2 winner. Parmer, Wrightsville, had a 6.86/205.01 on this run.

Train Derailment – Wyomissing – 1977

Photos Courtesy of Jere Stamm

On Sunday morning, December 4th, 1977, 26 cars of a Conrail freight train derailed right near the intersection of Clayton and Penn Avenue in Wyomissing. The train was bound for Bethlehem from Harrisburg, and was carrying coal.

Ironically, another train derailment happened on the same stretch of track just two months ago in April of 2019. This one was carrying trash and took a few weeks to fully clean up.

Join the discussion on our forum about these derailments by clicking here