100 block Penn Ave: Before the Bypass

We all have driven on route 422…the stretch of highway that runs past Reading and along the Schuylkill River down to Pottstown. This stretch of road did not always exist. In fact it wasn’t until the 1960s that US 422 in the Reading area was rerouted from surface streets through downtown Reading onto bypasses built south of the city. The former routing of US 422 through the city became US 422 Business. Prior to this, there was a section of buildings and businesses along the first block of Penn Ave right before the Penn Street Bridge. They were ultimately taken and torn down, to accommodate the building of the clover leaf ramp system for the new 422. Below are a few images of the area before the highway was built.

 

View from the road; looking toward West Reading, before the bypass 1950s
An aerial shot from 1929
Before – 1950s
Today

 

Ritz Theatre

The Ritz Theatre was located at 819 Penn Street, across from the Kissinger-Farmer’s Market. It was originally called the Crescent Theatre when it opened:

The Crescent Theatre was opened in 1910. In 1913 it was renamed Princess Theatre. It was re-named Arcadia Theatre in 1928, taking the name of the Arcadia Theatre which had burnt down that year. Closed for several years in the 1930’s, it was reopened as the Ritz Theatre in 1941. By 1950, it was operated by the Fabian Theaters chain. It was demolished in the 1950’s. –Cinema Treasures

A 1928 Reading Eagle article:

The Ritz Theatre was torn down in 1950s to make room for a parking lot.

RACC & Northmont School

From RACC’s founding in 1971 until 1978, it’s home was the old Northmont School building on Bruckman Avenue in Northmont. According to this Reading Eagle article, Northmont was a 56 acre plot of land bought for $26,000 in 1910 by a man named David B. Hoffner. It was wedged between North 5th Street and Kutztown Road, where the city meets Muhlenberg Township.  Anticipating northward expansion of the city, Hoffer began building duplex homes in a development he would call Northmont. The school was built shortly after and used as an elementary school.

Northmont School Reading
Picture Courtesy of Reading Eagle

In the 1940s and 50s Northmont was a thriving suburbia. By the early 70s the population of youngsters dwindled and the Northmont elementary school was closed.  1971 is when RACC was founded, acquired the building and held their first classes there. According to their website,

Reading Area Community College was founded on October 1, 1971, and sponsored for 20 years by the Reading School District. Classes were held for the first time on October 13, 1971, with an enrollment of 265 students. The college operated from several buildings throughout Reading during its early years until it acquired the Holiday Inn (the current Berks Hall building) in 1978.

Some other buildings RACC utilized during the 1970s were the Riverside School Building, Schuylkill School Building and the Millmont School Building.

At some point the Northmont School building was converted into apartments, which is still it’s function today.

On this Day Sep. 16th, 1960: JFK Visits Berks

Sep. 16th, 1960: JFK Visits Berks
JFK Drives past Conrad Weiser High School

Sep. 16th, 1960: JFK Visits Berks

Sep. 16th, 1960: JFK Visits Berks

Sep. 16th, 1960: JFK Visits Berks

Sep. 16th, 1960: JFK Visits Berks

Sep. 16th, 1960: JFK Visits Berks

Sep. 16th, 1960: JFK Visits Berks

Sep. 16th, 1960: JFK Visits Berks
After JFK’s speech, some teenage girls grabbed at him and accidentally tore his shirt. He stopped at Mervine’s Gas Station on 222 in Shillington to change his shirt. Photo Courtesy of Claude Mervine

Old Steel Bridge Penn Street

Before the current Penn Street bridge (also known as the Penn Street Viaduct) was constructed in 1913, a steel bridge led traffic back and forth from West Reading to Reading. It was constructed in 1885, and spanned a total of 1128ft. It was designed for ordinary traffic of the late 1800s, which rendered it outdated by the increased availability of the automobile in the 1900s. The new Penn Street bridge was constructed right alongside the old one. Just recently after 104 years, the current Penn Street Bridge has started going through long-needed rehabilitation. You may have noticed the construction if you have tried to get in or out of the city using the bridge recently. This project is expected to last approximately 3 years.

Old Steel Bridge Penn Street
Source

 

Old Steel Bridge Penn Street
Source