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.

Woolworth’s – Penn Street / Berkshire Mall

Image & caption from “Berks Countians; The Wonderful Way We Live”
When this photo of the interior of Woolworth’s 5¢ and 10¢ store – 530-534 Penn, around 1911 – this was a “5-and-dime” emporium in the true sense. Everything in the place was priced at a nickel or dime. A sign visible near the rear of the aisle clearly states that “Nothing in this store over 10 cts.” Photo by John. B. Woods.

Woolworth’s 6th and Penn Reading store was opened on September 20th, 1884, under the name, “Woolworth & Knox”. It was just three doors across 6th street from the successful Pomeroy’s department store.

Woolworth’s moved to the Berkshire Mall when it opened in 1970, as did many of the successful Penn Street department stores. Woolworth’s was again next to Pomeroy’s (first Lit Brothers, but only 1970-1975) near the center of the mall. It could be accessed from the outside of the mall, and was also a restaurant called “Harvest House”.

Woolworth’s occupied store space #27, outlined in yellow.

Woolworths chain started declining in the 80s due to over-expansion, and it is believed the Mall location closed for good in the mid-late 90s. The inner-mall part was subdivided into a few more store spaces. The back half that was accessible from the outside was divided off.

Above is the outside entrance to what was the Woolworth’s at the Berkshire Mall as it is today, next to the defunct BonTon. As long as I can remember this space has been unoccupied. If you remember it being anything since Woolworth’s closing, please post in the comments.

Earl Building – 523/525 Penn St

Earl Building in Reading, Pa., 1890, 2002251_2_076, Box 1, Folder 2, Warren-Ehret Company photograph albums (Accession 2002.251), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807

The M. J. Earl Building pictured around the turn of the 20th century at 523/525 Penn Street in Reading. It appears there were a few offices inside. One was home to an office of Prudential Insurance, ran by J.S. DeHart. It appears there was also a Cigar manufacturer and a Fur Hat store. The rest was a part of the M.J. Earl company. According to their website, the M.J. Earl INC,

“Founded in 1842, MJ Earl Inc. was in the paper business when toilets were outhouses and printers were presses.
First situated in downtown Reading, Pennsylvania, MJ Earl has since relocated to the Greater Reading region, and serves a multitude of businesses from Harrisburg to the Delaware Valley.” –
http://www.mjearl.com/

Apparently they are still a local company, now residing on Pottsville Pike.

The words on the facia of the building boasted;

RETAIL, MANUFACTURER, JOBBER
BAGS, ENVELOPES, ROPE
PAPER, WALL PAPER, PAPER

The Earl building in 2019

Is it me or can you still see the faint outline of the word “EARL” on the facia?

Classical Record Shop of Reading – 1960

Image & caption below from “Berks Countians; The Wonderful Way We Live”

The Classical Record Shop of Reading has in addition to its large and diversified stock of high fidelity and stereophonic records, the outstanding Pilot stereophonic consoles and components. Mr. William Breitegam, manager, is seen showing a groupo of new recordings to Mrs. Carl L. N. Erdman. These fine selections may be obtained by calling Franklin 6-0785 or stopping in at the Classical Record Shop, 538 Court Street.

538 Court Street, today

The Park Theatre – 1016 Penn St

The Park Theater opened November 11, 1926, and it was closed by a fire on May 19, 1978. The theater was demolished the following year.

James S. Maurer operated the theater as a X-rated movie and live burlesque house, and in 1964 he was arrested along with two strippers in a raid by the Reading police.  In the late 1950s and 1960s, the raids were fairly common.  Maurer eventually bought the theater building, circa 1975.  The building may have been leased to a New Jersey company in 1976, but Maurer was still involved in the management and operation of the theater.  Burlesque shows returned, and he was arrested in another raid in January 1977. On May 3, 1978, the city declared the Park Theater and the adjoining Daniel Boone Hotel “unfit for human habitation”.  Maurer appealed the ruling and both businesses stayed open, but shortly after, the fire destroyed everything.

1936

One of the featured strippers, “Jada” was connected to Jack Ruby and the Carousel Club in Dallas:

According to his 1993 Obituary,

James S. Maurer, died June 28, 1993, age 69.

President of James S. Maurer Investments, Inc.

Owned the Park Theater, the Park Luncheonette, the Frontier Bar, the Daniel Boone Hotel and the Park Bowling Alley.

In May, 1978, a fire destroyed the theater and damaged the hotel.  Two months later, a fire destroyed the hotel and taproom.

In January, 1979, charges of arson against Maurer were dropped following a hearing before a district justice.  He had been charged in December, 1978, with starting the blaze.

He was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for mayor in 1967.

He appeared several times before a federal grand jury in Philadelphia, which probed kickbacks to officials in Reading and Berks County.

Huge thanks to David Procter for putting together all of this information!