On the southeast corner of 5th and Penn in Reading used to sit the Mansion House Hotel. Its foundation dated back to the late 1700s – the site of the first hotel ever constructed in the city. The Mansion House was once Reading’s largest and most well-known hotel. Many prominent leaders patronized the establishment, including Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. The majority of the original part of the building was constructed in 1840, but was added onto heavily over the years. The public enjoyed the restaurant within the hotel where public events were held, a barbershop, and a billiard room where pool competitions were played. The very first U.S. Telegraph Co. office opened operations in the reading room of the Mansion House in 1866. It was a center of day to day life for the citizens of Reading and Berks County, as the vast majority of its mentions in the Reading Times archives are of other businesses using it as a reference point. One of the most famous proprietors of the hotel, William L. DeBorbon, ran and then owned the hotel in the mid-1800s during its heyday.
On April 11th, 1914 former president Theodore Roosevelt addressed a crowd of 10,000 from the balcony facing Penn Street to promote his bid for the presidency. Roosevelt had already served two terms (1901-1908) making this a shot at a third term as President of the United States. Roosevelt, running as candidate of a third “Progressive” or “Bull-Moose” party, lost that election to Woodrow Wilson. The two-term limit was only adopted as the twenty-second amendment to the constitution in 1951, making this feat impossible since.
In 1914 it was announced that the hotel would be renovated and added onto to create a 10-story structure. Some renovations were completed but the big addition never came to fruition.
On July 31st, 1914 a young Assistant Secretary of the Navy named Franklin D. Roosevelt dined at the Mansion House while he was in Reading to speak at the unveiling of the U.S.S. Maine anchor that still sits in City Park.
The building was abandoned and in a state of disrepair by the mid-1930s. Hotels like Mansion House were eclipsed during this era by the likes of the Abraham Lincoln Hotel, which opened in 1930. The Pennsylvania Trust Company purchased the structure around 1930, went defunct by 1935 and began liquidating its assets. While local courts stalled the process briefly, ultimately it was determined to be worth more as a vacant lot, sold for $150k and razed in 1937.
The six-story ornate Mansion House building was replaced by a two-story bland commercial structure. It housed a variety of tenants including Jeannette, which was a woman’s clothier. This building was heavily damaged by a fire in 1977, but was rebuilt similarly.
Today the structure is largely the same in shape and footprint, but the facade is brick instead of the stone originally used in 1937. In my opinion this corner of the square could use another shot at redevelopment, as the current structure leaves much to be desired compared to its predecessor.