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Pagoda


The Pagoda, 98 Duryea Drive, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972

Photo: The Pagoda, 98 Duryea Drive, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

The Pagoda (98 Duryea Drive) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

Description

The early appearance of the Pagoda is essentially the same as it is today. Originally the Pagoda had wooden shingles and the bottom two floors had wooden walls. A copy of the Gates of Toriji and a smaller replica of the Pagoda were present on the site but have since been removed.

The structure itself is composed of 7 levels, including the basement. The bottom two levels have a portico, while the third level is encircled with a porch. The walls of the Pagoda range from 5 feet thick at the base to 2 feet thick on the upper levels. At the base of the Pagoda is an observation area and a stone base. Included in the stone base are 100 steps leading down to the wooded area below.

The two porticoed floors have walls of Indiana limestone that have replaced the original ones. The upper floors are composed of concrete walls and floors with woodwork of solid oak. There are five levels of Oriental roofs on the structure.

The Oriental roofs are covered with more than 60 tons of clay tiles from St. Mary's, Georgia. The roofs have upswung corners and the perimeter decreases 2 feet with each subsequent floor above. The roof appears to be corrugated with seams leading from the corners of the roof to the corner of the building. The top story roof is the same as the others except for a horizontal seam running the length of the peak.

The exterior walls are covered with smooth tile. A glaring inconsistency is the chimney rising from the 4th level to above the roof peak. This was not proper on the Japanese model but serves the purpose of heating this structure. The builder did not strictly adhere to the original model and used only those conventions of the original that added an Oriental flavor without sacrificing his plan. Much finery and detail is omitted as is evident in the case of there being no central gable as was proper in the Japanese model.

The gong which is in an enclosed observation area on the top level was cast in 1739 at Obama, Japan. The gong was placed in a Buddhist Temple at Shozenji until it was brought to America in 1908 specifically for the Pagoda. The building is also adorned with numerous lights and Oriental artifacts.

The Pagoda was part of a mountain resort that was extensively destroyed by fire in 1923. Only the Pagoda and two other buildings survived the fire. The Mt. Penn Railway, an early gravity railway, once ran up to the resort area but has since discontinued service. This led to some deterioration and lack of maintenance on the Pagoda.

An open stairwell gives access to the upper floors with the possibility of an elevator. The height of the Pagoda is about 80 feet with the height of the floors varying. The present appearance is little changed from the original. Limestone has been added to the bottom two floors. New clay tiles have replaced the wooden ones and portions of the lower floors have been replaced after a fire in 1958. The usual electrical and heating improvements have been altered to update and protect the structure. The area around the gong has been enclosed and is an observation area.

Improvements are being planned for the Pagoda. They include an Oriental garden and a 12 foot high clay wall around the Pagoda. The wall will have a tiled roof and a 15 foot self-circulating waterfall will be erected on the grounds. Other minor improvements are included in the Mt. Penn Reservation Area Plan by the city of Reading.

Significance

The Japanese Pagoda atop Mt. Penn, east of the city of Reading, was initiated in 1905 by a local politician, Mr. William Abott Witman, Sr. The building was designed to cover a scar that the quarrying of stone, which Mr. Witman had caused. The Pagoda was completed in 1908 and was intended to be a summer resort for Mr. Witman. It was constructed at a cost of $50,000. Due to the inaccessibility of the site and failure to obtain a liquor license, Mr. Witman sold the property to Jonathan Mould in 1910. Mr. Mould sold the property to the city of Reading in the following year for $1.

Instrumental in the building of the Pagoda were Charles E. Matz and his father James, who designed the Pagoda, and Mr. William Stout, who supervised the construction. The Pagoda is situated on the side of Mt. Penn over 880 feet above sea level.

The Pagoda, architecturally speaking, is not a pagoda but a Japanese Battle Castle. It was reproduced from the castle in Nagoya, Japan. The Castle was owned and built by the Shogun (dictator of Japan). It was built in 1610 as the home and fortress of the Shogun. The Pagoda in Reading is a reproduction of the main tower of the Japanese Battle Castle. The Battle Castle was composed of four towers. The main tower was used for functions of state by the Shogun, similar to the White House being used by the President. The original castle lasted over 300 years until it fell under the attacks of American planes in 1945 during the war. The original castle is in the process of being rebuilt.

This structure is significant because it represents a reproduction brought from another land at another time and situated in rural Pennsylvania. It is one of the few pieces of Oriental architecture in the state and is significant for its interesting variation of an Oriental model. It remains unique in that it is early twentieth century adaptation for use as a hotel. Also of importance is the authentic Japanese bell or gong that hangs at the top of the Pagoda.

References

Cassidy, Clement J. "Political Career of William A. Witman, Sr." Historical Review of Berks Co., Spring, 1958.

Reading Eagle, Aug. 10, 1906.

Reading Eagle, Magazine Section, Jul. 29, 1956.

Moore, Art - The Pagoda Story.

Heizmann, Louis J. -"The Pagoda," Historical Review of Berks Co., Spring, 1971.

  1. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Pagoda, nomination document, 1972, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Pagoda Map

Street Names
Duryea Drive

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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