Revisiting Reading’s Architectural Past: Penn Square Center

Located on the northeast corner of Penn and Sixth Streets, Penn Square Center was the first of several new office buildings to be built in center city Reading between 1977 and 1987.

For nearly ten years downtown development was at a standstill.  With the exception of a few buildings, including  Pomeroy’s Department StoreHarold’s Furniture, and the Astor Theatre, the 600 and 700 blocks of Penn Street was a two-block corridor consisting of empty lots, most of which were used as surface parking lots.  The majority of the buildings that stood on these lots had been demolished in the late 1960s to make way for a downtown mall which never materialized.

This year marks 40 years since Muhlenberg Greene Architects, Ltd., and 8 other Reading area firms, formed a partnership in order to develop, design and build a 10-story office/commercial building which became known as Penn Square Center.   The other firms in the partnership were also involved in the construction industry as builders or engineers and the reason for forming this alliance wasn’t only to get redevelopment started, but to also generate business for the members of the partnership.

When completed in 1978, Penn Square Center included a two story (24,000 sq.ft. each) open, retail concourse at ground level which also serves as the entrance/lobby area for the eight office floors above.   The office floors (12,000 sq.ft. each) were designed  around a central service core surrounded by readily divisible office space on the perimeter.

Over the years Penn Square Center has been owned, and renamed, by a variety of banking institutions.  The first, Meridian Bancorp, purchased the building from the original Partnership.  CoreStates Financial Corp. then became the owner when they purchased Meridian Bancorp and they in turn sold the building in 1996 to Main Street Bancorp, the parent company of Berks County Bank.   Sovereign Bancorp then purchased Main Street Bancorp.  Finally, in 2009, Banco Santander SA became the current financial institution to own the building after their purchase of Sovereign Bancorp.

In subsequent blogs I will feature the other downtown buildings Muhlenberg Greene Architects proudly designed and helped preserve during the 1980s.

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