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Berks County Courthouse

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1931–1932, Miles B. Dechant for William Dechant and Sons; Clarence W. Brazer. Court and N. 6th sts.

Church spires were the chief landmarks of downtown Reading until they were supplanted by this skyscraper for the new courthouse. For nearly a century, court was held in a Classical Revival building at nearby 5th and Penn streets by Thomas Ustick Walter. Its wood spire was surmounted by a figure of the Goddess of Liberty carved by John Rush, son of noted early-nineteenth-century carver Benjamin Rush. With the growth of county bureaucracy, the city commissioned a favorite son, Miles Dechant, to design a suitable replacement. He made the leap to contemporary design, creating a twenty-story, limestone-clad skyscraper atop a nine-story base. A pupil of Paul Cret at the University of Pennsylvania, Dechant had absorbed the modern classicism that became the hallmark of regional municipal design with multistory banks of windows grouped in vertical registers between pilasterlike bands of stone. By notching the corners of the tower, the architects gave it a sculptural richness that catches light and gives it visual interest, leading up to the monumental eagles that cap its four faces. Interior spaces retain their wealth of Art Deco ornament. Of note are the courtrooms with their American historical themes. The building was restored in 1991 by central Pennsylvania architect John M. Kostecky Jr., who also designed the vast Postmodern government office building that largely obliterates views of the courthouse tower from the east.

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas

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