Abandoned meeting hall in PA

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania
Date added: May 11, 2023 Categories:
Front elevation (1999)

Red Men Hall was designed by Muhlenberg Bros. Architects, of Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1909, for the fraternal organization, the 'Improved Order of the Red Men'. The Red Men occupied the building from 1910 - 1938, and in 1949 sold the property to the Grand Army of the Republic.

Red Men Hall was dedicated in 1910, and served as the main meeting hall for several local tribes of the "Improved Order of Red Men", until the late 1930's. The Improved Order of Red Men was a fraternal society founded in Baltimore in the 1830s with interests in patriotism, American history and temperance. It was a descendant of the Society of Red Men and other organizations of post-revolutionary America which employed patriotic and benevolent Native American imagery as part of their identity and connection to history.

By 1920, there were Tribes of the Red Men located in 46 states. In 1909 there were 8 Reading tribes in existence, whom all met at Red Men Hall. The tribes and their charter dates are as follows:
Tribe Name and No. Charter Date
JUNIATA No. 74 Instituted 22nd August 1867
OPEKASSET No. 122 Instituted 27th Plant Moon, GSD 379 (27th April 1870)
OGALALA No. 186 Instituted 22nd Cold Moon, GSD 396
WYANET No. 301 Instituted 28th Snow Moon, GSD 400 (28th February 1891)
MANANGY No. 316 Instituted 25th Buck Moon, GSD 412 (July 1903)
UNAMIS No. 330 Instituted 13th Hunting Moon, GSD 401
NEVERSINK No. 351 Instituted 20 September 1894
METACOMET No. 416 Instituted 28th Cold Moon, GSD 411

The year of a tribe's institution was given in GSD years, which stands for "Great Sun of Discovery", and begins with year one as our calendar year 1492. The original cornerstone for Red Men Hall displayed the letters "GSD".

The women's affiliated group to the Red Men, the "Degree of Pocahontas", also met at Red Men Hall. There were 3 active Degree of Pocahontas groups in 1910, the Indianola Council No. 70, Narragansett Council No. 67, and Opitsah Council No. 117. In December of 1910, a ninth Red Men Tribe was instituted, Cheyenne No. 530. In addition to the Reading Tribes, there were 7 additional Tribes located throughout Berks County.

A photograph of the building from the early 1900s, depicts the "Red Men's Cigar Store" located in the ground floor right side of the building and was operated by the Red Men. Reading was one of the nation's leading cigar producers in the late 1890s, with 16 cigar manufacturers in 1898. One of the cigar factories, the Ganter Factory, was located at 911-913 Washington Street, within blocks of Red Men Hall.

One of the larger tribes, the Manangy Tribe No. 316, started with 36 charter members in 1903 and had 246 members in 1910. Charles S Wegman became a member of the Manangy No.316, in 1906, where he also served as Treasurer for his tribe. He was admitted to the "Great Council of Pennsylvania, Improved Order of the Red Men" in 1910, and appointed to the "Red Men's Great Council of the United States" in 1925. Wegman was a member of many other associations and was once coined "the greatest fraternal man of his generation".

Through Charles Wegman's association with the Historical Society of Berks County, he became involved and enthused with a local movement to purchase the Conrad Weiser Farm. Conrad Weiser was a great peace negotiator between the Government of Pennsylvania and the Iroquois Nation, and was a close friend of Chief Shekilammy. Through Charles Wegman's influence, the Red Men developed a great interest and enthusiasm for the 'Conrad Weiser Memorial Park' project, and became actively involved in campaigning for funding for the acquisition of the Weiser Farm. "All the tribes of Red Men and the Council of the Degree of Pocahontas of Berks County responded liberally, each subscribing for $50.00 or $100.00." Wegman also solicited the Red Men's Great Council of Pennsylvania for contributions, and with their second contribution of $ 100.00, the total funds collected by the Red Men came to $1100.00.

In recognition for their contribution, a plot of the Conrad Weiser Park was assigned to the Red Men, which they named 'Shekilammy Square'. They felt that their plot should be marked in an aboriginal manner, and chose a large boulder as a marker. The 'Boulder' was mounted and dedicated in 1927. The statue that was mounted on top of the Boulder was unveiled on 14 June 1930, and is a representation of Chief Shekilammy proclaiming peace. The plaque mounted on the Boulder reads: "Shekilammy Boulder, erected by Improved Order of Red Men / Degree of Pocahontas, of Berks County, Penna, 1927".

The Red Men tribes flourished throughout the early 1900s, but by the late 1930s, interest had waned. Only 4 Tribes were in existence in 1937, and in 1938, the remaining Tribes - Manangy No. 316, Juniata No. 74, Wyanett No. 301- and the Degree of Pocahontas Councils, Indianola No. 70, and Narragansett No. 67 - had moved their meetings to various other locations throughout the city. By 1949, the 831-833 Walnut Street Property was purchased and occupied by the Grand Army of the Republic. The GSD cornerstone was then replaced with the present cornerstone and inscription, "G.A.R. 1949".

The architects for the building, Muhlenberg Bros. Architects, were founded in 1898 and were an active and prominent architectural firm in the area through the mid-1900s. Much of the firm's work has been demolished, including the recent demolition of the Pomeroy's building at 6th and Penn Streets in Reading. The firm also designed the First Reformed Church in 1908, which remains intact at Washington and Reed Streets, a few blocks from Red Men Hall. The original linen drawings of Red Men Hall are on record at the Historical Society of Berks County, and include plans, elevations, sections, and details for the construction of the building. Muhlenberg Bros. Architects contracted local artisan, Henry Chapman Mercer to design the mosaic tiles for the project. As requested by the Architect, the tiles were to be "an Indian Head mosaic or anything appropriate along that line". Mercer suggested design #325 'Indian Primitive Tobacco Smoking', and #280 'Indian Shooting with the Bow and Arrow', which remain intact on the front facade of the building.

The elaborate brickwork of the front elevation, with the large brick corbelled arches, mosaic tiles, and limestone banding, is a unique display of Renaissance architecture in this area. Red Men Hall remains as an example of Craftsman Style and Italian Renaissance architecture, and an example of the work of local architects, Muhlenberg Bros., Architects. It also stands in representation of the fraternal and secret societies that once flourished in Berks County, specifically the Improved Order of Red Men.

Building Description

Red Men Hall is a 4 1/2 story rectangular brick building, built ca. 1909. The building is situated within the urban context of the city in a residential and small business area. The narrow end of the building faces onto Walnut Street.

The Walnut Street facade incorporates architectural components of the Renaissance Revival and Craftsman styles, with its grid of square window openings and large ground floor brick arches. The ground floor arched window and entry openings are 1 1/2 stories high. A continuous 3 story bay window is the central component to the upper levels of the facade. Detailed brick and mosaic tile work is incorporated throughout, and remains in good condition. The mosaic tile work, with Native American motifs, is symbolic of the historic use of the building by the fraternal organization - The First Order of the Red Men.

The main entrance to the building occurs off of Walnut Street, and is located within the central arched brick opening. The 3 large openings are created by brick pilasters that extend from the foundation to a cut limestone band. The brick arches spring from the stone band and have large cut-stone keystones at the center of each arch. Above the spring line where the arches intersect, are mosaic tiles framed by a circle of brick headers. The left and right flanking arched windows have been bricked-in at the lower ground floor level. This is not original to the building, as is neither the existing aluminum entry doors. These alterations most likely occurred during the 1970s, and although they are not visually in keeping with the original architecture, they do little damage to the integrity of the overall building. The brick arches and brickwork remain intact and have not been disturbed or damaged by the in-fill and aluminum door alterations. The original cornerstone, located on the southeast corner of the building, was replaced in 1949 with the existing cornerstone, which displays the letters 'G.A.R.' (Grand Army of the Republic), and the date '1949'.

The design of Red Men Hall incorporates a myriad of brick detailing, including brick arches, brick corbeling, brick header trim around tile areas, and a common bond brick pattern throughout the front elevation, where after every 6th course there is a brick header course. The design also incorporates the use of Indiana limestone and mosaic tiles.

The upper facade consists of 3 bays of windows, 3 stories high, with the top floor windows having arched brick headers. The windows are groupings of 3 double hung windows. The right bay of windows maintains the original full-height double-hung window units. These windows are in very poor condition and much of the glass and original muntins and mullions are missing. The left bay of windows has transoms above double-hung windows, both of which were added to the building in 1949, The central window area is superimposed with a continuous 3-story bay window, comprised of double-hung window units.

Most of the glass and wood sashes are missing from the central bay. Between the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floor windows of the left and right bays, are rectangular brick panels with mosaic tile patterns set into a cement bed. The lower panels have Indian motif tile designs framed by a circle of brick headers, and flanked by blue arrowhead shaped tiles. These tiles are "Mercer Tiles", designed by a local artisan, Henry Chapman Mercer. The tiles were manufactured by the 'Moravian Pottery and Tile Works Company' of Doylestown Pennsylvania and installed by the O.M. Landis Co. of Reading, Pennsylvania.

The cornice area of the present front elevation is fairly flat, having lost most of its original architectural relief elements. The original wood cornice protruded significantly from the building and was supported by 4 large elongated wood brackets. These original wood elements are completely absent, however, the tile and brick detail work in the cornice area remains in tact. A flat roof system lies behind the existing brick parapet. Older photographs of the building indicate a protruding wood cornice continuous on all facades, an element which is not currently present.

In contrast to the front elevation, the other elevations are void of architectural detail. The north, east, and west elevations are a flat brick facade with a simple grid pattern of rectangular window openings. All of the brick window openings have arched brick headers with squared single double-hung wood windows. The wood frames, mullions, and muntins, appear to be original but are in poor condition, with many elements missing. Glass is broken or missing in almost all of the windows, and many are currently boarded from the interior with sheets of plywood.

The interior of the building remains generally open in plan as it existed during its use as a meeting hall. The main entry area appears to maintain its original spacial qualities, however the floor area to the right of the entry is missing and exposed to the basement. The 4th floor is the only area that has been extensively altered, with post 1970 addition of several interior walls dividing the once open space. The existing walls, however, remain in tact and have not been disturbed. Interior spaces on all floors are in very poor condition, with rotting and missing woodwork, loose and disintegrating plaster walls, collapsing ceilings, and areas of exposed wood lath. The ceiling on the 4th floor is almost completely absent, and in one area the roof is completely opened to the outdoors. The existing interior doors are framed with simple flat wood trim, with an ogee moulding strip across the top of the door trim header. The doors are simple 5-panel (horizontal panels) doors, or 2 panel doors with 1/2 glass. The wood baseboard consists of a flat wood trim piece with an ogee moulding cap. Much of the wood base, particularly on exterior walls, is rotting or missing. Much of the interior wood window trim is also rotting or missing.

The main stair, located in the southwest corner of the building, appears to be original. The square-shaped brick stairwell houses a wrapping stair with 2 intermediate landings between each floor level. The existing wood stairs maintain the original steel pipe handrails and posts, with a larger steel pipe column for structural support for the stairs.

The currently vacant building is surrounded by an active urban community. The front facade of the building contributes greatly to the existing streetscape, as it is the most prominent structure in the immediate area.

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Looking east up Walnut Street (1999)
Looking east up Walnut Street (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Front elevation (1999)
Front elevation (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Main entry (1999)
Main entry (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Upper left corner of front elevation (1999)
Upper left corner of front elevation (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Front elevation (1999)
Front elevation (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Mosaic tile showing Indian Shooting Bow and Arrow on front elevation (1999)
Mosaic tile showing Indian Shooting Bow and Arrow on front elevation (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Cornerstone on southeast corner (1999)
Cornerstone on southeast corner (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Left side elevation (1999)
Left side elevation (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Rear elevation (1999)
Rear elevation (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Ground floor looking towards rear (1999)
Ground floor looking towards rear (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Second floor looking to front (1999)
Second floor looking to front (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Second floor looking to rear (1999)
Second floor looking to rear (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Second floor looking to rear (1999)
Second floor looking to rear (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Third floor looking to front and right side (1999)
Third floor looking to front and right side (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Third floor looking to rear (1999)
Third floor looking to rear (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Fourth floor rear (1999)
Fourth floor rear (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Stairwell looking down from third floor (1999)
Stairwell looking down from third floor (1999)

Red Men Hall, Reading Pennsylvania Stairwell looking up from third floor (1999)
Stairwell looking up from third floor (1999)