Santander Performing Arts Center

136 North 6th Street,
Reading, PA 19601

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Sovereign Performing Arts Center, Reading, PA - interior detail

Viewing: Photo | Street View

At the turn of the 21st Century, the Rajah Theater was the only downtown movie palace to survive. Its sister palaces, the Astor Theater, Embassy Theater and Loew’s Colonial Theater had all been demolished.

Built in the 1870’s as a market with a Masonic Temple on its upper floors, it became the Academy of Music in 1886. Purchased by the Rajah Shriners in 1917, it was home first to vaudeville, motion pictures and live appearances, then to quality symphonic, opera, ballet, popular music and theatrical performances. Seating was provided for 2,000.

In 2000, the Berks County Convention Center Authority purchased and renovated the aging movie palace. The $7 million facelift established a permanent home for the performing arts in Reading and Berks County. At that time, the Sovereign Bank purchased “naming rights” and the Rajah’s name was changed to the Sovereign Performing Arts Center. It is now the home of the Reading Symphony Orchestra and the Reading Civic Opera Society and a wide variety of other events such as Sesame Street, Peter Pan, The Nutcracker, and many “smooth” jazz concerts. The naming rights have been purchased by the Santander Bank.

Contributed by Erwin Markisch

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

EMarkisch
EMarkisch on September 9, 2005 at 6:50 am

Does anyone have any further information on the history, seating, etc. for the Rajah?

billmanb
billmanb on May 1, 2008 at 3:50 pm

I worked as an usher at the Rajah in the 1970s.
Locally Rajah was pronounced Roy-yah.
I have not been in it since Sovereign renovation. I hope they kept
the wonderful orientalist detailing.

Rockatansky
Rockatansky on May 23, 2009 at 5:48 am

On Jan 23, 1919 Jack Dempsey fought there vs Kid Harris.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on August 10, 2009 at 9:17 am

At July 2009 tour of Theatre Historical Society of America of this very interesting exotic theater, we were told there are now 1752 seats.

rivest266
rivest266 on February 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm

An grand opening announcement from September 10th, 1922 is on this page at View link

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 3, 2011 at 6:56 am

The old Rajah Temple was gutted by fire in May, 1921. The rebuilding project was extensive, costing approximately one million dollars and taking more than a year to complete. The five-bay facade of the original building was retained, though there were extensive alterations to its upper floors, but the rebuilt theater’s entrance was in a new annex that was erected adjacent to the surviving front portion of the original structure. The auditorium of the new Rajah Theatre was new construction as well.

The book “Reading in Historic Postcards” includes cards depicting the original and the rebuilt building on page 107. The text on the latter card says that the Austin organ installed in the rebuilt theater had cost $35,000.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 12, 2014 at 12:32 am

The June 11, 1921 issue of the Reading Times reported that the New York firm of E. C. Horne & Sons had been chosen to design the repairs and addition to the Rajah Temple which had been devastated by a fire the previous month.

RickB
RickB on April 12, 2014 at 10:31 am

Name of the theater has been changed along with that of the bank sponsoring it; it’s now the Santander Performing Arts Center. Web site has moved here.

rivest266
rivest266 on June 22, 2014 at 7:30 am

September 10th, 1922 grand opening ad in photo section

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