Scottish Rite Cathedral fire: investigation underway

As the investigation into a suspected arson attack that destroyed the hall of the Scottish Rite Cathedral in West Reading entered its second day, the association that operates the facility, including its 1,300-seat auditorium, was stuck in limbo.

“There is nothing we can do until the investigation is complete,” said Irwin A. Kohler, director of the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association, which owns the facility at 430 S. Seventh Ave., along the main campus of Reading Hospital.

Kohler could not predict when the cathedral will reopen because the fire engulfed the lobby, where the fire was contained, and left the entire interior, including the auditorium, smelling of smoke.

The lobby, which was renovated about five years ago and where the fire broke out around 1 a.m. Tuesday, will need to be rebuilt, he said.

The auditorium and the rest of the building will need to be aired out and cleaned, but restoration work in addition to minor work to shore up the building is on hold until investigators return the building and an insurance appraisal can be made. performed, Kohler said.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “As far as operation goes, we can’t even put time on it right now because the (damage) is significant.”

West Reading police and firefighters were dispatched at 1.20am on Tuesday. Initial dispatches said smoke was coming from several windows.

Investigators found the fire was in the lobby on the west side of the building and had consumed furniture.

No one was hurt.

West Reading Police Chief Wayne Holben said on Tuesday the fire was being investigated as an arson attack.

Investigators, including Spring Township and State Police firefighters, were back in the building Wednesday.

Police did not provide an update on the investigation or provide details on how the fire may have started.

The Valley of Reading Lodge of Scottish Rite Masons moved into the newly built cathedral in 1986 after sharing space at the Rajah Shrine.

In addition to Freemasons meetings, the stage has been used over the years for productions, seminars and graduation ceremonies by community organizations such as Berks Ballet, Reading Choral Society, Ringgold Band, Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest , Junior League of Reading and Reading Hospital.

Holben said anyone with information about the fire should call West Reading Police at 610-373-0111 and speak to criminal investigator Karie Good.

Tipping can be done through the Crime Alert Berks County Anonymous Tip Line, 877-373-9913. Advice can also be texted, using the keyword “alert berks”, to 847411. Crime Alert will pay a cash reward for information leading to an arrest.