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Posted on September 1, 2015 by Bell Tower

Businesses Give Buildings a New Life


Repurposing old household items and finding second-hand treasures is quickly becoming a part of our environmentally minded and budget-conscious culture. Repurposing old buildings for new uses, though, is nothing new; but when these buildings are repurposed in a way that incorporates the original architecture into a modern design, it provides a valuable link to the past. The following Berks County businesses have preserved pieces of the original architecture of their buildings and in doing so have breathed new life not only into the buildings themselves, but into a slice of the community’s history. 

Bell Tower Salon & Spa

It’s not easy to imagine a salon, spa, store and café occupying a horse stable and carriage house, but that’s exactly what Carolyn Helms, owner and president of the Bell Tower Salon & Spa, envisioned when she drove by 18 State Hill Rd. in Wyomissing. She knew this location fit her “vision of the perfect luxury community salon and spa,” despite the fact that the building was not for sale at the time.

The Bell Tower Salon & Spa has historically repurposed old spaces for new uses. It was originally located in Reading’s Historic Centre Park District in a mansion that once served as a funeral parlor. When the former space was no longer able to accommodate the needs of the growing company, Helms knew it was time for a location change. 

Helms drove by the salon and spa’s current location and thought it was so perfect she admittedly “became obsessed” with the building. She says her husband told her, “If I could get the building, he would help me renovate the space and support my idea. Of course, he didn’t actually think I could acquire the building, as it was not for sale. But obviously I was persistent, and I did.”

The structure is more than 100 years old and was originally owned by a member of the Thun family, although historical records are unclear as to which member of the family actually owned the property. The Thun family was instrumental in the area’s growth and development, and the family’s descendants continue to be essential to the growth and development of Berks and Lehigh counties. 

Ferdinand Thun was a German immigrant who came to the United States in the late 1800s. In 1892, he teamed up with Henry Janssen, another German immigrant, to create a braiding machine company in Reading. In 1896, Thun and Janssen moved their business, the Textile Machine Works, to Wyomissing. Their business expanded into Wyomissing Industries, which encompassed their textile business, their new fabric business, and the Berkshire Knitting Mills.

Thun and Janssen were instrumental in the incorporation of the Borough of Wyomissing in 1906. Thun served more than three decades as president of the borough council, and the Thun family’s horse stable and carriage house were eventually used to house borough maintenance equipment. During his tenure as borough council president, Thun worked to transform the borough into a model community. According to the Wyomissing Foundation, Thun’s vision led to Wyomissing being known as the “Queen of the Boroughs.”


A New Kind of Beauty

It seems fated that a property once belonging to a family whose patriarch had such a grand community vision should later house the Bell Tower Salon & Spa, whose owner’s grand visions have helped the salon receive top industry accolades. Thus the property’s historic architecture and the company’s modern purpose and style were blended during the renovation, which took more than a year to complete and later garnered notoriety. The renovation appeared in national and international trade, fashion and design publications. In 1999, the Bell Tower Salon & Spa opened its doors in Wyomissing. 

According to Helms, “People love that the original structure of the building was maintained.” The exterior of the building was cleaned and refreshed with stain, but other than that, it was untouched. The original brickwork inside the building as well as the original barn doors and steel support beams were left intact. 

As is often the case with old buildings, the Bell Tower Salon & Spa is rumored to share its space with friendly ghosts. Employees immediately felt the presence of ghosts when the company opened its doors. For example, there were times employees would hear paper rustling and footsteps in another room only to enter and find it empty. There have also been instances of lights mysteriously turning on and off in various parts of the facility and computer screens turning on after they’ve been shut down. The rumors gained such popularity that Charlie Adams, local author of books about haunted places in Berks, visited the salon. But customers aren’t scared off by these spirits; in fact Helms says, “Lots of guests find it very interesting that we are rumored to have friendly ghosts residing within our walls!”

These walls convey the vision of the Bell Tower Salon & Spa as a business and the ideals of its employees. According to Helms, “We are always re-inventing ourselves. Our team and vision for the Bell Tower will continue to evolve as our building has over the years. The design of the building will never become dated.” She adds that the space, “represents our image well — classic and nostalgic, yet cutting edge and current at the same time.”

Learn more about the Bell Tower at belltowersalonspa.com