By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Two decades after the Uptown Theatre was forced to close, the historic building on North Broad Street is showing signs of life. Construction crews have begun restoring the theatre.
The art deco-styled theatre opened its doors in 1929. It started out as a movie theatre, and by the 1960s it was the crown jewel of Philadelphia’s black entertainment scene.
“According to our oral history, we had people like Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles, (Harold Melvin and) the Blue Notes, James Brown, the Jackson Five, the O’Jays, Earl Young and the Trampps,” says Linda Richardson, president of Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation. “I could go on and on.”
She says the Uptown Theatre was a centerpiece of North Philadelphia and spurred economic development in the area. That’s why Richardson says her group has raised $3 million in three years to restore the theatre to its former glory.
“We are in the next phase, which is a renovation of the art and education tower,” Richardson tells KYW Newsradio. “That should be completed in March 2012. Our (ultimate) goal is to have a 2,000-plus seating auditorium and balcony. We will house programming and entertainment.”
Local business owners say they are looking forward to the Uptown being open again.
“Business has been okay, but it could do better,” says Eric Bryant, a barber at the Ultimate Grooming Salon, which is next door to the Uptown. “With the Uptown coming back, I think business will do a lot better.”
The relighting of Uptown’s famous marquee will be the first sign that the once-dead theatre is alive again. Richardson says it will shine from Christmas Day through the New Year.