Reporting Cherri Gregg
By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s been more than a year since the Uptown Theater began its first phase of renovations and progress has been slow…but steady. To celebrate Black Music Month, the Philadelphia landmark is opening its doors to the public for a day of tours.
“It’s important for people to see the progress, but also to see it in it’s raw form,” says Linda Richardson, president of Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation, which owns the theater on North Broad Street. She says $3 million dollars in funding has helped clean out debris and put a big dent in renovations for the six story education and development Tower – the building now has a stable infrastructure, workable stairs and historic windows installed.
“It had been vandalized – pipes, toilets, anything that could be carried was taken out,” she says. ”That’s what this phase has been – to finish the roof on this side, put plumbing, electricity throughout the building.”
But a lot more needs to be done. Richardson says progress has been slow because they have worked hard to preserve historical accuracy of the building. Right now, there’s no working electricity, the elevator is installed, but not functional and you still need a hard hat for safety. But there’s hope that will change soon.
“We anticipate the tower to be done in a few months,” says Richardson, who hopes to lease out the six stories of space to businesses. ”We have the marble and the elevator and then the new electrical transformer to put in.”
As for the theater, it’s dark and there’s lots of debris from work being done. But squint into the darkness and you can see the historic stage and original theater seats, fodder for imagining the landmark in its former glory.
“The building was in such poor shape that for a time, we thought it would be so discouraging to show it,” says Richardson on why UEDC is providing tours for the third year in a row. “We believe that people who love the Uptown should see what it is and the shape that it’s in.”
She hoping that seeing the theater will help mobilize resources. It’ll take $5 million to complete rebuild the first floor of the theater, which includes the stage, seating area, box office and lobby. But the Uptown is more than just a theater.
“It represents the potential of North Philadelphia – in one building,” says Anthony Howard, who works across the street from the Uptown and grew up near Cecil B. Moore Avenue. “It’s beautiful, it has history, it has dust. But if we can figure out the Uptown, we can figure out North Philadelphia.”
Howard says he’s hoping to be one of the first in line to rent office space in the Tower.
“It’s an awesome building, when you’re upstairs you can see a beautiful view of the city,” he says, “If we- the artists, the business owners, the residents in the neighborhood don’t rebuild it, someone else will. I’m hoping that five, ten years from now people will smack themselves in the head and ask why they didn’t invest in North Philadelphia.”
Richardson is hoping the same thing.
In the meantime, the Uptown is celebrating Black Music Month with several events beginning on Thursday night with its Rock n’ Roll Show and Music Appreciation Awards Ceremony. Friday – there will be free music in front of the Uptown at 2440 North Broad Street. On Saturday, lunch and tours of the theater. Finally, on Sunday – the Uptown will be part of the African American Heritage tour.
For more on times, costs and other details, go to philadelphiauptowntheatre.org.