By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s been nearly two years since the Uptown Theater began its first phase of renovations and so far, despite minimal progress, the landmark is still in disrepair.
The Uptown Theater has been dead for more than two decades, and resurrecting the landmark will take a lot of time and money.
“The progress that we see is in steps,” Linda Richardson, president of Uptown Entertainment Development Corp. She admits progress has been slow. She says little has been done this summer to get the Uptown tower ready for renters, as planned last year. It is still without electricity or a working elevator.
But there is a ray of hope. After four years of effort and $40,000 investment, 1920s Art Deco Terra Cotta Tiles that once donned the facade of the historic theater are now complete.
“It’s close to the way it was when it was installed in 1927 and 29,” says Richardson, “and the best part is we found someone in Philadelphia to do the work. It took a lot of research and time, but it is historically accurate.”
The tiles will be part of a $160,000 restoration effort for the Uptown’s famous marquee. So far, the UEDC has raised $30,000 toward that project.
“We’ve been cleaning up, taking the trash out,” says Alfred McGee. He volunteers at the Uptown through a project at the Department of Aging. He used to go to the Uptown decades ago and loves to come down to the theater and reminisce.
“I got to see James Brown, the Delfonics, Intruders, all of them,” says McGee, “Broad Street used to be lined with cars and people– no problems. Everyone just wanted to have a good time.”
Like much of Philadelphia, McGee says he’s still hopeful restoration of the Uptown will make North Philadelphia just a bit like it was when the theater was the center of Black entertainment in the city.
“Those were the good old days,” he says, smiling.
And McGee says he hopes they can get those days back.
Follow Cherri Gregg on Twitter @cherrigregg.