Saturday, July 4, 2015

History of the Uptown Murals

The two auditorium murals inside of the Uptown Theatre have been some of the most iconic aspects of the building's design since 1939, and were originally designed by artist Gustav W Krollmann. Born in Vienna in 1888, he trained as a portrait painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna before becoming an artillery officer in the Austrian Army during World War I. While serving, he gained experience painting portraits of the general staff of the 12th Army Corps.

Krollmann immigrated to the U.S. in 1923 and found himself in the Twin Cities and by 1931, he was an instructor at the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts (now called MCAD). In the late 1920s, he worked as an artist for Northern Pacific Railroad's promotional travel campaigns. These spectacular images were created to attract visitors to the railroad's scenic locations and are what Krollmann is best known for. He also painted the 'Old Faithful Geyser' watercolor for Yellowstone National Park in 1925.

Krollmann was called upon to create the Uptown murals in 1939 once an extensive renovation was planned. His plan was to adapt fibre boards and tiles with acoustical correction efficiency for decorative purposes, and used acousti-celotex as his material. One mural shows the Catholic fathers gazing upon the future city - Father Hennepin, Marquette, Nicollet, and LaSalle - and the other shows the Father of the Waters with water sprites that symbolize the lakes of the city.

As an intriguing experiment, Krollmann outlined the murals in black light paint. They then became illuminated in a greenish glow when the main auditorium lights turned down for the film. Unfortunately, these special lights were very expensive and did not last very long, so this was quickly abandoned only a year or two after the murals were put up for display. 

Krollmann died in 1962, and the further history of the murals becomes hazy and strange. It is unknown if the murals eventually fell into disrepair, but a renovation in the early 1980s replaced them with less-detailed re-creations. What's peculiar is that the walls on which they first resided on were reversed, with the Catholic fathers now on the right side and the Father of the Lakes on the left.

A small engraving on the right wall originally listed Krollmann as the creator of the original murals along with the name of the recreation artist, but when the Uptown was again renovated in 2012, this engraving was half-covered up by the addition of a staircase. All that can be made out now of the artist's name is 'Mary Sue Wall-.' The last name was 'Wallace,' if memory serves correctly, but this is not for certain.

Krollmann's original Uptown murals can be seen on this very blog over HERE. Krollman's bio was taken from the University of Minnesota's Center for Austrian Studies.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Saga of the Split Screen

(photo taken from City Pages)

Facing declining ticket sales throughout the 1990s, innumerable single-screen movie theaters across the country were turned into multiplexes by splitting their balconies into one or two extra screens. While the Uptown Theatre thankfully evaded this fate, it spent this particular decade in limbo as Minneapolis citizens and City Council battled Landmark Theatres on the issue.

The beginnings of this story can be traced back to 1989, where a March 15 City Council meeting heard the proposal of the Uptown Village. This complex, a mere half-block from the Uptown Theatre, would include eight screens in a building also holding 30,000 square feet of retail space and 10,000 square feet of office space (East Calhoun News, v.16, no.11).

While this idea did not make it very far, a scaled-down proposal was taken into effect. Landmark Theatres proposed a $1.5 million, five-screen, 806-seat theater tentatively titled the Uptown 5. It was actually then-Uptown manager Bob Strong who wrote to Landmark in 1991 and proposed the new theater name to instead be the Lagoon, not only because it was on Lagoon Ave. and, 'the name conjured up romantic images with vaguely mysterious undertones that would not be found in a larger mall theater', but also because it was the original name of the Uptown in 1916. This would reinforce the affiliation between the two cinemas and both acknowledge and respect its heritage.

Not everyone was thrilled about this development. The Calhoun Area Residents' Action Group and the East Calhoun Community Organization both worried about potential traffic and parking problems, including Landmark only offering one hour of free parking to customers, and also that the planned one-story brick structure was 'uninspired' and 'ugly.' There were also rumors that City Council shut out opposition for development and fast-tracked this particular plan, which they of course objected to (Southwest Journal, Oct. 1993). Regardless, the Lagoon Cinema opened on February 16, 1995. (East Calhoun News, March 1995).

Despite this addition of five new screens in the Uptown area, though, talk of splitting the Uptown into three screens commenced. The plan was to wall off the balcony from the main theater and split it into two auditoriums of 100 seats each. This proposal did not make it very far at the time, as the City Council's Zoning and Planning Committee quickly approved a plan to limit growth of movie theaters in Uptown. Seven screens were already within two blocks of each other (including the Suburban World) and the owners of Calhoun Square were also talking with potential theater tenants, so the committee placed a two-and-a-half-year moratorium in order to study the effect of additional theaters on traffic and parking problems (Star Tribune, 6/21/95).

Talk continued of the split screens during this moratorium. The Twin Cities Reader reported in 1996 that while splitting the Uptown was proposed due to declining ticket sales, the Uptown was consistently among the top five highest-grossing theaters in Landmark's chain from 1989 to 1995 (unlike Landmark's other split-screen theaters, Denver's Mayan and Milwaukee's Oriental). Former manager Bob Strong also pointed out that the 300 extra seats in the balcony turned mere openings of films into legendary, gala events, and that, "For a lot of people, a theater is more than a revenue-producing engine. It's magical. It goes beyond profit and loss" (Twin Cities Reader, 11/20/96).

Discussions erupted once the moratorium was over in 1998. Over thirty people and a TV news crew showed up to a public forum meeting at Painter Park on February 10 with City councilmembers Lisa McDonald and Lisa Goodman, along with Landmark Theatres representatives Paul Richardson and Bert Manzari. Richardson called the Uptown a 'dinosaur' that rarely sells out any longer, stating that admissions have dropped from 200,000 in 1993 to 138,000 in 1997. The representatives then listed their previous experience with these sorts of renovations with the Mayan and Oriental, and explained that they could bring in more independent films and keep them in town for longer with additional screens. They also explained plans to restore the Uptown's murals, marquee, and pylon sign and add in a cappuccino bar (Uptown Association. v.20, no.1, Southwest Journal 2/25/98, East Calhoun News March 1998).

Another meeting was held for Lowry Hill residents on March 10, where citizens found it suspect that Landmark had this proposal in the works for three years and while they presented dropping attendance figures, they also sent more crowd-pleasing movies to the Lagoon Cinema while placing the less-attended experimental films at the Uptown. Councilmember McDonald proposed a zoning amendment that would require Landmark to provide up to 200 new parking spaces to alleviate parking concerns, but the company would only agree to 20 (Southwest Journal, March 1998).

These issues were presumably never cleared up to City Council's satisfaction, as the auditorium ultimately avoided the split. Rumors circulated again around 2012 during the building's extensive renovation, but this never came to be. The Uptown remains a single-screen movie theater.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Uptown Short Film

Ned Abdul Needs More Retail Space, or; How to Say Goodbye to an Old Friend
(Dan S., 2012)

Filmed after the Uptown Theatre's closure in February 2012.

Uptown Music Video

Complexes - "Doublemint" 

Filmed a week before the Uptown Theatre's 2012 closure.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tales of the Uptown

Death at the Uptown (1933)
A bizarre botched robbery occurred at the Uptown Theatre in 1933. 21 year-old Ted Fisher had been fired from his usher post due to a gun being found in his locker, but was present one month later during a hold-up as he was in the office, mixing drinks with on-duty managers. After a struggle with the bandit, Fisher was shot and killed. What makes matters strange is that a holdup note was later found in his pocket that read, "Open that safe and take the cash from yesterday and today's receipts and come out the alley door, and lay it on the stone wall, and then walk up the alley to the railroad tracks, and then turn left. Don't look back or call for help, or you'll be shot. You are covered all the time." While it might seem that Fisher was in on the robbery, it does not explain why this note was not used. Perhaps Fisher arrived to rob the theater only to find himself beaten to the punch, but this is mere speculation.

Uptown in Court (1970)
A lawsuit seeking to force the Uptown Theatre to admit a 14-year old girl to Midnight Cowboy was dismissed on July 1, 1970. This suit was brought on by Mrs. Lynne Rosenzweig on behalf of her daughter, Denise Silberman, who was turned away despite having her parents' permission on April 11. Seeing as the film was rated X, no one under the age of 17 could be admitted under any circumstance.

Rosenzweig's attorney was her own husband Jerry, who argued that the theater had violated Denise's rights by keeping her out and had no authority to do so. As the Minneapolis Star article writes, "The judge rejected both contentions."

Proposed Death at the Uptown (1975)
"When the Stars Didn't Fall on Hennepin Av." was an article written for the Star Tribune by Irv Letofsky, published on July 8, 1975. It concerns an attempted American Graffiti class reunion by then-owners Metropolitan Theater Co. that would have brought together the film's seven stars. Only two showed up, however, who were Mackenzie Phillips and Bo Hopkins. General manager Dennis Slusher is quoted as saying, "I was going to commit suicide today," and Letofsky later writes: "We just wanted to create some excitement," said Slusher, who as of late last night had not done himself in.

Blair Witch Success (1999)
A Star Tribune article published on July 25, 1999 touched on the opening of The Blair Witch Project at the Uptown on July 16, which managed to sell out every show. The opening week grossed over $100,000, a national record at the time for Landmark Theatres.

Theater manager Hugh Wronski was quoted as saying, "We're selling out of everything, even the Snow Caps. Nobody ever buys Snow Caps except a few weirdos." The article goes on to tell a story of a recent sold out show where Wronski approached a patron sitting on the steps in the balcony to inform him that he could not sit there. "He said, 'why not?' and I said, 'fire marshal.' He said, 'I'm a fireman' and pulled out his Minneapolis Fire Department ID. So I let him be."

Climbing the Tower (from the Star Tribune, 3/9/10)
People are used to drama at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis, but not the kind that had busy Hennepin Avenue blocked off Tuesday night near Lake Street.

Firefighters rescued a young man about 7:30 PM from the theater's vertical sign, which towers over the heart of Minneapolis' Uptown district.

Police and fire crews weren't sure how long the man had been up there before someone saw him and called for help about 6:45 PM.

Minneapolis firefighters were alerted about a possible graffiti-tagging incident where "someone got themselves into a situation and needed help getting down," Assistant Fire Chief Cherie Penn said.

Police don't believe it was suicidal, Sgt. Henry Halvorson said.

Authorities has Hennepin blocked between Lake Street and Lagoon Avenue for at least a half-hour before a ladder crew raised an aerial device with a basket to get the man off the sign, Halvorson and Penn said.

"He was pretty cold, so he wasn't talking to us much," Halvorson said of the man, adding that he was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center to be checked out.

Uptown Around the Interwebs

dirty exterior pre-renovation
 photo by nehemiahnesheim

during renovation, 2012

Rocky Horror Picture Show, October 1986
photo by STUDIOZ7 

photo by decopix

Screening In a Lonely Place, 1980s
photo by decopix

photo by urbanNATURES

2001: A Space Odysset in 70mm, 1982

Vintage Uptown

Uptown Theatre, 1980

Uptown Theatre, 2006

Rocky Horror Picture Show, late 1970s

1939 Renovation

(courtesy of Northwest Architectural Archives)

1939 Murals

(courtesy of Northwest Architectural Archives)

1939 Tower Construction

(courtesy of the Northwest Architectural Archives)

1939 Proposal Sketches

(courtesy of Northwest Architectural Archives)


(courtesy of Northwest Architectural Archives)

Uptown Marquee

Only a select few. I wish there was additional photographic documentation, but you can read about more at MN Daily and City Pages.