Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Brief History of the Uptown Theatre


The 1,500-seat Lagoon Theater opened in Minneapolis on June 3, 1916 as part of a dance hall and storefront block. This $100,000 development was built of gray terracotta and rough textured brick with an interior painted old rose and gray, housing an orchestra pit and a 40-foot stage. The business would later change its name to the Uptown on April 11, 1929 (see above photo) that coincided with the installation of sound equipment and a screening of The Dummy, and the Clausen School of Dancing would move in above the theater in 1931.

A fire broke out in the Uptown ventilating system above the stage during a screening of Trade Winds on April 25, 1939, leaving the theater with extensive smoke damage. The city and MN Amusement Co. then hired the firm of Liebenberg & Kaplan for a $65,000 renovation, and this new Uptown Theatre opened on November 16, 1939 with a screening of The Women.

The structure showcased a streamline moderne design that was popular at the time, with an auditorium color scheme of delft blue and bone white with burgundy red drapes and seats. Two large incised roundels were placed into a kasota stone facade with a curved corner that symbolized themes of travel and adventure in cinema. Inside the auditorium, murals composed of acoustic-celotex depicted the history and geography of the Twin Cities. One shows early explorers gazing upon what would be the future Minneapolis, while the other shows a giant Father of the Waters presiding over a group of water sprites that symbolize the lakes of the city. The building also boasted 900 seats and a 60-foot tower that was the first three-sided vertical tower sign in the country and had to be approved by civil aviation authorities.

Amarcord would be the last film played at the Uptown before its first closure in 1975. Landmark Theatres, then known as Parallax Theatres, bought the property in 1976. There have been rumors throughout the years of the Uptown being an X-rated theater, but these claims are inaccurate, as there was no time between Metropolitan (though it may have been General Cinema, or perhaps this was the same company) and Landmark for this to occur. This new Uptown screened classic double features with cartoon short films along with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which began on May 19, 1978.

A lobby remodel took place in 1984 that included a bizarre circular box office/concession stand combo. Following this in November 1985, the Uptown switched their repertoire to feature foreign and independent cinema. This began with The Coca-Cola Kid and would begin to be a huge success the following February with a month-long run of Akira Kurosawa's Ran. It was around this time that Godard's Hail Mary was also screened that drew a wave of controversy and protesters. The theater was even broken into one night and the 35mm print stolen.

The Uptown was a cinema powerhouse in the Twin Cities throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was deemed a heritage site in 1990 and underwent a small renovation to re-create art moderne and neo-baroque design elements. It then spent a decade fighting off plans to transform into a triplex design that so many other single-screen cinemas across the country had fallen victim to. The Rocky Horror Picture Show also ceased in 1997 in favor of weekly screenings of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. This lasted ten months before returning to regular midnight screenings, though it would not be until Halloween 2009 that Rocky Horror would return.

While theater attendance across the country dwindled slowly throughout the 2000s, the Uptown was still able to sell out its massive auditorium at least once a year with the likes of Juno, Pan's Labyrinth, A Serious Man, and Blair Witch Project - the last of which sold out every show for weeks. It also became locally (and occasionally nationally) famous for its clever marquees such as, 'We Have A/C, Who Cares What's Playing?,' declaring Limits of Control and The Brothers Bloom to be 'Better Than the Star Trib Review,' and referring to Joss Whedon as 'The Writer of 4 Episodes of Roseanne.'

The Uptown Theatre quietly closed for renovations on January 31, 2012 after a screening of Pariah. It was re-opened on September 14, 2012 with Sleepwalk with Me. The new modern design saw the addition of a full bar, the loss of 550 seats, and the replacement of 35mm with digital projection.

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