Uptown Theater (Philadelphia)

Last updated
Uptown Theater and Office Building
WTP B02 Audrey 2.jpg
Street map of Philadelphia and surrounding area.png
Red pog.svg
USA Pennsylvania location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Usa edcp location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location2240–2248 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates 39°59′14″N75°9′23″W / 39.98722°N 75.15639°W / 39.98722; -75.15639 Coordinates: 39°59′14″N75°9′23″W / 39.98722°N 75.15639°W / 39.98722; -75.15639
Built1927
Architect Magaziner, Eberhard & Harris
Architectural styleArt Deco
NRHP reference No. 82003817 [1]
Added to NRHPJuly 22, 1982

The Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also known as Uptown Theater and Office Building, is an Art Deco building built in 1927. It was designed by the Philadelphia-based architectural firm of Magaziner, Eberhard & Harris. The Uptown Theater is located on 2240 N. Broad Street. It became a major venue on the Chitlin' Circuit, from 1951–1978. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. [1]

Contents

It briefly reopened as a church in the 1980s until water damage occurred and caused it to close in 1991. In 2001, the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation bought the building with plans for renovation.

Beginnings

Opened on February 16, 1929, the 2,040 seat, 50,000 square foot [2] Uptown Theater was built for sound, specifically the new talkies of the time, made by Warner Brothers. [3] Designed by Louis Magaziner, it featured a lavish interior, with four floors of office space above. The interior consisted of stained glass, high ceilings, and terracotta. As the industrial age peaked in America, North Philadelphia became a working man's town. A large influx of European immigrants moved to the northern part of the city, and moved into the newly developed rowhomes.[ citation needed ]

In addition to the new immigrants, North Philadelphia also became the home to many fashionable mansions of the upper and upper-middle class. Executives from nearby factories lived in Victorian brownstones, some with turrets and mansard roofs, which lined the streets of North Philly. Along Broad Street were the grand mansions of many industrialists. [4] Lower North Philadelphia in particular housed a number the nouveau riche; ambitious first or second generation immigrants or that had made their fortunes starting manufacturing firms.[ citation needed ]

The theater was originally built for the nouveau riche of the area. Unknowingly, it opened up on the eve of the Great Depression, which in turn had a great effect on the neighborhood. Over the next few decades The Great Depression, outsourcing, and white flight took their toll on North Philadelphia in a fashion similar to other major US cities of the mid to late 20th century, if not in a more pronounced fashion. While some small areas had long housed primarily African-American residents, redlining, racist loan companies, and rising unemployment led white residents out of the city, and forced blacks in.[ citation needed ] Black doctors, lawyers, politicians and preachers took over the grand mansions along Diamond Street, while middle and lower class blacks moved into the rowhomes that were once predominately white. [5]

The Golden Years

The theater in 2014 Uptown Theater, Broad St, Philly 1.JPG
The theater in 2014

In 1951 the Uptown Theatre was bought by Sam Stiefel, who also owned Washington's Howard Theatre and Baltimore's Royal Theatre, and became part of the "chitlin circuit," hosting live music shows that were primarily rhythm and blues, soul, and gospel directed towards an African American audience. The performances at the Uptown Theater came to rival those at Harlem's Apollo Theater. [3] In 1957, Georgie Woods of WDAS (AM) fame started to produce shows at the Uptown Theater. In 1960, Sid Booker became the manager of the theater, and remained so until 1979. [6] In 1961, the venue was sold by Mrs. Bert Steifel to a large chain corporation, after managing it for only two months following the death of the Steifel brothers, who owned it for many years [7]

Performances

Many different types of shows went on at the venue during its prime. Usually, each show consisted of multiple artists, usually ten to twelve acts, and they performed in order of popularity. There were several performances a day, and the show usually lasted for about ten days. The first show of the day started at 2pm. The midnight performances of the show cost $2.50, while the earlier shows cost $1.50, and the kiddie matinees cost 50 cents a person. [8]

Also on Thursday nights, they used to have Temple University night, in which many white students would come in and watch performances. Often enough, many patrons of the theater would hide in places such as the bathroom to see additional shows in one day. The shows themselves were very competitive in nature, with each act trying to get the biggest rise out of the crowd. Performers and audience members alike dressed up when attending shows at the theater. Performers also tried to impress each other with wowing the crowd with the best dance moves as well. Artists were not often booked for a lot of money. Georgie Woods was able to book the Supremes for $400 for a full 10-day run.

Not only did musicians perform at the Uptown Theater, but comedians often opened for the acts, such as Redd Foxx and Flip Wilson. The venue itself was unique in that it had its own house band. Bill Masse was band leader of the band until he died in 1961. In 1963 Sam Reed became leader of the house band, which was well known amongst artists in the chitlin circuit. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, by 1971 the shows were grossing $250,000 a year. During the rest of the month when performers were not in town, movies usually played. There were also jazz shows where local and famous jazz performers took the stage. The shows were not characterized by the rowdy crowds that accompanied the shows promoted by Georgie Woods.

The Uptown Theater was also famous for its amateur nights in which local artists would compete for various prizes. Many artists got their start in the music industry due to these amateur nights. One such person that started their career at the Uptown Theater was Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates. Hall, who attended the nearby Temple University, won a talent show playing with his then group, the Temptones. This was before pairing up with Oates. The group, backed by the James Brown Band, won the contest thus getting Hall his first record deal. [5]

Civil rights

The theater was a hotbed for civil rights activism, especially in the form of music. Georgie Woods produced shows at the theater, called freedom shows, in which artists played to promote civil rights, and the money generated at these shows went to charities of Georgie Woods' choice, regardless of creed, color or religion. In 1967, Georgie Woods staged a special show for wounded veterans from the Vietnam War that were from the Philadelphia area. The theater also became an important landmark for civil rights in Philadelphia. Cecil Moore was a Philadelphia lawyer that was extremely involved in civil rights, and was a close friend of Georgie Woods, and was also involved in the freedom shows.

In 1963, Georgie Woods, Jackie Wilson, and Del Shields won awards at the Uptown Theater from the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP for being entertainers that were actively involved in civil rights. Also, the famous 1964 Philadelphia race riot happened blocks from the theater, and when it occurred Commissioner Howard Leary had Georgie Woods come talk to and calm down the crowd, which eventually dispersed as per his request. [9] His influence on the community was so great, showed how important the Uptown Theater was for the residents of North Philadelphia.

Neighborhood

By the late 1950s, North Philadelphia was the epicenter of Philadelphia's African-American community. It was a vibrant place populated by all classes. There were dozens of factories, numerous clubs along Columbia Avenue, shops and restaurants all over the place, and the Uptown—which evolved into a mecca for live music. [5] Many family owned businesses around the theater became popular spots for the performers and audience members alike. Many of the performers would eat at Miss Pearl's house, which was located right behind the venue on Carlisle Street.

In addition to that, many of them got their hair done at Don's Doo Shop, which was and still owned by Don Williams, right around the corner on 15th Street and Susquehanna Avenue. Many of the artists stayed at the Ben Motor Inn on 22nd Street and Spring Garden. The neighborhood was often noted to be tight-knit, where many people living in the area worked in the nearby factories and knew each other by name. The area surrounding the theater was also unique in that it did not provide a lot of space for parking, so many people walked or took public transportation to the Uptown.

Later years and decline

Eventually, the riots and the manufacturing exodus of the 1960s occurred, and the gang wars of the 1970s. By 1978, the Uptown was too small for the major acts, in an area with high crime. In 1971, Sam Reed, who was leader of the house band in the 1960s stepped down. In December 1971, there were frequent concert gang fights that broke out. In 1972, Georgie Woods stopped producing shows at the Uptown Theater, mainly because of the drugs and violence in the surrounding neighborhood of the theater. In May 1972, shows stopped playing at all at the venue, and in 1978 the Uptown Theater ultimately closed.

Other reasons led to the decline of theaters similar to the venue. The music industry had changed significantly from when the theater was in its prime. Black artists were now able to cross over, and play in venues such as ones in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Musicians that played there were able to perform at larger venues and make more profit. Georgie Woods also stated in an interview that the existence of booking agencies made it harder to book acts because they would ask for more money. [10]

There was a point in time when black artists could only be heard if they went to Georgie Woods, but once music became integrated. Also, the decline of independent record stores disabled local artists from being able to promote their music. On the other hand, music became more integrated, so many radio stations only played a sampling of rhythm and blues, as opposed to stations that used to solely play rhythm and blues. Many artists started to cross over into pop, so they were less inclined to play at theaters such as the Uptown.

The neighborhood also changed dramatically. Many of the businesses started to decline because they catered to the Uptown clientele and lost them once the theater closed.

The Uptown briefly reopened in the 1980s as a church. A church group held services there until a 1991 storm damaged the roof, allowing water to pucker the painted walls and corrode the gilded auditorium. After the congregation left, the only people who entered were thieves, crackheads and taggers [5] More recently, members of the community gathered at the Uptown to mourn the death of Michael Jackson.

Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation (UEDC)

The Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation (UEDC) is a Community Development Corporation that was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1995. The mission is to stimulate the economy in blighted areas in Philadelphia by creating commercial enterprises, developing neighborhood revitalization projects and managing moderate and housing. The UEDC has identified the historic Uptown Theater as its first acquisition and revitalization project. In 2002, they became owners of the actual building. The development plans include renovating the theater into a technology center, artist lofts and office space. Proposed tenants include a faith-based institution, high school, record production facility and restaurant. The technology center will create jobs for 200 youth and adults and provide entrepreneurial opportunities for disadvantaged members of the community. The linchpin of the program strategy will be the creation of a film and media center, technology center and film stage. It will be the headquarters for the Art and Education Youth Programs, provide space for a sound studio and catering facility and house the business offices for the development corporation. The UEDC has received pledges of $3.5 million but it will take around $8 million to get the facility fully operational.Famed drummer and founder of the group, The Trammps, Earl Young serves as the Entertainment Outreach Co-Chair along with noted Musician, Alfie Pollitt. In December of 2013, the Mural Wall dedicated to Georgie Woods and the groups that performed there suffered damage due to the retaining wall separating the theater from the building once next to it. Repairs and remdiation is taking place. Additional funds are being sought to complete the wall and repaint the mural. The projected completion date is now being revised, however officials of the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation expect the theater to be opened before the end of 2014. [2] In February 2018, UEDC was granted $500,000 by the Pennsylvania government for the continuation off the theatres' renovation, with a new opening date scheduled as mid-2019.

Related Research Articles

Doo-wop Style of rhythm & blues

Doo-wop is a genre of rhythm and blues music that originated among African-American youth in the 1940s, mainly in the large cities of the United States, including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, Newark, Detroit, and Washington, DC. It features vocal group harmony that carries an engaging melodic line to a simple beat with little or no instrumentation. Lyrics are simple, usually about love, sung by a lead vocal over background vocals, and often featuring, in the bridge, a melodramatically heartfelt recitative addressed to the beloved. Harmonic singing of nonsense syllables is a common characteristic of these songs. Gaining popularity in the 1950s, doo-wop was "artistically and commercially viable" until the early 1960s, but continued to influence performers in other genres.

Apollo Theater United States historic place

The Apollo Theater is a music hall located at 253 West 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City. It is a noted venue for African-American performers, and is the home of Showtime at the Apollo, a nationally syndicated television variety show which showcased new talent, from 1987 to 2008, encompassing 1,093 episodes; the show was rebooted in 2018.

Uptown, Chicago Community area in Chicago

Uptown is one of Chicago, Illinois’ 77 community areas. Uptown's boundaries are Foster Avenue on the north; Lake Michigan on the east; Montrose, and Irving Park on the south; Ravenswood, and Clark on the west. To the north is Edgewater, to the west is Lincoln Square, and to the south is Lake View.

Uptown, Minneapolis Commercial District in Minnesota, United States

Uptown is a commercial district in southwestern Minneapolis in the U.S. state of Minnesota, that is centered at the Uptown Theater at the intersection of Hennepin and Lagoon avenues. It has traditionally spanned the corners of four neighborhoods, Lowry Hill East, East Calhoun, South Uptown and East Isles neighborhoods, which are all within the Calhoun Isles community. Historically, the boundaries of Uptown are Bde Maka Ska to the west, Dupont Avenue to the east, 31st Street to the south, and 28th Street to the north. Uptown is a popular destination for retail, nightlife, and cultural events, and the district was famously written about by recording artist Prince.

Theatre of Living Arts

The Theatre of Living Arts is a concert venue located on South Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The venue, which opened in 1988, dates back to the early 1900s as a nickelodeon. Over the years, the venue has seen many incarnations ranging from concert hall to movie theatre to theatre. Known for its acoustics, it was voted as one of the best concert venues in America by Complex.

North Philadelphia Neighborhood of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

North Philadelphia, nicknamed North Philly, is a section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States. It is immediately north of Center City. Though the full extent of the region is somewhat vague, "North Philadelphia" is regarded as everything north of either Vine Street or Spring Garden Street, between Northwest Philadelphia and Northeast Philadelphia. It is bordered to the north by Cheltenham Township along Cheltenham Avenue, Spring Garden Street to the south, 35th Street to the west and Adams Avenue to the east. The Philadelphia Police Department patrols five districts located within North Philadelphia: the 22nd, 25th, 26th, 35th and 39th districts. There are fifteen ZIP codes for North Philadelphia: 19120, 19121, 19122, 19123, 19125, 19126, 19130, 19132, 19133, 19134, 19137, 19138, 19140, 19141, and 19150. The city government views this sprawling chunk of Philadelphia more precisely as three smaller districts, drawn up by the Redevelopment Authority in 1964. These regions are Olney-Oak Lane, Upper North Philadelphia and Lower North Philadelphia. Other sections of North Philadelphia include Brewerytown, Fairhill, Fairmount, Fishtown, Francisville, Franklinville, Glenwood, Hartranft, Koreatown, Northern Liberties, Poplar, Sharswood, Strawberry Mansion and Yorktown.

The Chitlin' Circuit was a collection of performance venues throughout the eastern, southern, and upper Midwest areas of the United States that provided commercial and cultural acceptance for African American musicians, comedians, and other entertainers during the era of racial segregation in the United States.

The music of Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland, can be documented as far back as 1784, and the city has become a regional center for Western classical music and jazz. Early Baltimore was home to popular opera and musical theatre, and an important part of the music of Maryland, while the city also hosted several major music publishing firms until well into the 19th century, when Baltimore also saw the rise of native musical instrument manufacturing, specifically pianos and woodwind instruments. African American music existed in Baltimore during the colonial era, and the city was home to vibrant black musical life by the 1860s. Baltimore's African American heritage to the start of the 20th century included ragtime and gospel music. By the end of that century, Baltimore jazz had become a well-recognized scene among jazz fans, and produced a number of local performers to gain national reputations. The city was a major stop on the African American East Coast touring circuit, and it remains a popular regional draw for live performances. Baltimore has produced a wide range of modern rock, punk and metal bands and several indie labels catering to a variety of audiences.

Northwest Philadelphia Neighborhood of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Northwest Philadelphia is a section of the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The official boundary is Stenton Avenue to the north, the Schuylkill River to the southwest, Northwestern Avenue to the northwest, Roosevelt Boulevard to the south, and Wister Street and Stenton Avenue to the east. The area is divided by Wissahickon Creek into two subsections, Upper Northwest and Lower Northwest Philadelphia. Upper Northwest are Germantown, Mount Airy, and Chestnut Hill, and Lower Northwest are Roxborough, Wissahickon, East Falls, and Manayunk. The area of Philadelphia west of the Schuylkill River is known as West Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Police Department patrols two districts located within Northwest Philadelphia. The two patrol districts serving Northwest Philadelphia are the 5th and 14th districts.

Music of Philadelphia

The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is home to a vibrant and well-documented musical heritage, stretching back to colonial times. Innovations in classical music, opera, R&B, jazz and soul have earned the music of Philadelphia national and international renown. Philadelphia's musical institutions have long played an important role in the music of Pennsylvania, as well as a nationwide impact, especially in the early development of hip hop music. Philadelphia's diverse population has also given it a reputation for styles ranging from dancehall to Irish traditional music, as well as a thriving classical and folk music scene.

Tower Theater (Upper Darby Township, Pennsylvania)

The Tower Theater has been a popular venue for music acts since the 1970s. In 2018, the Tower Theater was named one of the 10 best live music venues in America by Rolling Stone Magazine. Known for its acoustic properties, the venue has been used for recording live albums by many bands. It is a theater located in the Terminal Square section of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania at the intersection of 69th and Ludlow Streets. It is adjacent to 69th Street Terminal just outside of West Philadelphia.

Uptown Theatre (Chicago) United States historic place

Uptown Theatre is a currently closed movie palace and concert venue located in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. Designed by Rapp and Rapp and built by Paschen Bros. contractors, it is one of the many movie palaces built by the Balaban & Katz theatre chain run by A. J. Balaban, his brother Barney Balaban, and their partner Sam Katz.

Dexter Gilman Wansel is an American R&B/jazz fusion arranger, musician, composer, conductor, synthesist and A&R director.

Culture of Philadelphia

The culture of Philadelphia goes back to 1682 when Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn. Originally inhabited by the Lenape, Philadelphia was envisioned as a place where people could live without fear of persecution because of their religion. As a result, many Quakers, Mennonites, and others came to find refuge within the city. As Philadelphia grew into a major political and economic center of the United States, many different groups of religions and ethnicities flocked to the city. 19th and 20th century immigration and migration led to large concentrations of Irish, Italians, Germans, Asians, Puerto Ricans and African Americans. Philadelphia is still a major center of immigration, with large Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, East African, Middle Eastern, Indian and Mexican immigrant populations, among others.

Uptown Oakland Neighborhood of Oakland in Alameda, California, United States

Uptown Oakland or The Uptown is a neighborhood in Downtown Oakland, California. Its boundaries are ill-defined, but most definitions include the area between 27th Street to the north, San Pablo Avenue to the west, City Center to the south, and Harrison St to the east. The neighborhood has become an important entertainment district in recent years.

LaVilla Neighborhood of Jacksonville

LaVilla is a historic African American neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida and a was formerly an independent city. It developed after the American Civil War and was eventually annexed to the city of Jacksonville in 1887 and is now considered part of downtown.

Uptown Theater (Kansas City, Missouri)

The Uptown Theater is a historic theater located in Kansas City, Missouri. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as the Uptown Building and Theatre.

Black Vaudeville

Black Vaudeville was based on performances that came out of the movement and style of African Americans. The vaudeville years were the early 1880s until the early 1930s. These acts were unique on the vaudeville scene because the performers brought in different experience that the white performers could not convey. Although African-American performers were mistreated, a Vaudeville gig was better than being a maid or farm worker. Vaudeville had what they called circuits to keep the show business at the time organized. It was difficult for a black performer to be accepted into the white circuit due to the racial issues of the time. Eventually, black circuits were created to give black performers more opportunities. Black Vaudeville made it possible for African Americans to enjoy entertainment through their own heritage.

South Street Headhouse District Neighborhood of Philadelphia in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States

The South Street Headhouse District in Philadelphia is an area with more than 300 stores which includes a diverse urban mix of shops, bars and eateries. The neighborhood is generally bounded between Front Street and Seventh Street and includes Pine Street and is known for its "bohemian", "punk", and generally "alternative" atmosphere. It is one of Philadelphia's largest tourist attractions.

James G. Spady

James G. Spady was an American Book Award-winning writer, historian, and journalist. Over his fifty-year career, Spady authored and edited numerous books, worked in radio, television, and film, wrote hundreds of newspaper articles for various print media, and received the National Newspaper Publishers Association's Meritorious Award.

References

  1. 1 2 "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service. April 15, 2008.
  2. 1 2 http://www.philadelphiauptowntheatre.org/
  3. 1 2 http://www.thesilhouettes.org/uptown-theater.htm
  4. "The Return of the Uptown Theater". www.mookieland.org. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Update for the Uptown Philadelphia Weekly. June 23, 2009.
  6. James Spady, Georgie Woods: I'm Only a Man, pg 134
  7. "Uptown Theater Sold to Chain Corporation. " Philadelphia Tribune (1912-2001) 28 Feb. 1961, ProQuest Historical Newspapers
  8. James Spady, Georgie Woods: I'm Only a Man, pg 123
  9. James Spady, Georgie Woods: I'm Only a Man, pg 136
  10. James Spady, Georgie Woods: I'm Only a Man, pg 130