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Uptown Theater restoration aims to stretch Avenue of the Arts into North Philly

Decades ago, one venue brought Ray Charles, BB King, The Supremes, and Jackson Five to North Philadelphia. This was the Uptown Theater, which was a major Philadelphia attraction. The same cannot be said today, as the vacant theater languishes in the shadows of Temple University and poverty on North Broad Street, between Susquehanna and Dauphin. However, this is about to change, as the theater is in the midst of major renovations that will once again make it a place to be.

The Uptown Entertainment Development Corporation (UEDC) is leading the charge to restore the Uptown Theater.  Linda Richardson, the president of UEDC, says crews are currently working on the rehabilitation of the educational and entertainment tower at the old theater. This is where Richardson hopes to relocate the UEDC and provide office space for other tenants. She estimates that this renovation will be completed by March of next year. 

While UEDC works on the tower, they are also in the ongoing process of renovating the landmark façade of the theater. This is complicated because of the need to preserve the history of the building. "We're structured with color testing from the 1920's," says Richardson. This will lead to the installation of new tiles, which will maintain the historic character of the Uptown. The organization has been rewarded for its attention to vintage detail through a $10,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

While restoring the theater true to its mid-20th century roots has been a challenge, the biggest challenge has been to raise money for the rehab. The Uptown has been running a campaign called "Light up the Uptown," in which the UEDC solicits donations to turn its trademark marquee into an LED display. This has raised half of the needed $5,000 so far, as Richardson is still looking for $2,500 in pledges by the middle of December. Yet, the most expensive part of the renovations is to bring the auditorium and balcony back to glory. This will cost $7 million, an amount that UEDC is about halfway through raising.. 

A renovated Uptown Theater has the potential to be a tremendous spark to North Broad Street and North Philadelphia. "It's a continuation of the goal of the Avenue of the Arts North," emphasizes Richardson. She adds that the theater could serve as a hub for independent cultural organizations representing a wide range of races and cultures. The Uptown's facelift comes at an exciting time for North Broad, which has seen new development around the erstwhile Wilkie car dealership and anticipates new academic and dorm space at Temple University, as well as streetscape improvements. 

For the time being, the Uptown Entertainment Development Corporation is focusing on finding tenants to occupy the soon-to-be renovated educational and entertainment tower. Richardson narrows the field of possible tenants by saying that she's especially looking for young entrepreneurs in entertainment, arts, or social services. UEDC would also prefer any tenants be able to stay for two to five years. If Richardson and the UEDC get their way, tenants will soon have the distinction of working at the northern -- or uptown -- end of the Avenue of the Arts.    

Source: Linda Richardson, Uptown Entertainment Development Corporation
Writer: Andy Sharpe     
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