The Uptown Theater
Way before the VHS boom, DVDs, watching movies on demand or on line, the only place to see the latest and greatest motion pictures was to view them at your local theater. Growing up there was one main theater that I always flocked to when ever there was a new sci-fi, fantasy, or adventure film opening up. That was the Uptown Theater.
The small theater is located in Utica, NY and first opened in December 1927. The Uptown was Utica’s first full-time movie house that had an orchestra pit and a motorized stand for the small pipe organ to be used for silent films. By the 1960’s and 70’s most of all the old movie theaters started to close down due to a recession. Only the Uptown and the Stanley theaters remained. During that time the Stanley becomes a performing arts center while the Uptown remained the same making it the only movie house in Utica at that time.
During all this time I was just a kid and discovering the wonderful magic of movies. My mom use to take me to all of the Disney films and later on Star Wars and all the other sci-fi fantasy films alike. My first memories of the Uptown Theater were probably in the late 70’s. By now the Uptown was showing second run movies because of the opening of Hoyt’s Cineplex theaters at our two local malls. Most of the time I would see movies at the Uptown than rather go to the big Cineplex, mostly because it was only a dollar and it was so close to where I lived at the time.
The place was a good size theater with only one screen. It had a great marquee in the front. I can remember they use to have comedy and tragedy theater masks a part of the sign. Also they had lobby cards to the movies that were playing like Star Wars, Superman, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Walking in I can remember the hallway to the lobby was really long (or so it was to me at the time). On the wall were posters to movies coming soon. The ones that stood out to me were all the horror movies posters. They really freaked me out. Back then I was terrified of any scary movie, but I’ll always remember seeing posters there of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and many others. One that stands out is the poster to The Shinning, which was just a simple poster but it was just creepy to me back then. It was just a yellow poster with the title on it, but in the “T” to the “The”, there was Jack Nicholson’s face looking horrifying.
I can remember walking over to the lobby with the scent of popcorn in the air. Walking down the dark aisle entering the theater. I was always excited about watching a movie in there, whether it was the first time I was seeing that movie played or it was the second or third, it was always a very cool atmosphere. One of the things that I enjoyed was the coming attractions. Although most of the trailers were to movies that were all ready out and on their first run but once in awhile they would show a preview to a movie that didn’t hit the theater yet. Now once all the trailers were done it was time for the feature presentation. There’s a long list of films I saw at this great theater. Lots of my favorite films I saw at the Uptown for the first time. Some I saw at others theaters first, but when the films would get re-released to that theater, I would watch them again to enjoy them at the Uptown. Here is a list of some of the films I’ve seen at that theater during the late ’70’s to late ’80’s:
All of the classic Disney films
The Empire Strikes Back
Clash of the Titans
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Legend of the Lone Ranger
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Return of the Jedi
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Beverly Hills Cop
Back to the Future
Spies Like Us
In the late ’80’s I started to see more films at the mall when they first came out. I no longer wanted to wait 3 to 4 months for the film that I wanted to see to hit the Uptown. Also by now I was going to the mall with my friends every Friday or Saturday night because it was the only thing to do in Utica. So, we would hit the theaters there and catch the latest film. Also back then, myself and my friend Craig would always try to see the films on the first day of its release, that way we wouldn’t have to worry about spoilers on Monday morning in school because the latest film to come out would be the hot topic in conversation and if I didn’t see the film yet I didn’t want to hear anything about it.
Still, I always would go back to the Uptown when I wanted to see the film for a second time. But, around that time I would just wait and rent the film on VHS if I wanted to see it again. During the ’90’s, the Uptown added two more screens and upped their price to about $3.50 or $4. With movies now leaving the theaters quicker, the Uptown would get their movies a lot sooner from the time they were released. It still stood strong throughout that decade. About that time I moved to Tampa to go to school, but when I was back in town visiting family I always drove by it and was glad it was still standing.
The next time I would see a movie at the Uptown was in 2005. I was visiting my family for a week during the summer and my cousin Steve and his fiancé e Teresa (who is his wife now), went to see Devil’s Rejects at the Uptown. At that time I haven’t seen a movie there in 12 or 13 years. It was a very cool experience. The place still looked the same. It seemed a lot smaller though from what I remember when I was a kid. Going into the theater the place had a great grindhouse feel to it now and Devil’s Rejects was the prefect film to watch there. Instead of the usual previews before the previews, on screen ads, and television commercials, there was just a blank screen they way it was thirty years ago. There were just a few trailers before the movie and that was it. I was very happy to watch a movie again in the Uptown Theater and it was great to see it hadn’t changed a bit.
Although it’s stayed the same, some changes were made to the theater such as adding some more screens and in the mid-2000’s they started showing first-run movies again. It also had many different owners throughout the years. The current owners Tracey Mills and Scott Anderson bought the place in 2007. The two of them fixed up the place by doing some remodeling inside and outside the theater. I haven’t seen these new changes to the theater yet but I did prefer the old grindhouse look that I last saw and classic look that I remember as a child.
Right now, times are tough for the Uptown. The place closed for a bit during the winter due to lack of attendance and hours and staff have been cut to stay open. It even got so bad that they recently put the theater on the market. The two owners are trying their best to get people to come back to the theater, to showing presidential and vice presidential debates to screening independent and foreign films. I would really hate to see the Uptown close down. I hope it works out for the current owners and they get the audience back. I think showing independent, foreign, and even rare cult classics would get people to go. I know from growing up in Utica, we only got Hollywood blockbuster films and never got any independent or cult classic films. I think Utica needs that and the Uptown would be a great place for it.
I hope when I go back to visit, I hope the Uptown Theater is still standing and doing very well. I would like to visit it again and enjoy watching a movie there. The Uptown was my theater and I had tons of great memories there. I wish them the best for many years to come.