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January 17, 2013

Behind the Scenes at the Uptown Theatre

Filed under: SHPO Out & About — Leslie Coburn @ 2:54 pm
uptown-theatre-lobby

Last night (1/16/2013), Preserve Minneapolis and Landmark Theatres hosted an insider’s look at the recently completed Uptown Theatre rehabilitation project.  Architects Bob Mack and Amy Meller of MacDonald and Mack Architects described the challenges of meeting the client’s needs while advocating for retention of character-defining features.

“We had a few discussions,” Mack said diplomatically, of Landmark’s plans to re-vamp the theater, reducing underutilized seating capacity from around 900 seats to 350 and increasing leasible retail space.  The most noticeable change, apart from the tangy lime-green and orange lobby colors, is that the two flanking stairways to the mezzanine level have been moved inside the auditorium to make room for additional storefront space.

Theater manager Patrick Cross was on hand to give his impressions of the new spaces.  “I wouldn’t have put the stairs in the interior of the auditorium,” he said, because you can’t access the new bar on the mezzanine while the movie is playing.  Cross said that, on the positive side, the improved cash flow from leasible space meant the theater could remain a single-screen movie house, usually a money-losing model in current film industry economics.  Without that, a second auditorium might have been carved out of the balcony seating and mezzanine areas, dramatically altering the interior spaces.

About the project, from the Preserve Minneapolis event flyer:

Originally built in 1916, the Uptown Theatre was modernized in 1939 by the architectural team of Liebenberg and Kaplan in the Streamline Moderne style. It was designated a local landmark in 1990. After years of use, several remodelings, and minimal general maintenance, the Uptown Theatre was in need of repair when new building owners took over in 2009. In addition, changes in theater technology and usage required the long-term tenant, Landmark Theatres, to update interior spaces.

MacDonald & Mack Architects worked with the owner to develop an exterior restoration plan which included masonry, tower sign, and marquee repairs in addition to replacement of non-historic storefronts. On the interior, Landmark Theatres wanted to decrease their rental space providing the owner with an opportunity to expand the retail spaces flanking the main entrance, improve accessibility, and update restrooms. Remaining character-defining interior elements – such as the open lobby and mezzanine relationship, re-created Acousti-Celotex murals, and light fixtures – were preserved although the stairs to the balcony and mezzanine were relocated to accommodate retail expansion. Landmark Theatres also took advantage of the remodeling to update interior finishes, install more comfortable seating, replace projection equipment, and address ticketing and concession deficiencies in the main lobby and mezzanine level.

Wednesday’s tour included a trip through the theater’s subterranean tunnel, which constricts menacingly the farther into it you go.  Vintage graffiti graces the walls, and an abandoned microwave labeled “MURDER” lends a macabre air.

Catherine Sandlund, staffer at Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, was there to see the finished results, in anticipation of other theater rehab projects she’ll be assisting through the historic tax credit program in the near future.


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