When I was growing up I used to spend some time at a business near the old Uptown Theater in Downtown Sedalia and I did glance over there occasionally and wonder about the status of one of Sedalia’s grand old theaters. Is it full of relics from the past? Does it still look like a movie theater? Is it salvageable? It seemed like a shame to let a building with such interesting architecture go to waste.
Not too long ago the good people at Furnell Properties renovated an entire corner of downtown Sedalia and that included renovating the old Fox Theater. It is kind of a shame that they basically had to gut the inside but it was encouraging to see that they saved and renovated the old theater facade. Now that’s a cool looking event space, and I’ve been to at least a couple of great events at the Fox Theater space.
But this time we have a chance to make a visually interesting piece of classic Sedalia come back to life, both inside and out. It’s easy to mix up the locations of some of the downtown Sedalia businesses sometimes, but there’s no denying the distinct aesthetics of the Uptown Theater and I love seeing that Meg Liston, Marty Lange, the good people at Sedalia Downtown Development Inc. and some generous volunteers are putting in serious work to make sure that the Uptown will be saved and restored as a shining jewel in the crown of Downtown Sedalia.
Many of us have probably traveled past the Uptown and had passing thoughts about what we should or could do with it but when Lange returned to take a radio job in Sedalia he rallied the downtown troops and took it upon himself to oversee the restoration projection. He should be commended for taking action, and for stepping up when he knew that he could help save a prominent piece of classic Sedville.
So it turns out that the Uptown is full of Sedalia theater relics. Their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/uptowntheatresedalia (Or just search Facebook for “Uptown Theater Sedalia”) is just about to reach 500 likes and if you haven’t followed them then you’re missing out.
It’s a goldmine of clear pictures of some of the artifacts that they have unsurfaced while going through the early stages of renovating the Uptown. Between the ceiling joists they found a couple of packs of Rizla rolling papers from the early 20th Century. There have been popcorn bags, pay stubs, candy wrappers and even hundreds of invoices and receipts from The Sedalia Democrat Company for advertisement from throughout the 1940s and 1950s. And while the work continues the inadvertent theater archaeology will, too.
But even after the restoration is complete it probably won’t be the sort of venue to see first run movies like it did back in the day. But that doesn’t mean that the stage can’t be utilized for all sorts of entertainment and that doesn’t mean that they can’t show some classic movies now and again. Maybe they’ll have special throwback weeks where they have showings of the same movies that were actually showing in the theater at some point in the theater’s long history.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could utilize a great venue like the Uptown during the Queen of the Prairies Festival of the Arts, or the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival? Wouldn’t it be great to see people who actually got to enjoy a movie in the Uptown back in the day be able to enjoy a show there again?
We’re lucky that the old structural bones of the theater are reasonably sturdy 80 years after they were built and that the interesting murals on the side walls are still there, even if they are a little faded. Maybe one day we’ll be able to purchase collectible medallions with those strange circular murals on each side.
We’re also lucky as a community that there are people who are motivated to restore a great classic building like the Uptown.
Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.