Uptown Theater

The Uptown Theater is a historic theater located at 3700 Broadway in the Valentine neighborhood in the Midtown area of Kansas City, Missouri. As Uptown Building and Theatre, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.


The original design for the Uptown was carried out by Kansas City architect Robert Gornall. Construction first began on the portion of the Uptown that would house offices and shops along Broadway. This office and retail portion of the Uptown was completed in November 1926. Gornall's plans also called for a theater to extend along the rear portion of the building, with a tower at the north end to serve as an entrance and foyer. As the office and retail portion of the Uptown was nearing completion, the footing was also poured for the theater portion of the Uptown; however work was halted until the Universal Film Company acquired the unfinished building in 1927. Austrian-born designer John Eberson was hired to complete the construction of the Uptown and oversee the decoration of the interior. Kansas City-based Fleming-Gilchrist Construction Company served as the general contractor for both phases of the Uptown construction.

Eberson completed the design of the Uptown in Italian Renaissance style as an atmospheric theatre. It was the only one of its kind in Kansas City as well as the State of Missouri. The inside of the theater replicated an outdoor Mediterranean courtyard, complete with a nighttime sky ceiling with twinkling stars, clouds, and mechanical flying birds. The Uptown opened on January 6, 1928 to a film showing of "The Irresistible Lover". The Uptown was the first theater in Kansas City outside of downtown to show first-run films.

In the summer of 1939, the Uptown copyrighted a Fragratone system, which funneled fragrances into the auditorium via the ventilation ducts at appropriate moments during films.

The Uptown hosted movies as well as live vaudeville and stage productions through the 1970s. By the late 1970s, the theater began to function primarily as a concert venue, and it remained that way until it closed its doors in 1989. During its later years, the interior had fallen into disrepair, and all of the original details were whitewashed.


In 1994, the Uptown was purchased by UGA, LLC for $7,500, and the theater underwent a $15 million renovation. The original splendor was restored in the details and colors of John Eberson's original design. In addition, 33,000 square feet (3,100 m2) of new lobby, bar, office, and banquet space was added. Because of the redevelopment, the Uptown remains one of the few remaining atmospheric theatres still in operation. Permanent seating remains in the balcony and rear half of the main floor. The front half of the floor nearest to the stage is now open for table arrangements and general admission standing for concerts.

On July 2, 2005, native Kansas City band The Get Up Kids played their "farewell" show at The Uptown. The band re-united three years later.

The Uptown is now ranked number 82 on the list of the top 100 theaters in the world by the concert industry magazine Pollstar.

Some have criticized the Uptown's decision to allow the controversial Minutemen to hold their 2008 convention at the theater. The management of the theater pointed out that they take a fair and balanced stand in booking events at the facility, and they treated the group as any other party interested in renting the facility for a function. The booking of such an event was no different than that of booking a corporate event, concert, or any of the other political speakers and entertainers that have performance at the theater. The theater's choice to stay neutral and allow the Minutemen to hold their meeting at the facility has been praised by many residents in the community. Larry Sells of the Uptown commented in the Kansas City Star, "Freedom of speech has no boundaries. It is more important to hear a person live if you are opposed to them because then you can judge for yourself.â He pointed out that the Uptown has hosted figures from all sides of the political spectrum, including Barack Obama, John Edwards, John McCain, Ron Paul, Jim Talent, Al Franken, Bill Maher, and even a Cesar Chavez group some years ago.


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