I recently saw several of the promotional videos by Sean Posey of his new book, Lost Youngstown. If the videos are any indication, the book should be good. I went ahead and pre-ordered one. One of those videos was on the Uptown Theatre, which brought back memories of what was known as “Youngstown’s Luxury Theatre”.
My first time going to the Uptown was on a high school field trip to see Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. That was especially exciting because we had heard about the love scene in the film. We discovered that they had a “censored” version for such purposes.
The Uptown was located in the heart of a business district of shops and restaurants that made it a “place to be” on the weekends. There were a number of taverns like the Emerald Inn, the Alcove Lounge and the Jambar Lounge. And if you wanted really fine dining, you would go to Cicero’s, or the Colonial House, or the Mansion. We liked to go to a movie at the theatre and then catch a pizza at The Oven, which was always packed because everyone else had the same idea!
In the mid-70’s, the Uptown installed Sensurround Sound especially designed for disaster flicks. My wife, who kept scrap books growing up, kept the movie listing for Earthquake, which we saw together. Whenever the earth shook in the movie, there was this deeply rumbling all around you that you felt. It’s fun to look at the ad and see an incredible cast: Charlton Heston (before he started defending the NRA!), Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene (there was life after Bonanaza), and Genevieve Bujold (whose appearance in the film was part of a settlement of a lawsuit with Universal Studios).
The name “Uptown” suggests a classy place and it was! It made you feel like you were going uptown, and it was. Sadly, the district fell on hard times and the theater close in the 1980s. For a time, a group known as Easy Street Productions, which did a version of Pump Boys and Dinettes tried to bring new audiences and a new purpose to the theater. Their efforts to buy the theatre failed and it fell vacant and was nearly lost in a massive fire in 2015 that destroyed a number of surrounding buildings.
It is unclear at this point what the future holds for the theater and the area. It’s hard not to see a date with a wrecking ball in the future. Looking at the Google satellite maps of the area there are nothing like the business and dining establishments there once were. But the theater had a great 60 year plus run–and that is something.