BY MICHAEL BURKE Journal Times
RACINE Here are some words you haven't heard for at least four decades: “Where should we go to see a movie?"
“How about Uptown?"
But you could again. Maybe.
The Oak Creek-based Castlerock Investment Group is in the process of closing a deal to buy the former Uptown Theater, which showed its last movie in the era James Dean's short career was blazing.
Fred Hermes, a local member of the National Theater Historical Society, said the Uptown Theater showed its last film in the mid-1950s.
What has happened to it since is obscene: A leaking roof ruined large portions of the ornate plaster work; theater seats have been removed and the rest are ruined; and scavengers have made off with metal for scrap.
An antique dealer currently uses the entrance way as a shop.
Gary Thompson of Castlerock said the group is not planning to do any extensive restoration. “To restore it to the original condition would cost a small fortune," he said.
“The thought process would be to first look to restore itto somewhat of its original condition," he said, if federal money is available. The once-magnificent theater, which Hermes said held about 1,850 people, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
He said he would like to get the plumbing, wiring and heating systems back in order.
Then they will contact some of the larger theater chains. “They're the ones with the deep pockets," he said.
A local study conducted about 10 years ago put a price tag of roughly $4 million on a restoration, but that went further, Hermes said, to create a performing arts center.
“The numbers seemed so unrealistic," Thompson said.
Hermes said he thought a restoration is entirely possible. “It's a lot better than 99 percent of them that have been restored," he said.