On July 16, 1928, a magnificent theater called the Uptown opened its doors at 3207 E. Douglas. The grand premiere showcased the iconic film “The Jazz Singer” featuring the legendary Al Jolson, under the management of J.C. Hartman. The theater boasted a remarkable three-manual, specially made Reuter organ, skillfully played by Lloyd Richmond from the Capitol Theater in Chicago. Breaking from tradition, the orchestra, led by Harry Hunt’s Imperial Stage band, performed on the stage instead of the pit.
Just a few days before the grand opening, on July 3, 1928, an article in the Wichita Eagle mentioned that the organ was ready for operation, adding to the excitement surrounding the theater’s inauguration. The anticipation grew, and the city prepared for the influx of visitors by adding fifty street cars to the College Hill line, as reported by the Wichita Beacon on July 5, 1928.
Finally, on July 12, 1928, the Uptown Theater unveiled its beauty and splendor to the public. The Wichita Beacon described the theater’s interior as “lavish, with cut stone walls and a breathtaking blue sky dome ceiling, creating a distinct and refreshing ambiance.” The Wichita Eagle, in the same issue, praised the theater’s “atmospheric architecture, depicting Venetian garden scenes on the side walls and a simulated outdoor atmosphere with twinkling stars and floating clouds.” With its 1,500 seats, the Uptown stood as a magnificent and refined entertainment venue, earning its place among the finest theaters in the region.
Decades later, in 1961, the Uptown Theater underwent a significant transformation and became Kansas’ first Cinerama theater. With the installation of a massive 74 by 26 foot screen and three projectors, the theater showcased the awe-inspiring “This is Cinerama” on October 27th. William Haas, a seasoned theater professional with a remarkable 30-year career, took charge as the opening manager, bringing his expertise from theaters like the Wichita, Boulevard, and Palace.
However, the theater’s fate took another turn in the following years. It ceased its Cinerama operations and returned to regular film screenings from August to December 1975. After a brief closure, it reopened as a second-run theater. On July 13, 1976, the final show, “The End of the Game,” starring Jon Voight, Robert Shaw, and Jacqueline Bisset, marked the end of the Uptown Theater’s movie screenings.
Despite the closure, the Uptown Theater found new life in June 1977 when Ted Morris transformed it into a dinner theater. The theater put on full seasons of musicals and plays for years. However, after Morris’ passing on December 30, 2008, the theater faced numerous challenges in staying afloat. In 2017, it was sold once again, finding its current purpose as a performing arts center that continues to this day. The Uptown Theater’s rich history and transformative journey remain an integral part of Wichita’s cultural heritage.
This theater holds a spot in one of my fondest memories. This is where Jeremy and I held our wedding reception. It was a great night. We had food, balloons, friends and family, Karaoke, and a photobooth.
Check out some of the other theaters of Wichita in 1974.