The Uptown originally opened on February 16, 1929 in the North Central neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 2,040-seat theater was designed by the architectural firm of Magaziner, Eberhard and Harris. It was built by Samuel Shapiro and operated by the Warner-Stanley (Warner Bros) Theatre Circuit.
In 1951 the Uptown Theatre was bought by Sam Stiefel, who also owned Washington’s Howard Theatre and Baltimore’s Royal Theatre, and became part of the “chitlin circuit,” hosting live music shows that were primarily rhythm and blues, soul, and gospel directed towards an African American audience.
In 1957 Philadelphia radio personality Georgie Woods began producing shows at the theater. Woods was responsible for turning the Uptown into Philadelphia’s answer to Harlem’s Apollo Theatre by booking many famous African American acts. Like the Apollo, the Uptown became known for amateur nights where local artists could compete for prizes. Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates got his start at one of the Uptown amateur nights.
By 1971 the shows were grossing $250,000 a year and films were only shown during the times when no live performances were booked. Woods produced his last event at the Uptown in 1972. The theater was active as a concert venue until closing in 1978. Gang violence and the beginnings of the crack cocaine epidemic were taking root in the neighborhood. The disinvestment in North Philadelphia that followed kept promoters from taking the venue seriously as a performance space.
The theater stayed open until 1978. True Light Community Ministries purchased the Uptown in 1989, but abandoned the property after a 1991 storm damaged the roof, and for some time since, the soul palace sat as a dilapidated mess.
The Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation (UEDC) bought the theater in 2002. UEDC raised enough money to stabilize the roof, restore the building’s exterior and renovate the attached office space. still include concrete designs for setting up a restaurant, dance and radio studios, and space for youth programming in the 50,000-square-foot abandoned theater.