Uptown Theatre

219 Broadway Avenue,
Orangeville, ON L9W 1K4

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Inside Front Lobby 1954

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Uptown Theatre is located on Broadway in downtown Orangeville, Ontario, just about 45 minutes north of Toronto.

It opened in 1927 and was remodeled in the late-1940’s. It operated as a single screen movie theater until the late-1970’s, when a second screen was added on the second floor.

The Uptown Theatre closed in 2002 and was purchased by a church, which conducts services in the main auditorium, and screens movies once a month. Media studios, offices and children’s activity areas are on the second floor.

Contributed by Chad Irish

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

snowpuma
snowpuma on May 15, 2005 at 8:25 am

The Uptown was the cinema I grew up with in Orangeville and when it closed shortly after the opening of the new Galaxy Mulitplex in town it was a deep loss. The bright green neon sign, which in its later years often had dead letters on one or both sides was a beacon on Broadway and it was my favourite place in my home town. Although the building still stands it has been stripped of its soul and I miss it greatly. Seeing movies at the multiplex just isn’t the same. The Uptown was hardly perfect, but it was a unigue experience. After a failing campaign to keep its seats filled after the Galaxy opened, the Uptown closed in Spring 2002, the last picture shown was Murder by Numbers, although I didn’t go. The last movie I saw at the Uptown was The Majestic just after Christmas 2001. I can’t possibly think of a more perfect movie to see as the last show at my favourite movie theatre.

I’m not certain of the facts, but I believe some of the theatre information given here is incorrect. To the best of my knowledge, the Uptown originally opened possibly in the late 1920s or more liekly the 30s, so I have been told by a former employee who did his projectionist aprrenticeship (ironicly just before the Ontario government eliminated the need for formal projectionist training) at the Uptown. He said the theatre was built as a replacement to a smaller venue on the other side of Broadway and was meant to be on par with theatres found in Toronto, although in a small town fashion. I am uncertain if the cinema was built before or after the introduction of sound but I believe it was after. I certainly believe it was in operation before the 1940s, although I don’t have any solid evidence for this, beyond what I’ve casually heard locally. Whatever the opening date, it was certainly a feature in Orangeville for well over half a century. I would love to do more reaserch into this, find the exact date and what the first feature was, etc. If anyone has done so I’d appreciate learning what you’ve discovered.

The big change for the Uptown came in the late 70s or very early 80s when it was twinned. However, i do not believe it was twinned by simply turning the balcony into a second cinema and i am also uncertain if the Uptwon ever had a balcony. Although when I reflect on the architecture of the building it possibly could have had a balcony wrapped around the projecion booth and that would be logical given the layout of the building and the original second story, which included an apartment for the projectionist, later used as offices. I would certainly like to know more about how the conversion was done and the state of the theatre before it was twinned. I’m sure this information exists, but finding it is labour intensive. So, to the best of my knowledge, based on talking to older patrons and my own casual architectural assesment, the second cinema, which I rarely attended as the lower cinema was much better (relatively) and the best movies always played in there, was created by building a completely new addition over top of the original cinema. One of my uncles actually installed the air conditioning system and he commented that it was way too small for the building. How true this is I have no idea. Whatever the case, the upper cinema seemed hastily added and poorly done. It was added shortly after the Stinson chain (which has a monopoly on movies in Timmins) bought the Uptown. Stinson owned the Uptown until the end. I can only remember seeing one movie there, Jurassic Park 3, which I went to singularly because it was in Cinema #2 and I wanted to see what it was like before the whole thing closed as the Galaxy was under construction that summer. It was a totally plain boring box with a screen and sightlines inferior to the larger lower cinema, which is saying a a lot.

The Uptown was never a technically wonderful cinema. The screen was small, maybe 30' at best, and the sound was maybe stereo but likely mono, although always loud enough. The seats were classic but comfy, although in the later years many began to fall into disrepair. When the church was converting it they refurbished all the chairs in the lower cinema, which was very nice to see. In the summer of 2002 I was in the Uptown as it was being converted and they were doing a really nice job. I purchased 2 of their surplus chairs as they were selling all the the chairs from the uptairs cinema. As I was told these were the original chairs from when the Uptown opened as new chairs were purchased for downstairs after it was renovated into a twin. The are lovely art deco theatre chairs painted blue and I got a set in excellant condition. I even got side panels for both sides of my two chairs so that they are complete free standing units. The old light housings on the sides have the old cloth covered wiring inside, which I’m quite sure is completely rotted. The chairs do feature identification plaques stating their model and manufacturer. I’ll have to look that up and post the information on here when I get the chance (the chairs are in storage right now). I was told the chairs were from the 30s.

I would certainly like to see what the cinema is like inside now that it is a church, what I saw when it was being remade was interesting but a little sad. I know the upstairs was being converted into a TV studio for Christian programming. A clever re-use I suppose. Its open as a church so I suppose thy would let me in and maybe I could take some pictures too. If anyone is a member of the church of has atteneded a meeting there I’d be curious to know what you think of the Uptown in its new use.

I’m not sure how accurate my historical info is but it is what I have learned about the old cinema over the years. Any corrections or further information would be greatly appreciated.

The only regret I have about the Uptown is how many movies I didn’t see there. It was notorious for getting movies late or not getting them at all even if they advertised them. The appearance of a “Starts Friday” banner under a poster was greatly anticipated as I walked past the theatre on my way to High School. Sometimes I didn’t appreciate it enough and was forced to see movies elsewhere, like The Lion King, but I also had some great experiences. Some of my my best experiences at the Uptwon were seeing Jurassic Park on opening night and attending the midnight premire of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (I also saw all the special editions of the Star Wars films on the day they opened) with a big crowd in attendance. My brother and I were the first to get tickets when pre-sales began a week or two before. Sadly I lost that ticket stub to the washing machine I believe. There is a picture of my brother and I that night before we went to the cinema around somewhere. Oddly enough, the applause at the beginning of the movie was great than at the end. I think that fit the film perfectly.

Here’s to the memories.

  • Jarl
QuickStudy
QuickStudy on July 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm

The Uptown Theater was built in 1927. It had one theater, washrooms concession and ticket booth on the main floor. The second floor was the projection room and an apartment. In the 70’s a second theater was added above the first. The apartment was changed into washrooms, another concession and office. In 2002 the Uptown was purchased by the Good Friends Fellowship Church. The first floor theater is now a santuary using original refurbished seats. The upper theater’s floor has been leveled and is used for children’s activities, offices and a media studio. The old boiler furnace is still in the basement. Yet not in use. The 2 fireplaces from the apartment are still standing. Behind the marque(which is in the process of being refubished) you can see the words “Uptown Theater” in the original brick work. Movies still play once a month. Come by and see us some time.

andreap
andreap on March 20, 2013 at 6:19 pm

The Uptown Theatre was built in 1927; it was owned and operated by my great grandparents, Sal and Salvatora Merlina. It was remodeled in the 1940s. The Merlina’s owned and operated a theatre prior to the Uptown across the street on Broadway. It was called The Gem.

The Merlina’s also owned and operated several other theatres in the region, including The Roxy in Mount Forest, a theatre in Toronto, and a drive-in theatre in Erin. They had 5 children and each adult child managed a theatre. They rotated homes and management of the theatres every 5 years.

My grandparents, Jim and Muriel Merlina operated The Uptown from 1948 to 1975 at which point Muriel Merlina, a widow, sold the theatre to Jim Stinson.

The projectionist was named George Fludder. He died in the 1960s. There was an apartment above the theatre. My father was an occupant from 1963-65. He met my mother after her father, Jim Merlina passed away suddenly in 1964 and The Uptown was closed for a week.

My mother and aunt both worked at the theatre business as they were growing up. Jim would go to Toronto twice per week to pick up reels. He would drive around the county to deliver flyers to businesses to announce the coming features. Muriel worked the ticket wicket and the girls worked at the candy bar. The blue seats were installed in the renovation in the 40s. I remember a large glowing clock over the exit door that I could read in the dark during a movie. George Fludder would play a short cartoon before the feature presentation and Jim would often have it repeated after the feature because he loved them so.

The front lobby had a terrazza flooring with the name Merlina 1927 placed in tiles. I don’t know if it is still there, but I hope so.

Rod_TV
Rod_TV on February 1, 2014 at 11:55 am

Hi My name is Pastor Rod Hembree of Good Friends Fellowship proud owners of the OLD UPTOWN THEATER. Most of the information is correct. Although I do take issue with the status. It is not closed. We do play movies monthly. Good ones too. It’s part of our Church outreach. Also we have finally finished phase 2 of rebuilding the Marquee Sign. It has about 800 lights. The cost was near $50,000 to fix and all of that was donated by Church memebers in Orangeville. We still have phase 3 which will be to re-light the UPTOWN Neon signs and the back-lit panels. We are aiming for summer 2014 to finish the sign. When we bought the building it was a serous mess and a health risk. Mold in the walls (three layers of rotten dry wall) and old hard food and candy everywhere and stuck to everything. This testified to the abuse of that building over the years as a movie theatre. It has all been cleaned out and cleaned up and repaired by the good friends at Good Friends Church in Orangeville. The Church saved the building with over 260,000 volunteer hours of clean up and fix up. Anyone and every one is invited to come and look and take pictures if you wish. We are not a cult. LOL. The building is in use almost ever night of the week. We have 3 services on Sunday 9:00 am, 11:00 am and 6:00 pm. Most of them are filled. Our movie nights are often packed. The cost of seeing a movie is a dollar donation to our LIGHT HOUSE which feeds 10,000 meals a year to needy folks in this good town. All are welcome at Good Friends Fellowship. Even if you are not a CHURCH person come on out and take a look at the old building. Sr. Pastor Rod Hembree – Good Friends Fellowship at the UPTOWN THEATRE 519-942-0736

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