MINNEAPOLIS — It appears the Uptown Theater has played its final feature film. The iconic movie house won't reopen as others around the state emerge from the COVID pandemic.
Landmark Theatres, the specialty theater chain that has operated the Uptown since 1978, has been evicted from the building due to unpaid back rent. The projectors and other essential equipment were removed late last week.
"It's pretty heartbreaking but it’s not the most surprising news given the climate of the last year," Joseph Larsen, who worked at the Uptown for 12 years and served as its historian, told KARE.
"It's kind of difficult to comprehend it not being there anymore because it’s such an iconic symbol of the Uptown area. It’s kind of what the neighborhood was built around in 1939 with the sign."
The three-sided tower sign, which rises 50 feet above theater's roof, was such a novelty in 1939 that government aviation authorities had to give it the green light. It became an unofficial marker for the Uptown Neighborhood in Minneapolis, and a beacon in the night to film lovers.
"The theater's beautiful inside and it's just a treat to see a movie here. It's sad that it's going to be gone," said Loyola Colebeck, a former customer who happened to walk past the shuttered theater Sunday evening.
"I saw one of my favorite movies ever here, which is Portrait of a Lady on Fire. I think I cried for a half an hour after that movie finished, it was so deep and beautiful."
In a civil lawsuit the building owner, Lagoon Partners, LLC, sought $340,245 in back rent and operating expenses, plus $16,000 in late fees dating to the beginning of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
The news comes the same week that Landmark's Edina Cinema fourplex closed after decades in the 50th and France retail district. Both the Uptown and the Edina were known for screening art and independent films that were hard to find elsewhere in the state.
Landmark's Lagoon Theater multiplex, also located in Uptown, was still operating as of Sunday.
According to Larsen, The Uptown was originally named The Lagoon when it opened in 1916. The name was changed to the Uptown in 1929, but in 1939 the original building was heavily damaged in a fire.
"And after a fire in 1939 it was rebuilt as the building we know today, with the tower and murals and the exterior," Larsen explained.
In the 1990s the Uptown had a reputation as the place to see many of the breakthrough films.
"You had movies like Do the Right Thing and Sex, Lies and Videotapes and the Tarantino films, the Uptown was the place to see them. When The Blair Witch Project was first released it was one of the biggest movies they ever had at the Uptown."
A 2012 renovation restored the interior to the original 1939 themes and accentuated the building's 1930s Streamline moderne architectural style.
Baby Boomers and Gen-X people got to know the Uptown Theater for its midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show between 1978 and 1997, a tradition that was revived on a monthly basis in 2009.
"The personality of The Uptown and what the neighborhood used to be, "Rocky Horror" kind of embodied that, like the crowds that would come out for that, but there's less of that personality now," Larsen, who left the Uptown in 2017 and now works as a film archivist at the Minnesota Historical Society, remarked.
"That area used to be known as the punk place to be in the 80's and 90's. The Uptown area is just not like that anymore."
It wasn't just the neighborhood that changed. The movie industry changed too. He said Hollywood's larger studios began to produce and back independent films, but insisted those get wider distribution in multiplex theaters.
Feature Foundations Videography put together a four-minute tour of the theater, which can be viewed at the YouTube link below:
KARE reached out to both of the lead attorneys in the eviction lawsuit but didn't hear back from them as of Sunday evening. KARE also reached out to current Uptown managers, who referred us to Landmark's corporate management. An email message to Landmark hadn't been returned as of Sunday evening.