Years ago, Marty Lange used to walk by the Uptown Theatre in downtown Sedalia and wish someone would restore the historic building and bring back the glitz of the Art Deco age. He is now project coordinator for the Uptown and realizing a longtime dream.
Lange, a 2000 graduate of Green Ridge High School, left Sedalia for a time, but returned to take a position at KDRO Radio last March. He’s been working on the theatre since August.
“Right after the (Missouri State) Fair I started going in and doing cleanup,” he said Friday afternoon. “I’ve been putting plans together with Meg (Liston) and SDDI (Sedalia Downtown Development Inc.) on how we want to approach this.
“It was kind of a timing thing,” he added. “When I was a senior in high school I wanted that theatre restored so bad I couldn’t stand it. I had my senior pictures taken in front of the building.”
He said at the time it didn’t look like this would ever happen.
“I was always told told by people around town ‘give up on that. That’s a pipe dream, the building’s falling apart,’” he said. “Years passed by and I’d come home from Tennessee and it would still be sitting there.”
When he decided to move back home to Sedalia he found out the building had been donated to Sedalia Downtown Development Inc. He didn’t hesitate. Lange called SDDI Administrator Meg Liston to see how he could help with the project.
“It’s going to be 80-years-old on June 10 of this year,” Lange noted. “This is the perfect time, so let’s just do it.”
Liston and Lange don’t believe the theatre will be open by June 10, but hope to have it ready by the end of 2016.
“We’ll be down the road,” Liston said.
“I lived in Nashville for several years,” Lange said. “I saw the downtown redeveloping they had done in their tourist districts. I watched East Nashville completely metamorphosis from being a slum to being a very upscale, high-class community. That happened in less than a decade, from zero to 100.”
He said watching Nashville bloom made him think of Sedalia and all the potential and history his home had to offer.
“I thought, wow we can do this here,” he said. “We have so much history, so much heritage here. If we don’t preserve some of it, we lose a part of ourselves.
“To me, seeing this theater get done is more than just a way to provide some great entertainment to my community,” he added. “It’s a place that I hope people can walk in and the old folks can look around and feel like they are reunited with something …”
Liston added that the building has a lot of soul and history. She encouraged the public to help with the project by volunteering to work inside during the renovation.
“Just recently Marty took out the ceiling panels so we had work days to clean up a lot of that,” she added. “Definitely make contact with us and get your name on the list.”
She said they need to sweep and vacuum and also go through the theatre seats that have been saved.
“We need to get those cleaned up so they can be taken and refinished,” Liston said. “We are going to refinish some of them and put those in the balcony, and then buy new ‘old’ seats for the first floor. It’s a huge theatre, people don’t realize how much balcony there is.”
She said the original theatre had room for 835 seats in 1936, but they were small. They plan to place only 450 to 600 seats in the building during the renovation.
They have a small fund of close to $5,000 from previous donated gifts that they work with for cleaning up and for supplies for the building. Liston said the total cost of the renovation is approximately $500,000.
“We are going to be asking the Mid-Town TIF Commission for assistance and funding for the renovation,” she noted. “Then the balance of that will be raised through requests and making the people aware. It is a project that can move forward pretty rapidly now.”
Plans are being made to host a benefit concert later this spring for the theatre. Lange also has a fundraising idea to sell tile stars to donors who contribute a certain amount. The stars will be placed on the floor of the lobby much like the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Liston said they welcome donated material, paint and labor for the project. While renovating, they plan to keep the decor in style with the original Art Deco theme from the 1930s. Light fixtures are being saved, the painted murals inside restored and the stage extended 12 feet.
“The facade of the building in ‘36 was wildly different,” Lange said.
Once the building renovation is complete they plan to have it available for live and cinematic events.
“We will put cinema back in,” Liston added. “It will be a live event center and a movie theatre. We plan to show art films and old films.”
Lange would like to see the theatre used during the daytime hours for children in day care and also for the elderly in nursing homes to watch films. Weekly live music venues and comedy are also in the plans for the Uptown.
Lange did emphasize they will not be in competition with the Liberty Center Association for the Arts.
“We will not be competing with Liberty Theatre,” he noted. “We will not be doing plays. We don’t have the space to accommodate plays.”
They will not have art exhibits, but will display artifacts from the Uptown.
“We don’t have the space to be an art facility,” he added. “We hope to be able to coordinate events with the Liberty Center. So that we are working together.”
“Particularly we’d like bigger venue events, like a film festival, where we can all fill up every possible place that has a screen,” Liston said.
Lange requested that local people check their closets and attics for old photos of downtown Sedalia, in hopes that the Uptown might be in the background.
“We can use that, photos and any kind of artifacts from the theatre we would love to have as well,” he added. “Everything will be returned once it’s scanned or photographed.”
Those interested in donating time, money, photos or artifacts may contact Lange on the Facebook page at Uptown Theatre Sedalia or call Liston at SDDI at 660-827-7388.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.