STRONG CITY, KANSAS

….And So It Begins!

In 1900, construction began on a large stone building in Strong City, Kansas. Carved into stone above the main entrance: 1900 Auditorium. The building was used initially as an opera house, and in the 1920s it was converted to show new-fangled moving pictures. Yes, actual moving pictures! Imagine!

In 1931, the theater was re-named The Uptown, and this is how it became known to generations of moviegoers in the small town of Strong City.

As with all small-town theaters, the business struggled and later closed. In the fall of 2000 the entire roof suddenly and without warning collapsed, crushing and destroying almost the entire interior.

This should have signaled the end of the historic structure.

But…but…the small town (population: around 500) rallied around the devastated structure. The city purchased the building from its private owner, and an application was made to the Heritage Trust Fund of Kansas to put on a new roof! The application was approved! And the new roof guaranteed that the stone structure would survive!

 

The building in the summer of 2017.

 

It seems that in the 1940s the main entrance was renovated. A large arched window was covered over. The original doors were replaced. Glass block sidelights were installed. And this is how things remained until the theater was closed and the doors covered with plywood.

 

After being dormant for decades, the theater inhaled a new breath this past Saturday. In the early morning hours, with great heat and in full sun, three volunteers began CPR…

 

…by removing the ancient plywood covering the huge arched window above the main entrance. The window has been covered since, it seems, the 1940s. Nobody knew it was there.

 

And what a glory the ached window is! Zounds! The window certainly dates from the 1900 build date, and retains, amazingly, almost all its original glass, including stunning amethyst and turquoise panels! Who knew!

 

The main doors are, again, assumed from the 1940s. These proved, sadly, in poor condition and cannot likely be saved. At my instruction, Scott Wilste is shown here, smashing a glass pane so we could reach in to open the long-sealed doors.

 

ZOUNDS! The doors are open for the first time in decades! Inside? The ruined lobby survived, barely, the devastation of the collapsed roof.

 

Here, Justin Garr is trying to removed the arched window so it can be restored. Scott is climbing the steps.

 

The window would not come out, but will with a cordless sawzall (which we did not have on Saturday). So we left things as they were, after replacing the sign across the 1940s doors. And so it begins…

 

Post by Ross, blogmaster.

 

 

 

 

 

21 Comments

  1. Barb Sanford on August 21, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    So happy to see this building come back to life! I’m looking forward to following your efforts on the blog.

    • Ross on August 21, 2017 at 10:41 pm

      Barb!!!!!!!!

      You get the award for the very first comment on this new blog!

    • Dave on August 29, 2017 at 11:46 pm

      It’s great to see this building being brought back to life.

      Can I recommend that you post some pictures on here of what the finished product will look like inside and out?

      If you can post pictures of what it originally looked like when it was in operation that would be cool too. Maybe print out some movie poster sized prints of the past and future plans and put them on the front of the building labeled “coming attractions”! 😀 RIGHT??! Good idea huh??!

      Maybe pay a few bucks for a design firm to create some graphical representations of what it will look like. That will help people to envision what it will look like. I’d recommend putting up a brass plaque somewhere on the building that honors Dudley Dolittle.

      • Ross on September 1, 2017 at 5:12 pm

        Thank you, Dave.

        We didn’t yet know what the finish product will look like! That will take some time still.

        We are also currently tracking down interior images before the roof collapsed. Surprisingly, there are not many and what we have found are poor quality. Soon though, there will be a post showing what we have found to date.

  2. Seth Hoffman on August 21, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    While the Queen Anne window pattern is quite common, I don’t believe I’ve seen it employed in a semi-circle like that before. Very cool.

    • Ross on September 1, 2017 at 5:13 pm

      Hi, Seth!

      The huge arched window will be a knock-out when restored, which hopefully will be before the year is out.

      • Seth Hoffman on September 1, 2017 at 5:39 pm

        Sweet!

        It’s going to look great with a bit of backlighting.

  3. Mary Garner-Mitchell on August 22, 2017 at 3:00 am

    Oh my goodness! This is going to be a joy to follow. Ross, when do you sleep? DO YOU SLEEP?

  4. Carla Windsor Brown on August 22, 2017 at 7:07 am

    Oh, this is wonderful. I spent a lot of time in my teens and early 20’s in Strong City. I actually went to a movie at The Uptown, I wish I could remember what we saw, but it seems it closed shortly afterward. Way to go Strong City!!!!

  5. Sandra Lee on August 22, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Yay! Bravo to you & the 2 other volunteers! Kudos to you Ross for leading the way for the blogpost on the Strong City, KS theatre & spearheading the current restoration! I echo Mary Garner-Mitchell– do you SLEEP????
    Love the limestone! Love the arched & half-moon window with amethyst & turquoise glass!!

  6. Mike on September 1, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    I love what you guys are doing. I think you need to try and up the donations and funding though. This could take 10 years to complete with $10 donations. Any plans to have fundraisers/golf tournament fund raisers, silent auctions, raffles etc? You can get the local businesses to donate items for raffles and then have people do silent bids. There also should be grants available either from the state or federal grants for old historic buildings like this right? Have you applied for grants like that?

    You need to get a more professional looking banner out front. Or put framed movie poster prints out front like Dave suggested. That’s a good idea! Right now the front looks bland. I think when you get the neon light repaired and get something out front that draws people’s attention, it would help a lot to put posters out front. Photo renderings of the final plans inside and out and how it will be like the original theater would help a lot. Frame them in poster sizes. I like the “coming attractions” idea!

    Keep up the good work. I think it needs a little more fund raising and some more decorative displays on the front of the theater to draw attention to the progress and plans so it doesn’t look amateur or like just 3 people are only doing little things like paint and polish.

    • Ross on September 1, 2017 at 5:27 pm

      Thank you, Mike, for your supportive words.

      Already, the Strong City Preservation Alliance has received a Heritage Trust Fund grant, which replaced the entire roof. Every year, the Alliance sells fireworks in July which has raised many thousands of dollars.

      All this effort has involved several dozen people, which is not insignificant in town of around 450 people!

      A year from now the theater should be looking a great deal better. The neon sign will be restored and lighted every night, and the huge arch window will be restored. We are also discussing installing new entry doors, and restoring the boarded-up windows on the facade.

      Also under discussion is submitting an application to the Heritage Trust Fund, in the fall of 2018, to restore the ruined lobby! We are also looking into installing huge posters of movie stars in the boarded-up windows facing south.

      Another exciting idea being explored is to start having performances in the ruined interior of the theater, which should prove highly atmospheric!

  7. Sandra Lee on September 1, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    What wonderful plans!!!!!! Love love love the limestone!!!!! Mike has great ideas & Ross once again cogent as well as copacetic genius plans & projections!! I adore anything architectural & before 1919:-) yay Restoration Ross! Once again you mesmerize us with your great ideas & astonishing results!!!

    • Ross on September 1, 2017 at 7:55 pm

      Thank you, Sandra.

      The restoration of the 1900 theater is very much a joint effort involving dozens of people full of ideas!

  8. Dave on September 6, 2017 at 4:28 am

    I emailed the KSHS and asked what grants are available. Her reply was very informative.

    • Ross on September 6, 2017 at 6:37 pm

      Thank you, Dave.

      The Strong City Preservation Alliance has been working with the Kansas State Historical Society for many years now.

  9. Marilyn on September 13, 2017 at 7:19 am

    Ross , nice job on this blog. I did enjoy the pictures that you took while you, Scott and Justin were exploring the lobby. The close up of the window shows it much better than just driving or walking by. Fellow bloggers, please realize the Strong City Preservation Alliance also has a facebook page. Thanks for doing this. You are a great asset to our Alliance. Thanks for adding this to your endeavors.

    • Ross on September 13, 2017 at 8:15 am

      Thank you, Marilyn! And you a great job as Chair of the Alliance! It’s not an easy job! Particularly this past week! Yikes!

      Oh, and readers can find our Facebook page by clicking on the Facebook icon (upper right of each page here).

  10. Dave on September 14, 2017 at 12:58 am

    Have you considered a community cleaning up day or a community construction day? People really turned out to build the new park in Strong City. Maybe do kind of a “bring your hammer, saw, nails and elbow grease” type of thing. You could possibly knock out large chunks of clean up and construction. Even ask people to donate construction materials maybe? Or hire someone to do fund raising? People in the county are generous for projects that fix up the town.

  11. Marilyn on September 26, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    You know they are all impressive. I thought of the original sign and know it was pretty simplistic so liked the red letters and the black background. Then either red or white neon. Again they are all nice and I am just trying to stay with something simple rather than really jazzed up. Thanks for sending out so many options….you might just get a vote for each for they are all good.

  12. Dave on September 27, 2017 at 1:44 am

    Yeah, after looking at all of them again, I think the one with yellow is too busy. Simple is sometimes better. From the ones I created, I think the black background, red letters with red neon UPTOWN letters and white “THEATRE” letters is the best. I kind of like the idea of some simple blue neon lines around the edge of the sign, but the basic letters in neon only is nice too.

    Whoever edits this site (Ross I think) can you remove the links on the top half of that message that say [IMG]? On most message boards when you use those letters it puts the pictures directly on the website. I thought the pictures would show up on this site without having to click on the links. This website must not have that option. Thanks! On the other page labeled “A Colorful Question” could you also remove those links that don’t work?

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