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Building with a past

The new Uptown Theater is housed in a building with a checkered history.

The original theater began a vibrant life in 1939 at 3165 Bailey Ave. as a thriving neighborhood movie house, one of many that existed throughout the city. Then in the '50s the flight to suburbia ensued and urban theaters went into steep decline.

In 1963, Fred A. Keller, a cultural wizard of the first order, moved his Circle Art Theater from a leaky Connecticut Street building to the languishing theater on Bailey Avenue. There he continued his adventurous programming of art films (as foreign films were then called). Keller's screenings attracted the university crowd down the block and anyone else who wanted to see the films of Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Francois Truffaut and the other giants of foreign cinema of that day.

After Circle Art itself moved to the suburbs, the theater became the Capri Art Theater. But this time out there was little "art" involved. The word was a euphemism for pornography. Though under constant assault from the city during the 1980s, the porno movie house survived for a good long run.

Then, in the late 1990s, an enterprising Christian couple bought the place and stood the X in X-rated on its end and made the Christian cross the reigning symbol of the theater. They showed Christian-oriented films, brought in Christian rock and held revival meetings. But, alas, its life was brief.

Uptown Theater will be the first time that the old building will serve as a multipurpose theater offering a cross-section of film and live arts, including original theater productions by local playwrights. The determined community orientation and the participatory nature of much of its programming makes it a singular venture.

-- Richard Huntington

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