Conor Watkins' Ozark Mountain Experience
Article 49-50
The Uptown – Unique Rolla Landmark Reborn As Nightclub To Serve Campus And Community

The Uptown
Unique Rolla Landmark Reborn As Nightclub To Serve Campus And Community


The Uptown as at appeared soon before it opened as a nightclub.


On December 6, 1941, the following advertisement ran in The Rolla Herald, a Rolla newspaper that has since gone out of business.

“ROLLA RISE AND SHINE! Santa Comes Early This Year To Rolla And Gives You…
The UPTOWN
“THE THEATER OF TOMORROW.”
Equipped with THE ULTRA-MODERN PLUSH-BACK CHAIRS—1200 RESTFUL SEATS! THE LARGEST RCA MAGIC SCREEN: THE MAGIC VOICE OF THE NEWEST RCA SOUND EQUPIMENT! AND PERFECT VENTILATION!

OUR AIMS
To contribute to the store of common beauty!
To offer imagination in recreation.
To fill time—not kill it!
To make an evening pass like an instant yet seem an eon of joy in retrospection.
To make the theater an alluring mental adventure.
TO THESE IDEALS, UPTOWN “THE THEATER OF TOMORROW” WILL EVER ASPIRE.

GRAND OPENING TUESDAY DEC 9, 1941
1st Show 7 p.m., End show 9 p.m. ADM. 10¢- 35¢

-PROGRAMS-
Tues., Wed., Thurs., Dec 9-10-11 “RISE AND SHINE” with Jack Oakie, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan, and Geo. Murphy.

Fri. & Sat., Dec 12-13 “TARZAN’S SECRET ADVENTURE” with Johnny Weismuller, Maureen O’Sullivan

Sun. & Mon., Dec 14-15 Charlie McCarthy, Edgar Bergen, Fibber McGee, & Molly Lucille Ball in “LOOK WHO’S LAUGHING””


The December 6, 1941 advertisement as it appeared in the Rolla Herald.

On Dec 6th, 1941, it was only a matter of time until the United States entered World War II. Most Americans tried to remain isolated from the possibility of war.  Many were complacent and not very concerned about entering the war.  Officials within the U.S. Government and Military were gearing up for war while attempting to keep peace.  The construction of Ft. Leonard Wood, an Army Training Center, near neighboring Waynesville was one of many war preparations.  War with Japan was a definite possibility due to deteriorating relations with the U.S. Problems were partly brought on by the U.S. oil embargo, which was strangling to the Japanese, since their island country is natural resource poor.  On Saturday December 6th, President Franklin Roosevelt made a final appeal for peace to the Emperor of Japan.  On the same day, an encoded Japanese message was intercepted and partially decrypted.  An attack by Japan was believed to be eminent.

When the above advertisement ran, Americans still hoped for peace.  Most were innocent to the fact that war would hit home soon.  Unfortunately, a wake up call from Japan was well on its way in the form of six heavy aircraft carriers loaded with 423 planes, 24 support ships, and a separate group of submarines.  Their target was the Pacific U.S. Navy Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, then part of the U.S. Territory of Hawaii.

One day later on Sunday Dec 7, the U.S. received word from the Japanese that all diplomatic relations have been broken off.  The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor began just hours later and America’s innocence was no more.  Hong Kong, Guam, Wake Island, Midway Island, and the Philippines were also attacked.  A former MSM student was among the casualties from the attack.  The next day, Dec 8, President Roosevelt gave his famous speech stating that December 7th will be “a date which will live in infamy…” and the U.S. and Great Britain declared war on Japan.

The Uptown Theater in Rolla opened to a full house just one day after the United States officially entered World War II.

The theater was a $50,000 investment (1941 dollars) of the Gasconade Theater Company, which was headed by George Carney, a prominent Rolla businessman of the time.  The theater was said to be the most luxurious and modern theater between St. Louis and Springfield at the time of its opening.  Plush sitting lounges were included just outside the lower level restrooms.

The theater has since had multiple owners including United Artists, Commonwealth Theaters, Crown Theaters, and Hollywood Theaters.  Hollywood later became Wallace-Hollywood.  The new owner of the theater preferred multi-screen complexes and decided to close the Uptown when the plumbing became problematic.  The last show to run at the theater was the Dec 31, 1998 9:45 p.m. showing of “Star Trek: Insurrection.”  The Uptown also enjoyed a 20-week run of the blockbuster “Titanic” earlier in the year.  Hollywood Theaters put the Uptown up for sale in Early 1999 and it sat vacant for three years.

Around March 2002, John Pittman, started looking for a building to house his wife’s beauty salon.  The northern section of the Uptown was once a beauty salon years ago and was still well suited for such a purpose.  John and Candy Pittman closed on the Uptown on March 29 to use as a full-service beauty salon.  This purchase also left the two with dilemma of having an empty movie theater and some space at the south side of the building.

Although they had been told that the balcony and other parts of the building might be structurally deficient, inspections by Engineers proved these rumors to be untrue.  Even after 60 years, everything was found to be rock solid.  Candy was proud to show me some of the sturdy steel structure of the building, which is visible from a crawl space above the theater.

On Sept 5th, 2002, I stopped by the Theater to conduct an informal interview with those working to renovate the old Uptown Theater.  The owners, John and Candy Pittman of Rolla and other employees were busy inside.  Everyone involved in the project was willing to share their experiences with the building and their plans for its future.

Since many locals and UMR students have expressed interest in a Rolla nightlife, the Pittmans decided to convert their old theater into a nightclub and restaurant.  The project included serious renovations to the interior of the old Uptown Theater.  Many of the seats from the theater were removed to make room for a dining area and dance floor.  An additional area upstairs is to eventually hold bar room games such as billiards, darts, and some electronic video games.  Removed seats were sold for $5 each and two of my roommates purchased a bank of three seats for our house.  Much of the interior was also repainted, mostly in the original style. Paint colors in some locations were changed, but the interior still retains most original colors, the straight lines, and geometric shapes of its 1940’s art deco styling.  The exterior of the theater is to remain mostly as it has since it opened in 1941.  The old marquee will stay in place and serve to announce upcoming performances.  A large mural may eventually be added to the south facing outside wall of the building.

The theater building is to entertain guests with performances of live bands and comedians and will be somewhat like the Blue Note in Columbia, MO.  Plans are for the Uptown to be open Tuesday through Saturday.  The nightclub will open on Sunday for some exceptions, such as Super Bowl Sunday or other events.  Tentatively, the club is scheduled to follow a regular schedule during the week.  Tuesdays will generally be Karaoke nights.  Wednesdays will usually be college nights with live music and drink specials for those with a student ID.  Thursday nights will be ladies night, meaning that no cover will be charged to women.  Friday and Saturday nights will hold more live performances, comedians, or local DJ’s.  Since the old projection equipment is still in place, the theater may serve its original purpose and show some movies while it is open for business.  Theme nights will be held from time to time, so be expecting beach and toga parties at the Uptown.

The Uptown will also hold community and religious oriented events without alcohol on certain nights.  Gospel nights will be held on certain Sundays.  Some Mondays, especially those during the summer when most UMR students are not around, will be alcohol free teen nights.  Other nights will be reserved for the mentally and physically handicapped.  Since the nightclub has not yet opened, schedules may change from time to time.

Tentative hours for the Uptown are as follows.  Lunch will be served from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  Happy hour will take place from 4:00-7:00 p.m. and the kitchen will serve food from 5:00-9:00 p.m.  The nightclub is to close at 1:00 a.m.  John and Candy Pittman realize that many students will not attend during the early hours of the evening.  These hours are mainly meant for anyone to pick up a bite to eat or have a drink on the way home.  All members of the campus and community are welcome to attend the club during all operating hours.  The hours listed above are only tentative and will be adjusted based on demand and interest once the club is opened.  Cover charges for nights with no live performers will be no more than $5.00, while covers on nights of performances will be dependent on the rate charged by the band or comedian.  The balcony or the entire facility can be rented out provided advance notice is given to the owners.

A large wrap around bar has been constructed in the front section of the building. This bar will serve mixed drinks and beer on tap. A nearby bucket of beer on ice will serve those simply wanting a bottle of beer. An additional bar serving mixed drinks and bottled beer will be available on the balcony, just below the projection room, once that section is complete.

A dress code has been instituted.  Fancy attire is not required but some restrictions apply.  Tight security is also in order and security personnel will always be in clothing marked “Security.”  Security will sometimes include off duty police officers, especially on nights of large performances.  Some 18 year olds are allowed in the club as long as a 21 year old is willing to accompany and sign them in.  No alcohol will be allowed in the hands of minors and cups will be tested for alcohol when there is suspicion of minors drinking.  These tests will be conducted with a simple chemical dipstick resembling a Popsicle stick.  If a minor’s drink tests positive for alcohol, both the minor and their accompanying 21 year old will be banned from the club.  The Uptown will participate in the Cheers designated driver program and the Sober Cell Phone program on the UM-Rolla campus.  The obviously intoxicated will not be served and anyone needing a ride is more than welcome to use the public telephone within the building.

The Uptown is to host KMNR’s annual Halloween Party, Freakers Ball, on its opening night of Wed Oct 30, 2002.  The doors will open at 8:00 p.m. to three high-energy bands.  The Steve Ewing Band (former lead singer for the Urge), Pomeroy (http://www.pomeroymusic.com/), and Fever Pitch (http://www.feverpitch1.com) will be performing.  A costume contest will be held and $300 worth of prize money is to be given away.  The event is free and open to anyone over 21 years of age.  Those between 18-21 are welcome but only with a UMR student ID.  For more information on the event, see http://web.umr.edu/~kmnr/ or call the info line at (573) 341-6159.


Advertisement for the KMNR Freakers Ball.

If the Pittmans hadn’t purchased the Uptown for use as a beauty salon, and experienced the “problem” of having all the extra empty space, the Uptown might have sat vacant for many more years.  The building might have eventually been put to good use but chances are that it would have deteriorated to a point where tearing it down would have been the easiest solution.  The Ritz Theater in downtown Rolla fell to such circumstances in the 1990’s.  It once stood on the northeast corner of Rolla and 8th Streets but is now serving as a parking lot.  The Rollamo Theater was another theater located downtown.  The original building is still standing and now serves as a Bank of America branch.  A drive-in theater named The Rolla Drive-In was once located north of town.  It has been demolished and the site now holds Lowe’s.

Candy Pittman, co-owner of the Uptown, indicated that most of the profits from the first year would be spent to improve the building.  The balcony will be opened up within a few months and a digital projector to show movies and television events such as the Super Bowl may be purchased in a year or so.  She didn’t disclose all the plans for the new nightclub but simply said, “A lot of surprises are coming your way.”  Be expecting many good things from the old Uptown Theater.

The Uptown is located at 1100 Pine Street in downtown Rolla and may be contacted at 341-3477.

Thanks to Candy and John Pittman of the Uptown (573-341-3477), KMNR (www.umr.edu/~kmnr), The Rolla Herald, The Rolla Daily News, Keith Brady and Gary DeSpain (former employees of the theater), The Naval Historical Center (http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq66-1.htm), and The History Place (http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/pearl.htm), and the friendly folks at the Rolla Public Library (http://www.rollapubliclibrary.org/rolla/default.asp) for some of the information included here.

(C) 2006 by Conor Watkins