HISTORY OF THE UPTOWN
In 1948, two brothers, Jerry and Sherman Silver, and their sister, Helen Meagher Fisher, a young widow with three children, moved to Texas from Minnesota and purchased the Wings Theatre on Main Street in Grand Prairie. The brothers, already known in the theater business, were excited about the possibilities in this small and growing Texas town of 13,241. Soon after their arrival, the family also leased and ran the Texas Theatre, only a block down and across the street from the Wings. The Wings Theatre was thought to have been a converted grocery store, with a rickety wooden floor and a segregated balcony for its African American customers. The Texas Theatre, originally built as a movie house, featured second-run movies.
The Silver family saw a market for first-run movies in Grand Prairie and soon began the design and construction of their third and most ambitious Grand Prairie movie house, the Uptown Theater. The Uptown opened on March 17, 1950, as a first-run movie Theater with 1,100 seats. They also included a small stage for live performances. Unprecedented in its time, it opened as an un-segregated theater years before other theaters in the area began to follow suit.
Considered a state-of-the-art theatre for its time, the Uptown featured a sloped floor in the seating area for optimal viewing of the stage and screen. There was a glass-enclosed “Cry Room” in the back for mothers and babies, so that they could enjoy the show without disturbing the other guests. The spring-loaded seats would return to a vertical position when the seat was vacated, unlike the stationary seats in most theatres, and they included oversized chairs with ample legroom for customers “of size”. A large canvas mural adorned the lobby wall depicting the history of Grand Prairie from its pioneer beginnings to the Dallas skyline as could be seen from downtown Grand Prairie in the 1950’s.
Entertainment over the years included films, kiddy shows, stage productions, minstrel shows, and even midnight showings for the Ling Temco/Chance Vought late shifts. There were also personal appearances by celebrities promoting their films. In the 1960’s due to more popular demand, battle of the bands and go-go contests replaced stage and minstrel shows.
When Uptown first opened, adult tickets cost 35 cents and children tickets were 12 cents. Because of Mrs. Fisher’s frugality and innovation, Uptown became known for its popular and unique pickle juice snow cones, which recycled the pickle juice left behind in the giant jars of pickles, and Old Maid popcorn bags of the half-popped kernels left on the bottom of the popper. During the 1950s, parents routinely dropped off their unattended children, as young as three years old, for Saturday’s kiddy shows. Playing full-time usher and part-time babysitter at the kiddy shows, Donna, Mrs. Fisher’s youngest, was ten years old when she started working in the family business. Her older sister, Pat, was 13 and worked in the more responsible areas of concessions and box office.
The Silver brothers and their sister, Mrs. Fisher, owned and operated the Uptown for 15 years until 1965 when the Uptown ownership was transferred to Mrs. Fisher’s daughter, Donna Meagher Easterling, the young usher who by then had become a local attorney. Mrs. Easterling continued to operate the Theatre as a movie house well into the 1990s. But as mega-plexes and multi-screened Theatres became the norm, the Uptown eventually relented to the inevitable and closed as a movie house. It was intermittently leased as a church until the City of Grand Prairie purchased the Theater in 2005 with plans to restore the historic downtown landmark to its former glory. This time it would serve primarily as a live performance arts venue.
The restoration and renovation design was performed by noted San Antonio architect Killis Almond of FAIA. Almond has numerous theatrical restoration and renovation works to his credit throughout the country, including The Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston. Almond grew up in Grand Prairie in the 1950s-60s and had many fond memories of his visits to the Uptown as a young boy. The Uptown Theater reopened as a multi-use performing arts center in 2008.