Vacant Lot Disappears on North Broad, Plus an Uptown Update

We were cruising along North Broad Street the other day, on the lookout as always for any new construction activity that might catch an eye. We were rewarded for our efforts when we spied some early excavation at 2235-37 N. Broad St., a parcel that’s been sitting vacant for at least a decade. Though there’s not even foundation work ongoing as of yet, we can tell you that developers are planning a mixed-use building here, with ground-floor commercial and 11 apartments on the upper floors. Given the property’s proximity to Temple, it’s quite possible the units will target a student population, though the building will also sit close to a subway stop so it could work out for someone that’s not in school as well. Whoever ends up living here, the new structure will represent an upgrade over vacant land- even though we struggle to believe the it will compare with the surrounding buildings in terms of architecture.

Construction site
Looking up the street

While we’re here, it seems like a good time to check in on the Uptown Theater, which is located directly across the street. This building has an incredibly rich history, having hosted shows by Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, the Supremes, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and BB King over the years. You can guess from the names on this list, the Uptown’s heyday ended decades ago, as the surrounding neighborhood grew more depressed and larger venues opened in other parts of town. The Uptown closed as a live performance venue in 1978, then it functioned as a movie theater for a spell before turning into a church. After sustaining damage from a major storm, the building was purchased by the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation in 2002. This group went to work to raise money to renovate the building, an effort we brought to your attention back in 2011. At that point, UEDC had raised roughly $3M which was tabbed to restore the building’s art deco facade and its terra cotta tiles.

The Uptown

We previously told you to expect that the next phase of the building’s redevelopment would entail renovating the theater, creating office space, artist lofts, a technology center, and a restaurant. We also told you that this work would come with a roughly $7M price tag. As you might guess from the image above, the second phase of the theater’s redevelopment has not moved forward as we had hoped, as it’s still closed to the public. But there has been incremental progress- last summer, during Philly Free Streets, the Uptown was opened to tour groups, allowing the public inside for the first time in years. Earlier this year, as the theater prepared for its 90th anniversary, the UEDC received a $500K grant from the state’s Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program. Per the group’s website, they are now ready to move forward with additional renovation efforts.

It goes without saying that the renovation of this building would be a boon for the surrounding neighborhood and this stretch of North Broad Street, not to mention the longtime residents that remember the days when this venue was one of the most prominent African American performance venues in town. Given the expense of the renovation and the time it has taken to get to this point, we have to think it will still be at least a couple years before any part of the building reopens, but we’re excited to hear about the progress and optimistic that the building will soon come back into active use. We’ll be especially interested to see just how much of the original interior remains intact, and how well it matches the impressive exterior. Looking forward to scoping it out in person, when the time comes.

  • James Goodwin

    Would be nice for Temple to purchase the Upton as they are the only ones who could renovate a theatre for student use plus rent it out for professional performers. More investors would upgrade stores around theatre to attract students and people who live nearby.

    • Jayfar

      Temple’s money is otherwise occupied trying to keep their hospitals afloat and in trying to build a stadium almost no one wants. I feel the better bet, and certainly one more palatable to the surrounding community, is to support the ongoing efforts of the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation. I made a small donation recently and I hope many others will too.