One of the city’s most influential buildings as far as the oil industry, and one of the most memorable for theatregoers, announced it is shutting its doors for good.
“The Uptown has made the business decision to cease operations of the Uptown Stage and Screen and Marquee Room and is vacating the Barron Building,” said The Uptown Stage and Screen on their Facebook page Aug. 1. “In light of movie piracy and the popularity of Internet services such as Netflix, industry prospects are poor for cinemas specializing in “Art House” product.
Constructed between 1949 and 1951 for $1.25 million, the Barron Building was the project of J.B Barron, a law graduate who, according to writer Irena Karshenbaum, moved to Calgary at the urging of his uncle Charlie Bell (who built the King George Hotel, demolished in 1978).
Oil had been discovered in Leduc and workers employed by American oil companies were working in lackluster conditions like local basements. Barron took advantage of the situation and built what was known as the Mobil Oil Building at 610 8th Avenue SW which as well as Mobil, housedSun Oil, Shell, Socony Vacuum Oil and Trans Canada Pipelines.
“The building inspired the term “the oil patch” because of all the other buildings that sprung up around it and anchored the oil industry in Calgary transforming the city into the oil capital of Canada,” wrote Karshenbaum in a 2011 Chinook Country Historical Society newsletter. “Modeled after the Lougheed Building and the Grand Theatre complex, (Barron) created a mixed-use building with the Uptown Theatre on the first two floors, office space on the second to tenth floors and space for his family business and a penthouse for himself on the eleventh floor.”
The building was listed on the Heritage Canada Foundation’s (HCF) 2012 Top Most Endangered Places List.
“The landmark Barron Building in downtown Calgary… is one of its finest examples of modern architecture and has historically played a crucial role in solidifying the city’s position as the centre of Alberta’s Oil Industry,” said the HCF. “Clad in buff-coloured brick, Tyndall limestone and polished black granite, the 11-storey Art Modern office tower designed by prominent local architect Jack Cawston also houses the two-screen Uptown Theatre — the last historic movie house in the downtown core — which until recently played an important role in the city’s cultural scene.”
The beginning of the end of The Uptown came in November 2011 when the current owner shut off water services after pipes burst. Without water and heating, The Uptown — at that point the building’s only remaining tenant — ceased operations.
“The owner has filed a number of demolition applications to remove the theatre marquee and alter other heritage features of the building over the last few years, but there has been no move to rehabilitate and redevelop the building,” said the HCF. Despite its extraordinary heritage significance, the Barron Building does not have any heritage protection. While it is on Calgary’s Inventory of Evaluated Heritage Sites, it has never received heritage designation, as this requires the owner’s consent.”
The Uptown management said it will remain committed to supporting the arts in Calgary and hopes to remain active in its support.
Do you have any memories of the Uptown? Should it be granted Heritage protection? Share your thoughts in the comments below.