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The Carthage Press
Never Forget: The Third Anniversary of the Uptown Demolition
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By Rolla Preservation Alliance
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By Ryan Reed

Today marks the third anniversary of the demolition of the Uptown Theater and the adjacent Knapp Home.  Looking out your window on this cold blustery day, it is hard to believe it was an unusually warm Spring day when a massive backhoe punched a hole in the north wall of the theater.  What is even harder to believe is eight months prior to its demolition, the Rolla Business Association strongly recommended “the Uptown Theater be renovated and revived into a discount movie house” as part of a downtown revitalization plan.  Perhaps the icing on the cake is the historic theater was demoed for the alumni association of a university who has been internationally recognized as a leader in sustainability.  The proposed demolition created an outcry by the students of Missouri S&T and longtime residents of Rolla for the retention and adaptive reuse of the theater.  However, the theater was demoed for an alumni house that has yet to be built nor has the funds in place for its construction.



Image courtesy of the Rolla, MO Hometown Non-Censored Facebook Page
In September 2009, the future of the Uptown was bright.  The Meramec Regional Planning Commission in conjunction with the Rolla Downtown Business Association produced the City of Rolla Downtown Plan.  The intention of the plan was to be a vehicle for new life, economic vigor and long-term viability of downtown Rolla.  Among the marketing plans and strategies was a detailed plan for the renovation of the Uptown Theater into a discount movie house.  The plan stated;


“This starts with contacting the present owner and contracting a developer to plan and execute the renovation. Advertizing the new discount movie house is to begin when renovation begins, and extend well after its opening to the public. Research and ascertain the most popular movies among college students (Star Trek marathon, Star Wars series, Ladies Night, Rocky Horror Picture Show night) and advertise the movies to be played in the first few months. Offer student concessions. Bring in famous personality for the grand opening and put movie house into operation.”


The plan estimated the renovation of the Uptown would cost a minimum of $300,000.  The feasibility of the renovation of the Uptown would have increased with the use of historic tax credits.  The historic theater, designed in 1941 by Carl and Robert Boller of Kansas City, could have been individually nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.  The Boller Brothers designed over 100 theaters across the nation.  Several of their theaters have been placed on the National Register including the KiMo is Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was saved from the wrecking ball and has undergone an extensive restoration.  If placed on the National Register, the Uptown would have been eligible for state and federal tax credits.  Utilizing these incentives would have credited  45% of the rehabilitation cost in taxes or the credits could have been sold to a bank or another developer.


Flyer by Missouri S&T student, Margret Powell
One month after the creation of the City of Rolla Downtown Plan, the Missouri Department of Economic Development announced that Rolla was selected to participate in the Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri (DREAM) Initiative.  The DREAM Initiative was a program designed to help communities to more efficiently and effectively engage in downtown redevelopment and revitalization efforts.  Being selected for the initiative meant that Rolla gained access to financial assistance. Specifically, Rolla would receive $160,000 from the state for infrastructure improvements, historic preservation and job creation.  One of the focus areas of the initiative in Rolla was the north entrance to downtown area on Pine Street which included the historic theater.  John Petersen, the Director of Rolla Community Development considered the Uptown an “keystone building” in the revitalization of downtown.


It appeared that the Uptown’s future was secure.  Financing was in place for the revitalization of Pine and Rolla Streets and the historic theater would play an integral part of these efforts.  This outlook drastically changed in three months.  By January 2010, plans were set into motion of the demolition of the Uptown.  Within eight months of Rolla’s designation as a DREAM community, the Uptown would be gone.


On Friday, January 22, 2010, Marianne Ward, the Director of the Missouri S&T Alumni Association announced plans for an alumni center at the northeast corner of Pine and Eleventh Streets.  After inspecting eleven different sites around Rolla, the alumni association chose the location due to its proximity to campus and its connection with downtown (typically know as uptown to Rollites.)  The Director also stated the Uptown and adjoining Knapp Home would be razed because the reuse of these buildings was not an option.  These statements counteracted months of research conducted by the City of Rolla and the Rolla Business Association which strongly recommended the theater’s reuse as a key element of downtown revitalization.  The statements of demolition by the Director of the alumni association also counteract the sustainability goals of the university. 


At the turn of the twenty-first century, Missouri S&T became the first university in the nation to voluntarily commit to an Environmental Management System (EMS).  An EMS provides a structured approach to the planning and implementation of environmental protection procedures using the guidelines set forth under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).  These guidelines encourage creative and relevant solutions from within the organization itself to reduce its impact on the environment and our natural resources.  To further their commitment, MS&T implemented a sustainability policy to minimize the university’s pollutants and advocate environmental stewardship. Stated within the purpose of their policy is the continual improvement of environmental stewardship with respect to materials, water and energy use.


The university further advocated sustainability through the Student Design and Experimental Learning Center (SDELC).  The center allows experimental learning through projects supporting multi-disciplinary student research.  These projects include initiatives in solar technology to limit our dependence on finite resources.  The projects include the solar decathlon and solar housing which have given the university international recognition concerning solar technology.  Currently, the university is in the midst of creating a geothermal energy system that would cut in half its energy consumption and reduce its carbon footprint by 25,000 metric tons per year.  Yet, the university’s alumni association is willing to demolition two buildings that ended up in a landfill.  The retention and adaptive reuse of our historic buildings also plays a massive role in sustainability. 13% of solid waste in Missouri landfills comes from demolition waste. Nationally it accounts for 30% of solid waste in landfills.  The adaptive reused of the Uptown could have been another feather in the cap for the university in their goal towards sustainability.  Instead, it created dissention among native Rollites, university students and alumni.


Photo courtesy of the Save the Uptown Rolla! Facebook Page
The public outcry against the demolition of the Uptown was strong.  Within weeks of the proposal, university students band together with the purpose of stopping the demolition.  On February 3, 2010, a protest was held on campus.  Missouri S&T senior, Josh Spehn stated to the Rolla Daily News “We are opposed to the sale, we don’t agree with its proposed use.”  His sentiment resounded with thousands of people.  A petition was created to stop the demolition and over 1,200 signatures were secured.  A poll taken by the Rolla Daily News to gauge the future of the Uptown revealed that out of 1,279 individuals, 63% of them wanted to keep the theater in place.  A Facebook page, Save the Uptown Rolla! was created to raise awareness of the demolition.  Days before the demolition, the Uptown became littered with graffiti concerning the looming demolition.  Statements that graced the building read “The Uptown will never be forgotten”,  “This is why I’m never joining the Miner Alumni Association”  and “Avenge Me!”  What is interesting is the initial push to save the Uptown came from university students and facility.  Their momentum swelled and quickly involved alumni, natives and Rolla expats.  Even with the massive outcry against demolition, the Uptown fell to the wrecking ball on March 24, 2010.


The demolition of the Uptown was a turning point concerning the preservation of our historic buildings and retaining a walkable and sustainable community.  It has also created a greater awareness of the threats against buildings with local significance including the Trachoma Hospital, Rayl Cafeteria and the Chamberlain House.  It has also created awareness of a number less significant buildings that create a neighborhood.  This sense of a neighborhood is often carried by a number of buildings that none of which would be individually highly significant or eligible for the National Register. However, the retention of these less significant buildings attaches people to their community and provides a sense of place and connects us to our shared heritage.


The Missouri University of Science and Technology has been very beneficial to Rolla since its establishment in 1870.  It is the largest employer in Rolla.  It has helped our population grow and has put us on the international spectrum for its engineering program.  However, the university has not been good stewards of our shared community.  The loss of the Uptown and the proposed demolition of the Trachoma Hospital (Rock Mechanics), Rayl Cafeteria and other smaller residences and commercial buildings adjacent to the university according to their Campus Master Plan is not in sync with their goal of sustainability.  The rehabilitation of our historic built environment would further the university’s commitment to their sustainability policy and EMS.  Rehabilitation and adaptive reuse could also be integrated into the curriculum of the university and be used as a learning opportunity for SDELC. The combination of these opportunities has the ability to attract more students to the university and individuals and families to Rolla while maintaining Rolla’s cultural heritage.


Let us promote a sustainable future that includes a walkable, close knit community that retains and adaptively reuses our historic built environment.   Let us have an economically viable and dense downtown.  Let us have a sustainable city that reuses existing infrastructure, decrease sprawl and saves the embodied energy of materials used in the construction of buildings.  Finally, let us never forget the demolition of the Uptown.

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