Hope for historic Broad Street theater

Mother and daughter duo Linda and Aissia Richardson seek to revamp the historic Uptown Theater on Broad Street.| Sash Schaeffer TTN
Mother and daughter duo Linda and Aissia Richardson seek to revamp the historic Uptown Theater on Broad Street.| Sash Schaeffer TTN

If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

At least, that’s what members of the Uptown Entertainment Development Corporation think.

“If you’re not at the table, you will be eaten up,” said Aissia Richardson, half of the duo acting as the elected officers of the UEDC, next to her mother, Linda Richardson. “And we refuse to be eaten up.”

Aissia and Linda Richardson are the elected women over the board of directors and program committee of UEDC, working to not only save the historic Uptown Theater, located at 2240 N. Broad St., but to stimulate the economy and the surrounding neighborhood in the most effective way for its residents.

The Black United Fund of Pennsylvania chair members started the nonprofit in 1995. Linda Richardson is the only original incorporator active on the board today.

“We did neighborhood surveys and interviews with people in the community to define what were some of the issues and needs of people that needed to be addressed by a new organization,” Linda Richardson said. “From the beginning we wanted to be able to shape the organization based on the needs of the community.”

The organization focuses on programs, planning and projects with revamping the Uptown as the organization’s main project at this time. Aissia Richardson said saving one of Philadelphia’s last theaters that was built during the “golden age of Hollywood” would be a symbol of hope for the community.

The renovation of the theater is predicted to be finished in two years and will cost approximately $10 million in construction to complete, Linda Richardson said. On June 20, UEDC will launch a Hall of Fame award ceremony as a fundraiser with CBS 3 on Hamilton Street.

“There are a large amount of people in the city who have Uptown stories who went into the theater, recognized the beauty of the theater, had their first dates in the theater,” Aissia Richardson said. “It reminds people of their youth and hope and possibility and black futures. So that is something we want to bring into this community.”

On a personal level for Linda Richardson, bringing the Uptown to fruition would be a way to extend the Avenue of the Arts into North Broad Street.

“The theater is the northern anchor of the Avenue of the Arts,” Linda Richardson said. “Part of our legacy is the legacy of music and rhythm and blues and how its movement into mainstream [music] began in many theaters across the country like the Uptown.”

The goals of revitalizing the theater remain to make it a self-sustaining institution, a place that will promote and perpetuate the expression of rhythm and blues and give multicultural opportunities for art and expression, Linda Richardson said.

“I have an interest in the vision of those of us in North Broad who are involved in culture and community building to make the Avenue of the Arts a realization on North Broad Street,” Linda Richardson said.

As far as planning, the organization strives to make the voices of the community stronger and more influential in citywide community planning. UEDC is also a registered committee organization through the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.

“What happens in the citywide planning, the opinions and feelings [of the community] are taken out of the plan,” Aissia Richardson said. “As a community organization and as community activists, our job is to make sure that the visions of the community stay in the plan and the voices of the people that actually should be the beneficiaries of that planning are heard and codified in any documents that say what should be happening in this neighborhood.”

Programs initiated by the UEDC include Uptown Youth Got Talent, a job readiness and skill-building program for young people that focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Both women noted that even though saving the Uptown is their central project, Aissia Richardson said they are working toward accomplishing many goals that appear to be necessary to the community members themselves.

“One of the things that is really key in working in disenfranchised and often disempowered communities is that people think, ‘Oh they don’t care. We can do anything to that community,” Aissa Richardson said. “We can destroy it. We can put a train station there. We can put a university there. We can put student housing there. People don’t care.’ But people do care and they can voice their opinions.”

Emily Rolen can be reached at emily.rolen@temple.edu. 

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