Help Save Historic Uptown Theatre in Walt Disney’s Hometown of Marceline

Shannen Ace

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A historic three-story brick building with a sign reading "Uptown Theatre" stands proudly in the hometown. The structure features multiple windows and storefronts at street level, including a banner for "Mickey," nodding to Walt Disney. An American flag is visible on the right.

Help Save Historic Uptown Theatre in Walt Disney’s Hometown of Marceline

Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri, was the inspiration for much of what exists on Main Street USA at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. In particular, the Main Street Cinema was inspired by the Uptown Theatre, which still exists on Main Street in Marceline, although it’s not currently in great condition. Thankfully, a nonprofit foundation is now raising money to save and restore the historic Uptown Theatre.

A historic three-story brick building with a sign reading "Uptown Theatre" stands proudly in the hometown. The structure features multiple windows and storefronts at street level, including a banner for "Mickey," nodding to Walt Disney. An American flag is visible on the right.

Next Stage Preservation Foundation, a disabled veteran-run 501(c)3 nonprofit, has launched an Indiegogo campaign with the goal of saving, renovating, and eventually reopening this historic building. One major milestone has already been accomplished: The Uptown Theatre is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of July 2023. Somewhat unbelievably, it is the first Marceline historic property to be placed on the National Register.

A description about the history of the Uptown Theater, detailing its opening in 1930, Walt Disney's involvement in screenings, and special events related to Mickey Mouse, displayed on a brick wall.

Tom, Eric, and Jason were lucky enough to have visited this amazing building last year and given a tour by the founder of Next Stage Preservation Foundation, and unfortunately, it’s in pretty bad shape.

A small theater reminiscent of a bygone era shows significant ceiling damage and disrepair, with sections falling in, exposed wiring overhead, yet seating arrangements remain largely intact—almost like a forgotten set piece from a Walt Disney classic.

Next Stage says on the campaign page:

Our goal is to help save and rejuvenate historic rural movie theaters. These theaters were once important places for rural America. They allowed rural residents to get a taste of “city life.” They were cultural hubs. Citizens would watch vaudeville, films, and plays and even get a great deal of their world news from reels shown at these theaters. First kisses, first jobs, first dates, and other firsts are part of the fiber of these buildings.

Thus, with 75% of Americans still living in rural cities with populations under 10,000—cities and towns which are often impoverished—revitalizing these theaters gives rural communities desperately needed jobs and brings the community together by allowing them to reclaim a piece of their history.

An indoor area with a framed picture on the wall and a sign reading "Coming Soon: The Great Locomotive Chase, July 27 '56." A Donald Duck figure stands in the bottom left corner, adding a touch of Walt Disney magic to the scene.

Next Stage is hoping to purchase and renovate Uptown Theatre, which was constructed in 1930. It hosted the Midwest premiere of Disney’s “The Great Locomotive Chase” in 1956 and the world premiere of “The Spirit of Mickey” in 1998. It’s the last extant historic rural theater in Linn County, Missouri that can host films and festivals.

A sign on a wall reads "The Spirit of Mickey, July 14 '98" with movie camera icons on either side. A film reel and an American flag are nearby, capturing the nostalgic essence of Walt Disney's enduring legacy.

According to Next Stage, Uptown Theatre has mold, a leaky roof, architectural deterioration, and more issues. Many of these problems arose because the theatre was closed for years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wall painting featuring Walt Disney's Donald Duck and Chip 'n' Dale in a room with partially damaged ceiling and ornate gold trim.

Ultimately, Next Stage will need $4 million to renovate the building but they are currently aiming for $685,000 to purchase Uptown Theatre, secure insurance, replace the roof, and complete mold removal and remediation.

A hallway with a chandelier, a shelf with framed pictures, a stuffed dog on a ledge, a sign reading "OPEN," and a cutout of a character in front of two green doors labeled "Comics' Inn" and "The Great Locomotive," evokes the whimsical charm reminiscent of Walt Disney.

Any money raised over the goal will be used to update the building’s five apartments so they can be rented and generate more revenue. Work will then begin on the utilities, façade, neon sign, marquee, lobby, and business spaces. The auditorium will be the most extensive part of the project and will be rehabilitated last.

Wall with Walt Disney cartoon characters Mickey Mouse, Pluto, and Goofy painted above a radiator in a room with textured walls and ornate crown molding.

They expect the project to take over six years depending on how quickly they get funding. They plan to reopen no later than the 100th anniversary of the theatre in 2030. For the grand reopening, they hope to recreate the premiere of “The Great Locomotive Chase” with Walt and Roy Disney impersonators.

They will then open to the public with vintage and old Disney movie showings, and hire a theater manager to start a company for plays and musicals. The space will also be leased for festivals.

A plush toy of a cartoon dog, reminiscent of a Walt Disney character, wearing a green hat and light pink shirt is seated behind a glass window, next to some small objects, in a retail or service booth setting.

Our goal is to not only rekindle the love of the old time movies in rural American, but to bring in more tourism to the city so more people can enjoy the beauty of the city’s historical architecture and the place that inspired an important part of Disneyland and future parks: Main Street U.S.A.

Donate to “Save Marceline’s Uptown Theatre.”

A dimly lit, rundown theater with rows of purple seats, a small stage, damaged ceiling, and hanging lights evokes a forgotten era. A bright spotlight on the left breaks through the gloom like a nostalgic nod to Walt Disney's early animation studios.

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