At age 66, Port Townsend's Uptown Theatre going digital
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Rick Wiley, owner of the Wheel-In Motor Movie and the Uptown Theatre in Port Townsend, splices 35mm film for one of the last times.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — The 66-year-old Uptown Theatre will close after next week's Port Townsend Film Festival, reopening after about two months with a digital projection system and completely renovated interior.

“When we reopen, this will be a completely new Uptown,” said owner Rick Wiley, 56, who represents the third generation of his family to run the theater at 1120 Lawrence St.

“People have been asking about this for years.”

Wiley said he is a believer in the line from the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.”

“Once I make the digital upgrade, people will come in here and be amazed, when before they would come in and say, 'It needs some work.'”

The theater will be one of the venues for screenings during the Port Townsend Film Festival, Sept. 20-22, and will close soon after for the upgrade.

Aside from the digital upgrade — which is required for the theater to continue to show new movies — the space will get all new floors, carpets and seats along with a redesign that will turn the balcony into a VIP space.

The redesign will reduce the current seating of 330 to about 260, Wiley said, but he expects the number of patrons to increase.

“The Uptown is going to be so cool that people will go to see a movie they would not normally see,” Wiley promised.

“They will take their preferences a notch down because of the experience.

“That could lead to 20 [percent] or 25 percent more people coming in, which would allow me to pay off my investment more quickly,” he said, adding, “I have a gut feeling that's what's going to happen.”

The combined upgrades could cost about $150,000, he said.

Wiley has most of that covered but is beginning a $40,000 Kickstarter campaign this weekend to carry part of the freight.

The incentives, which range from $20 to $10,000, will be displayed on the theater's website at this weekend, Wiley said.

Prices for VIP passes — which will be available for one, two and three years — also will be announced at that time.

The passes will be for a VIP area — the converted balcony — which will include comfortable seats, food service and a richer movie-going experience, Wiley said.

He also hopes to acquire a liquor license for the new room, “but I first need to prove to the Liquor Control Board that I can keep the business where the liquor is served separate from the rest of the place,” Wiley said.

VIPs will “own” seats that will be held for them for every show, while regular patrons will have access to the unreserved seats in the VIP for a $12 admission fee.

Prices for seats in the rest of the theater will be $9, raised from the current $8.

Drive-in theater

In addition to the Uptown upgrades, Wiley plans to install a digital projector at the Wheel-In Motor Movie drive-in theater at 210 Theatre Road just south of the junction of state highways 19 and 20.

The drive-in, the only one on the North Olympic Peninsula, closes for the season Sunday — and that will be the last time it will use 35mm film. When it reopens in April, the system will be digital, Wiley said.

The Wheel-In was entered in an Internet contest, with the top vote-getters receiving a digital projection system from Honda.

As of Thursday, two of the five winners had been announced, and the Wheel-In didn't place.

One more winner will be announced over the next three days at

Wiley said he didn't expect to win the contest because of the small local population. He entered it to increase the Wheel-In's visibility.

His two theaters “have a different demographic,” Wiley said this week as he threaded the drive-in's 35mm projector for one of the last times.

“Kids' movies that don't go over well in the Uptown do really well out here.”

Wiley said some of the old 35mm equipment will be put in a “museum room” in the Uptown so people can see how theaters operated before digital technology took over.

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Last modified: September 12. 2013 6:13PM
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