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The site of Grand Rapids’ first air-conditioned movie theater

Orion Construction has begun preservation renovations to the historical Uptown Church building in Eastown, repairing the front façade of the building, which had fallen off of the historical building due to deterioration and age.

Work includes taking apart the brick that has covered the front for several years.

“It’s going to have a sunburst look to it, taking it a little bit back to the original look of the building,” Orion President Brad Walsh said during an interview with WOOD TV8.

Built in 1936 as the Eastown Theatre, the building was the first air-conditioned movie theater in Grand Rapids with a seating capacity of up to 1,000 people. The theater, designed by Grand Rapids architect Harry L. Colton and operated by B & J Theatres, opened on Nov. 19, 1936, with its first feature film, “My American Wife.”

After the original Eastown Theatre closed in the 1970s, it became the Bijou Theater in the early 1980s, showing independent and foreign films. In 1987, the theater became a 50s- and- 60s-themed nightclub, called Shout. Uptown Church, “where everyone is welcome,” occupied the building space in June 1992. Founded by Pastor Bill and Joan Trim,

“We opened this with 12 people in 1997. It holds (500 or 600) and we were getting pretty full,” Pastor Emeritus Bill Trim told WOOD TV8 of the church’s beginnings 24 years ago.

“We survived all economic stuff. We survived COVID. And that’s the tenacity of God’s people,” Joan Trim added.

With services in English, Spanish and Swahili, Uptown Church now serves a new generation of local residents within the city.

“So when we talk about bringing in the old to the new, this is part of it,” Pastor Greg Amunga, who took over from the Trims about a year ago, said during an interview with WOOD TV8. “I believe that this right here is really representative of building relationships. People come by and they see the old. Now, they’ll see the new.

“We’re bringing in the future. And what better way to bring in the future than with a face lift?” Amunga added.

Read more about Orion Construction’s renovation of the historical Uptown Church:
WOOD TV8: Historic Eastown building getting facelift
Grand Rapids Business Journal: Uptown Church under renovation
FOX 17: Eastown’s Uptown Church getting facelift renovation