The history behind the City Centre Stage building downtown

This afternoon at 5:30 p.m., Central Alberta Theatre will be officially cutting the ribbon for the new City Centre Stage at 4922 49 St. Many people will remember the building as the Uptown Theatre, which provided an impressive array of movie entertainment to the community from 1968 to 2008.

What many people will not know is that part of the facility is actually one of the oldest surviving buildings in downtown Red Deer. That structure was originally constructed in 1919 by Fred Lund as a Ford car dealership and garage.

Fred was born in Sebula, Ohio, one of five children of Andrew and Rosetta Lund. In 1901, the family immigrated to Central Alberta and farmed first at Pine Lake and then at Horn Hill east of Penhold.

Meanwhile, Fred, who was an energetic entrepreneur, decided to move into Red Deer in 1910. He soon became active in the fledgling automobile business, selling Fords.

Fred did very well. He operated for a while out of the old Empress Theatre on First Street North (51 St.). Then, in 1919, he purchased an old flour and feed mill on First Street South (49), which had been used by the Michener Brothers for their Chevrolet dealership.

Fred demolished the old building and had Robert Dawe construct a large new brick building that was described as “one of the finest, if not the finest garages in Alberta”.

In 1924, Fred decided to try new ventures. He sold the Ford Garage to Harold Lavender and C.E. Clarke. As part of the deal, Fred promised that he would stay out of the automobile business for three years. However, he found himself drawn back into his old career until Lavender and Clarke got a court injunction to stop him. Fred then moved to Calgary.

Lavender and Clarke found that their venture did not work out as well as they had hoped. Consequently, in 1926, they sold the Ford dealership to Reg Whyte of Edmonton, who renamed the business Whyte Motors.

Whyte was an excellent businessman. After a few years he was able to construct an impressive new building on the northwest corner of First Street South and Gaetz Ave. In 1935, Canadian Automobile Trade magazine feature Whyte Motors as “The Ideal Small Town Shop”.

Meanwhile, in 1931, the old building on 49 St. was purchased by Fred Moore. He was another energetic entrepreneur from a farm east of Red Deer, who was not deterred by the fact that the Great Depression had just begun.

Moore called the business North West Motors and initially sold Pontiacs and Buicks. While the brands of cars and trucks sold have changed over the years, North West Motors remains the oldest continuous car dealership in Red Deer and has won an impressive array of national and provincial awards.

With his remarkable ability to build a strong business despite challenging economic times, Moore moved North West Motors to a new building on west side of Gaetz Ave., just north of Ross St.

In 1946, the building on 49 St. was taken over by Bob Keeling and Howard Singleton who started Standard Motors, a Studebaker dealership. They constructed a large addition on the east side.

In 1954, John Burrows took over the building. He sold and serviced Chryslers, Plymouths and Fargo trucks. In 1958, Miller-Longmate Motors began operating out of the building.

In 1960, Mayfair I.G.A. converted the building into a grocery store. The large neon sign mounted on the front of the building became one of the landmarks downtown.

On April 3, 1968, Landmark Cinemas opened the Uptown Theatre.The first feature was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a controversial movie about a young woman who took her black fiancé to dinner with her parents. It was a time when few would have dreamt that the United States would eventually have a black president.

In 1986, the Uptown Theatre underwent extensive renovations and enlargement. The old Sterling Cleaners premises on the west side of the building were demolished and three small theatres added.

The movie theatre business has changed enormously in the past few years, just as the automobile industry has. The Uptown Theatre closed in 2008. Fortunately, Central Alberta Theatre, with strong backing from the City, has taken the initiative and is creating a wonderful new culture and entertainment centre that will be a tremendous asset to Red Deer’s downtown core.