When Universal Preservation Hall opens its doors Saturday and Rosanne Cash steps on to the stage for her sold-out show, a dream will come true in Saratoga Springs.
After a $13.5 million renovation project, UPH is the city’s first year-round performing arts center in more than five decades.
The project is a triumph of historic preservation, as the former church, a High Victorian Gothic with Tiffany-inspired stained glass windows, was once condemned and then saved from the wrecking ball by a group of concerned citizens.
“It’s a remarkable project,” says Samantha Bosshart, executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation. The former Methodist church is “such an important part of Saratoga’s skyline and the history of our community. It now has an amazing future ahead.”
UPH is part of the Schenectady-based Proctors Collaborative, and after opening night, will roll out 30 more shows through May; with summer, fall and winter entertainment to follow. Performances will happen in UPH’s Great Hall, where Teddy Roosevelt and Frederick Douglass once delivered fiery speeches.
Following Grammy winner Cash, upcoming events include jazz/pop trumpeter Chris Botti; singer/actress Megan Hilty from Broadway’s “Wicked” and the NBC show “Smash”; pianist Joey Alexander; and Journeyman, the Eric Clapton tribute tour. Family entertainment — “The Stinky Cheese Man” by John Glore, and “Yogapalooza” with the Bari Koral Quartet — are also on the program.
UPH will be the home of the Capital Region Thomas Edison Music Hall of Fame, and an induction ceremony will be held on March 9.
Chuck Vosganian, founder and host of the Rochmon Record Club, is eagerly awaiting the new UPH because it’s where the monthly event got started in the fall of 2016.
“I’m excited to go back to UPH. It’s going back home,” he says.
Rochmon starts spinning at UPH on March 17, with Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” and will continue showcasing different albums on the third Tuesday of the month.
Before UPH closed for renovation in the spring of 2017, Vosganian hosted the first five of his multi-media listening-and-learning shows, digging deep into classic rock albums by bands like Deep Purple, The Who, Queen and Led Zeppelin.
As the UPH makeover began, the Rochmon moved to Caffe Lena, where the audience grew and shows often sold out, and then picked up a second gig at The Linda in Albany, which continues on the last Thursday of the month.
While Vosganian did his last Rochmon show at Caffe Lena earlier this month, he’ll still be on the calendar there, doing interview shows and specials, as well as the Captain Fun Lunchtime Listening Hour, playing vinyl from Caffe Lena’s collection, on the last Friday of the month.
Vosganian recently got a peek inside UPH, which now has a new glass atrium entrance on one side of the building and an elevator that will bring visitors from the ground floor to the Great Hall on the second floor. In the Great Hall, there’s a 678-seat theater-in-the-round with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems plus a concession area that will offer beer, wine and snacks. Original wooden balconies and pews have been restored.
“It’s a concert venue that’s been completely re-made but there’s nothing about the redesign that takes away from the beauty of the building,” he says.
Each of the 78 stained glass windows was removed, cleaned, repaired and re-installed.
“They look absolutely amazing,” he says.
The theater-in-the-round, with movable seating, was designed to be flexible and accommodate all kinds of performances.
“They have a huge projection screen and a built-in video projection system, which of course I’m going to use for my Rochmon shows,” says Vosganian.
At the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, Bosshart says the opening of UPH is “particularly rewarding” because SSPF intervened twice over the years to prevent the building from being demolished.
In 1977, the first time the church was headed for condemnation, the organization obtained a grant to complete a structural report that showed the building could be repaired. SSPF was founded that same year, and that was its first preservation effort.
In 1998, when the roof was collapsing, SSPF intervened again. “We helped stabilize the building,” Bosshart says. “But it was such a large project, a separate entity that would make this their mission was needed.”
UPH was formed, and in 2009, Teddy Foster became its board president. In 2015, when the funds were needed for the restoration project, Foster stepped up as its campaign director.
“I’m super excited, and I’ll be there Saturday night,” Bosshart says. “Teddy has done an amazing job.”
Rochmon Record Club at UPH
MARCH 17: Paul Simon, “Graceland”
APRIL 21: Led Zeppelin, “IV”
MAY 19: Bruce Springsteen, “Darkness on the Edge of Town”
JUNE 16: Stevie Wonder, “Greatest Hits” Retrospective/Dance Party
JULY 14: Chicago, “Chicago II”
AUG. 18: Joe Cocker, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”
SEPT. 15: No Doubt, “Tragic Kingdom” (guest host Alyssa Vosganian)
OCT. 22: The Beatles, “White Album”
NOV. 17: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “My Aim is True”
DEC. 15: Year-end Retrospective, TBA