Uptown Theater, historic host of ‘2001,’ ‘Jurassic Park’ premieres, closes in DC

David Casterline camps out for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at the Uptown Theater. (WTOP/Dennis Foley)
WTOP's Jason Fraley reports on the Uptown Theater closing

The lights are dark in Cleveland Park where fans once flocked to a beloved movie palace.

The historic Uptown Theater is closing for good on Connecticut Ave. in Northwest D.C.

WTOP confirmed the closure by calling the Uptown box office on Thursday night before AMC Theatres elaborated on the closure on Friday morning.

“Yesterday was AMC’s final day of operations at the location and all associates have been provided the opportunity to move to nearby AMC locations,” AMC director of corporate communications Ryan Noonan told WTOP.

“We offer our sincere gratitude to the community for their support of the theatre and invite them to visit AMC Georgetown 14 and AMC Mazza Gallerie 7.”

AMC’s lease was set to end March 31.

Both the Fandango and AMC websites now list the AMC Uptown 1 as “closed.”

Built by Warner Bros. in Hollywood’s Golden Age, the Uptown opened on Oct. 29, 1936 with a screening of the comedy “Cain and Mabel,” starring Clark Gable and Marion Davies.

Designed with an art-deco style by architect John Jacob Zink, the single-screen theater was known for its balcony and giant curved screen stretching 70 feet wide by 40 feet tall.

In 1956, it was renovated to project in 70mm Todd-AO format. Six years later, it was renovated again for the Cinerama format, while reducing seating from 1,364 to 964.

Over the years, it hosted legendary events, including the world premiere of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968).

It was also one of the first theaters in America to screen “Star Wars” (1977) on opening day, causing parking gridlock along Connecticut Avenue.

In the early 1990s, Kevin Costner attended the world premiere of “Dances with Wolves” (1990), while Madonna attended the world premiere of “Dick Tracy” (1990).

Perhaps most exciting was the world premiere of “Jurassic Park” (1993), as the audience roared to welcome Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum and Samuel L. Jackson.

In 1996, it was renovated again and reduced to 850 seats for a grand reopening that screened a restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “Vertigo.”

By the 21st century, it still had the power to draw crowds stretching around the block for literal “blockbusters” during the release of “The Dark Knight” (2008) and “Inception” (2010).

It converted completely to digital projectors in 2010, but competition from streaming content took a hit on business like many historic theaters across the United States.

In 2018, residents fought an attempt to replace the “Uptown” sign with the letters “AMC.”

The last film shown was the Pixar animated film “Onward.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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