Is the Uptown Theater returning to DC? Here’s what we know so far

WTOP's Jason Fraley reports on the Uptown Theater (Part 1)

When the Uptown Theater closed in March 2020, it was a gut punch to D.C. moviegoers.

Now, the city is buzzing over preliminary talks to reopen the venue in Cleveland Park.

WTOP has been working the story to sift through it all. Here’s what we know so far:

Commissioner Sauleh Siddiqui of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C told WTOP that he’ll introduce a resolution at Monday’s ANC3C meeting to seek a Class D/X license for beer and wine to be sold and consumed at a multiuse facility (i.e. a movie theater).

“A consultant of Landmark, who are in the process of setting up to run the theater, reached out to me to get support from the ANC for a stipulated liquor license from ABRA,” Siddiqui said. “I drafted the resolution and will be bringing it to a vote at our ANC Meeting this Monday, Oct. 18. I don’t have a timeline for when the theater will [potentially] open.”

Last month, Landmark Theatres Vice President of Real Estate & Development Michael Fant told Urban Turf, “Landmark is in preliminary talks about operating the Uptown. We are currently looking at the potential for reopening the theater.” Blake-Dickson Real Estate Services is brokering the deal. WTOP is awaiting comment from Principal Wayne Dickson.

This Wednesday, Urban Turf reported that the return of the Uptown is “imminent” and “in the final stages of negotiations.” They also tweeted, “We have heard from others familiar with the back and forth that both sides are very close to there being a deal in place.”

However, when WTOP reached out to Landmark Theatres to confirm, we heard a more cautious tone from Margot Gerber, Landmark’s Vice President of Marketing & Publicity.

“There is really no story at present,” Gerber said. “We have been looking at this theater, but we have not signed a lease and therefore, there are obviously no plans to reopen a theater we have no jurisdiction over.”

She also pushed back on a tweet by an unverified Cleveland Park neighborhood account.

“The neighborhood association has never reached out to Landmark for any kind of verification to their claims,” Gerber said. “Seems they are over eager for something to happen with this beautiful theater.”

Gerber, who provided the original Fant quote to Urban Turf, later clarified to WTOP.

“Michael is on vacation, but he did respond to my email today,” Gerber said. “We will make a press announcement if and when we have a signed lease. The neighborhood association jumped the gun here. Nothing is going to happen while Michael is out of the office.”

So what does it all mean? Hat-tip to Urban Turf for breaking the story that real estate talks are happening, but Landmark Theatres appears hesitant to confirm until a deal is signed.

For now, we wait until Monday’s ANC3C meeting as Uptown fans cross their fingers.

The back-and-forth buzz proves one thing: there’s an appetite for the Uptown to return.

“We offer our sincere gratitude to the community for their support,” AMC Director of Corporate Communications Ryan Noonan told WTOP when the Uptown closed in 2020.

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 science-fiction masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968).

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

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).

Most exciting was the world premiere of Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” (1993), as the audience roared for Sam Neill, Laura Dern, 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 masterpiece “Vertigo” (1958).

By the 21st century, it still had the power to draw crowds stretching around the block for literal “blockbusters” for Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008).

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 picture shown was the Pixar animated flick “Onward.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley reports on the Uptown Theater (Part 2)
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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