Iconic Uptown sign to remain in Cleveland Park after outcry

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The Uptown Theater is located at 3426 Connecticut Ave. NW in Cleveland Park. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

Cleveland Park preservationists celebrated a victory Monday afternoon, after successfully pressuring AMC Theatres to back down from its plan to remove the historic “Uptown” sign from its iconic single-screen movie theater.

After a resident learned of the proposal to remove the historic sign when reading a notice posted outside the 3426 Connecticut Ave. NW cinema Thursday, a groundswell of opposition bubbled on Cleveland Park listservs and social media posts.

Four days later, AMC Theatres withdrew the application for Historic Preservation Review Board approval of the 81-year-old sign’s removal and replacement.

“AMC will maintain the Uptown signage, with an upgrade to LED lighting for better energy efficiency and to ensure the sign remains in good working order,” AMC Theatres spokesperson Ryan Noonan wrote in a statement to WTOP.

Although Cleveland Park has divergent opinions on many local issues, residents were unified about the theater sign — with loyal patrons of the theater who live outside the neighborhood weighing in as well.

“People who never agree with each other about preservation issues or anything else are saying the sign is iconic, it’s a symbol of Cleveland Park,” Carin Ruff, executive director of the Cleveland Park Historical Society, told The Current. Ruff shared a photo to the listserv of the Uptown Theater’s opening night on October 1936, with the iconic sign illuminating moviegoers lined up below.

Emma Hersh of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C (Cleveland Park, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, Woodley Park) expressed her strong opposition “to any removal of the Uptown signage from our beloved theater,” in an email to The Current, adding that she fielded “significant feedback from across the community in opposition.”

After learning of AMC’s plans Friday, Hersh contacted Ruff and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office. She also spoke to AMC Theatres, attempting to dissuade the company from removing the sign. Next, Hersh had planned to present a resolution to ANC 3C to oppose the request to remove the “Uptown” sign.

“It’s hard to understand why AMC would want to jeopardize 80 years of historic place-making and name recognition by removing the iconic ‘Uptown’ sign,” Hersh wrote.
Longtime resident Mindy Reiser was horrified to learn that it might be removed. To Reiser, the sign is a “marker of the history and the heritage” of Cleveland Park.

“Frankly, who cares about the AMC?” Reiser said. “Stockholders do, but that’s not something that people identify with.”

Hersh echoed Reiser’s sentiments: Most Cleveland Park residents couldn’t identify AMC as the theater’s operator.

“Ask anyone on the street how to get to the AMC [Loews] 1, and I bet you’ll get a lot of blank stares,” Hersh wrote. “All you have to do is mention the ‘Uptown’ and people know exactly where and what you mean.”

For now, AMC’s plans to remove the sign have been abandoned. However, whether AMC will file in the future remains to be seen.

“We continue to evaluate additional exterior signage plans, including the addition of the AMC brand on the theater,” Noonan told WTOP.