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'Star Wars': The Movie That Ate Cleveland Park

By Karen De Witt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 23, 1977

Scene 1, Take 1: A quiet, residential street in Cleveland Park around the corner from the Uptown Theater where "Star Wars" is playing.

Time: A half hour before the 7:30 show.

Action: Moviegoers in cars frantically searching for parking spaces. A group of teen-agers near the end of the block-and-a-half line casually having a picnic on a resident's front lawn as they wait for the movie to open. The Good Humor truck plying its way up and down the queue, tinkling out the allure of frozen goodies.

Close-up: discarded beer cans, burnt-out marijuana joints and McDonald's hamburger wrappers.

It's not a new motion picture under production yet, but if there is ever a sequel to that intergalactic spectacular "Star Wars," some of the residents of Cleveland Park would like to call it "Earthly Fallout."

"It's . . . it's an invasion," says Marcy Schuck, a Cleveland Park resident who no longer recognizes her peaceful neighborhood since "Star Wars" started playing. "There are people, people crawling up the streets constantly. We're constantly being awakended when people line up for the midnight show. My alley was blocked up once and I just wanted to scream and beat up the cars."

The trauma of living near a sell-out movie has struck more than one resident in the area and not all of it has just been the influx of outlanders.

"It's really changing the neighborhood," says Judy Hubbard, who lives on Newark, one of the hardest hit streets in the area. "We used to have quiet streets and now there are just people walking up and down the neighborhood from 6 until midnight. It's illegal to park on one side of the street and people are just ignoring the signs. It's dangerous. It leaves just one lane. A fire truck could never make it up the street if it had to. And people are fighting for parking spaces even in the big rains."

The fallout from the movie's success has not only increased the neighborhood's traffic, but also given an outlet to instant critics who praise or lambast the movie early in the morning, after the late show, for all the residents to hear.

"I'm just dying to see it," says another resident. "I keep hearing people on the street talking about what a great movie it is and I have a 6 year old who would just freak out if he knew it was playing. But with all the neighbors complaining, I can't tell anyone that I actually want to see the movie."

Not every resident has seen the movie as an earthly invasion of nonresidents. Ron Hoffman, who lives on Macomb Street, views the phenomenon as a chance to watch his neighbors interact or react to the moviegoers and people-watch in general.

"It's become a family amusement to watch the people in the lines," he says. "And I've told one of my neighbors who is really upset about all the people that I'm buying him a rocking chair and a rifle to protect his property. Sometimes it's just fun to sit and watch the people in the lines."

Territorial imperative aside, however, Hoffman did come home one time to discover a car blocking his driveway. "I told my wife, "Hey, some clown is blocking the driveway.' The funny thing is that it turned out to be a friend of my wife whose car was blocking the drive, a person who had just graduated from clown school."

Not all the residents are so tolerant. Some people took to blockading their streets. Others put up signs warning that there was to be "No theater parking" on the street because it was illegal to park on one side of the street. Another group of residents took the remains of a tree that was recently cut down and distributed the huge blocks of wood on the no parking side of the street.

Councilwoman Polly Shackleton who represents Ward 3, which includes Cleveland Park, had numerous calls from irate residents. "We had a number of people complaining about the parking at night," Shackleton says. "Especially up the side streets in some of the more residential neighborhoods. We hold them to call their community police headquarters. Actually there isn't much that can be done except crack down on parking violations.

"It's just one of those things that should have taken place in a downtown theater."

Not everyone in the neighborhood is complaining, however, John Barry, co-owner with Kevin Finnie of The Four Provinces, an Irish pub on the same block as the theater, has seen an "increase in business of about 10 per cent. It's good for business and a lot of people have discovered us who wouldn't have otherwise. Still, the patrons complain about the lack of parking. But it [the movie lines and extra people] hasn't hurt us."

R. T. Smith, a 21-year-old student who works for the American Florist several doors down from the theater, is, after the film's first three weeks, an old hand at the crowds and chaos generated by "Star Wars." "It's starting to die out already," he says, with a kind of sadness in his voice. Usually sporting a "May the Force be with you" button, a reference to the forces of good from the movie, Smith runs one of the Americana hot dog stands that cater to patrons in line. "We were judoing over $200 a day in business on hot dogs and half-smokes on just one Saturday alone."

Nonetheless, though business is "up 25 to 30 per cent" at Robert Abbo's Roma Restaurant across Connecticut Avenue from the theater, Abbo finds it "disappointing that people leave all their debris in the neighborhood. It was this high one night after they had swept it all together," he complains, holding his hand four feet above the ground.

Some residents feel, however, that the only thing that will save their quiet residential neighborhood is for the movie to open up in the suburbs. RKO-Stanley district manager E. Charles Costolo says that "Star Wars," which has already grossed in excess of $350,000, will continue exclusively at the Uptown for another week. "Then the closest theaters will be in White Flint and Rockville."

In "Star Wars," there are some short, hooded, red-eyed scavengers called Jawas, who make their living by picking up the discards on the planet Tatooine. They'll take any bit of metal junk, including, undoubtedly, illegal parked cars.

Are you listening Cleveland Park?

© 1977 The Washington Post Company