“Of course I’m upset,” said Ted Pedas, who, along with his brother, Jim, were the owners of the Cleveland Park theater before passing much of their interest to Ted’s three children a few years ago.
“I hate to see any movie theater close,” he said. “It’s in your blood. I love that theater.”
Pedas, 88, said he received no explanation from AMC, which was approaching the end of its lease March 31. He fears that no entity will step forward to operate the 800-seat Uptown as a cinema because streaming services have made it difficult for theaters to earn a profit.
“Right now you couldn’t give it away to anyone,” Pedas said.
Ryan Noonan, an AMC spokesman, confirmed the closure without providing an explanation. Two years ago, the company proposed replacing the iconic “Uptown” sign over the awning with “AMC.” But AMC discarded the idea after protests from neighborhood residents, some of whom vented their anguish on Cleveland Park’s Listserv on Friday and vowed to reopen the theater.
“We are going to save the Uptown!” Sauleh Siddiqui, a Cleveland Park resident wrote, using the theater’s closing as an opportunity to announce his candidacy for a neighborhood advisory commission seat. “We’ve seen old movie theaters turned into pharmacies and Burger Kings before. This will not happen here.”
Built by Warner Bros. in 1936, the Uptown’s first screening was of “Cain and Mabel,” a romantic comedy about a chorus girl and a boxer that starred Clark Gable and Marion Davies. Over the years, the theater was the site of celebrated premieres, including “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968 and “Jurassic Park” in 1993.
The theater also became a cultural and architectural touchstone for its neighborhood and beyond. “The Uptown Theater is hugely significant not only for Cleveland Park but for the entire city,” said Rick Nash, president of the Cleveland Park Historical Society. “It’s probably the most recognizable building in the Cleveland Park neighborhood, the jewel in the crown on the neighborhood’s Connecticut Avenue shopping district.”
Aviva Kempner, a documentary filmmaker who lives in the District, said the Uptown, with its single screen and two levels of seating, represents a cinematic tradition that has faded away.
“It’s the classic old theater,” she said. “To sit and watch a movie at the Uptown is heaven. This is very sad.”
The Pedas brothers, who at one time managed a number of art house theaters across the city, purchased the Uptown in the late 1970s. For a time, the Uptown drew large crowds with blockbusters such as “Dick Tracy” and “The Dark Knight.”
But changing tastes of audiences, as well as tech innovations that made watching movies at home possible, ticket sales eroded at the Uptown and other theaters across the country.
“A single theater of that size is a relic, a dinosaur,” said Bill Durkin, an attorney who has worked with the Pedas family’s Circle Management Company. The family’s top priority is to lease the Uptown to “another theater,” Durkin said. “But our property may not be rentable because of changes in the movie business.”
The Avalon Theater, two miles north of the Uptown on Connecticut Avenue, faced a similar plight when, under a different name, it closed in 2001. Neighborhood leaders created a nonprofit group that raised funds and reopened the theater two years later.
Larry Enten, 70, a landscaper who has been going to the Uptown for 40 years, hopes the neighborhood unites to preserve the theater, which he said “harks back to an earlier generation when you could go to the movies to escape the heat and the big screen was like eye candy.”
“I don’t have a dime to spend on it but what a great idea,” he said. “Every neighborhood should have a supermarket, a liquor store and a great movie theater.”