AMC Theatres wanted to remove a quaint and historic vestige from the main commercial strip in Cleveland Park, but the residents of the Northwest Washington neighborhood fought back and scored a swift victory.
The movie theater chain operates a single-screen theater in the affluent neighborhood marked by a neon red “Uptown” sign — a landmark installed in 1936 that has survived numerous owners of the building.
AMC filed a plan Friday with the D.C. State Historic Preservation Office seeking permission to change the sign to read “AMC” instead of “Uptown.” When word of the proposal got out, residents lit up a community email group and flooded the Cleveland Park Historical Society with calls voicing their disapproval.
AMC said Monday that it was withdrawing the plans.
“In response to community feedback, 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,” said Ryan Noonan, director of corporate communications at AMC Theatres. “We appreciate the passion and feedback from the community, and look forward to serving moviegoers at AMC Uptown 1 for years to come.”
Residents said the sign is a landmark and a cultural icon in the community.
“As a community we should make it quite clear to the faceless bean counters in Los Angeles that The Uptown is not just a movie house, it is a destination!” one resident wrote in a community email group. “It is our part of town and there was an uptown before there was a movie house and long before there was an AMC!”
Carin Ruff, executive director of the Cleveland Park Historical Society, said AMC should keep the sign, just as previous owners maintained it for more than 80 years. AMC has managed the building since AMC and Loews merged in 2005.
She said changing the sign from the unique “Uptown” to the ubiquitous “AMC” would be the wrong move for a neighborhood that has struggled to compete with newly popular parts of the city. Once-acclaimed restaurants have begun to close in Cleveland Park as the District’s food and nightlife scene migrates to booming neighborhoods such as Shaw and the 14th Street NW corridor.
“If it was good enough for Warner Brothers and it was good enough for Circle Theatres, then it should be good enough for AMC,” Ruff said. “The sign is not disposable; the sign is central.”
According to the plan that AMC submitted, the sign is more than four feet tall and 22 feet wide. The Historic Preservation Review Board was scheduled to hear AMC’s case for changing the sign Sept. 22. In an email to Cleveland Park’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission, an employee at the planning office wrote that it was not likely to approve the plans.
“We advised the applicant and their sign company representative that proposing to replace the Uptown sign was likely to meet with community concern and would not be supported by our office,” Steven Callcott, deputy preservation officer with the planning office, wrote in an email forwarded to The Washington Post.
He added that the “Uptown” sign is exactly the type of “iconic sign the regulations are trying to protect.”
Ruff said that, if anything, the brief controversy has brought the neighborhood closer together.
“From a preservation perspective, it was really encouraging because people who don’t agree on anything in Cleveland Park, they agree on the sign,” Ruff said.