Uptown Theater

3426 Connecticut Avenue NW,
Washington, DC 20008

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Uptown Theater

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened by Warner Brothers on October 29, 1936, the Uptown Theater is the last movie palace in Washington, DC still showing first-run films. The Uptown is located near the Cleveland Park subway stop on the Red Line of the Metro. Many restaurants are on both sides of the street.

The theater opened with a seating capacity of 1,364 (914 seats in the orchestra and 450 in the stadium seated balcony). The Uptown Theater was designed by theater architect John Zink, a top designer of Art Deco and Art Moderne style movie houses. In 1939, Zink designed Baltimore’s historic Senator Theatre.

In the early 1940’s, the auditorium’s side walls were covered with fabric. In 1956, the auditorium was remodeled to allow films in wide screen Todd-AO. “South Pacific” ran for seven months in 1958 and “West Side Story” ran for nine months in 1961. In 1962, the auditorium was remodeled to show 3-strip Cinerama films. The original projection booth remains at the top of the balcony, but new booths were added at the front of the balcony. Since Cinerama ended, the center front booth continues to be used.

The World Premiere of “2001-A Space Odyssey” was at the Uptown Theater on April 2, 1968, in its original two-hour and 40 minute version. Kubrick trimmed 20 minutes, and the movie was then shown for 51 weeks. Local theater operators Circle tookover, and that company’s founders continue to own the building, though succeeding movie operators lease it. In 1987, Cineplex Odeon tookover, and that company later merged into Loews, which in time merged with into AMC.

Many films were shown in their original 70mm runs, and later, in reissues, to sold out crowds. The restored “Lawrence of Arabia” was shown in 1989, with director David Lean attending the premiere. The restored “Spartacus” was shown in 1991 and the restored “My Fair Lady” in 1994. Cineplex Odeon refurbished this palatial movie house in 1996, reducing the seating capacity to 840 and reopened it with the restored “Vertigo”. In 1997, the Uptown was host to the re-release of the Star Wars saga (aka “Star Wars: The Special Edition”). On opening day, the ticket lines wrapped around the block, turned the corner, and continued several blocks away from Connecticut Street. New prints of 36 classic films, starting with “The Jazz Singer” were shown in 1998 to celebrate 75 years of Warner Brothers movies. The other restored classics included “Rear Window” in 2000, and in 2001, a 20th anniversary run of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”. In 2003, the Director’s Cut of “Alien” was shown, and in 2007, “Blade Runner, the Final Cut”.

Hollywood studios frequently have glittering red carpet film premieres at the Uptown Theater.

First run, blockbuster mainstream movies are the mainstay. Known for having the largest screen in DC (its curved screen measures 32 feet tall by 70 feet wide for ‘scope films), the Uptown Theater has been the best place to see event movies for several decades.

Contributed by Karim Alim, Justin Zagri, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 412 comments)

raysson on August 6, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Impressive information. Michael Coate has done it again!

mike8105 on August 23, 2014 at 3:47 pm

I recall that Earnest Borgnine attended an invitational premiere of “Ice Station Zebra” in 1969 at the Uptown. It benefited the Navy Relief Fund I believe — a charity of which Mr. Borgnine was fond. Senator Edward Kennedy attended along with many other dignitaries.

richmurphy on September 5, 2014 at 1:49 am

Thanks to Coate for bringing back many memories to me. One quibble: I believe the moveover engagement of HELLO DOLLY, the EIGHTY DAYS/WEST SIDE STORY double feature, and at least the beginning of the FIDDLER engagement were all 35mm. Prior to 1981’s RAGTIME, the Uptown manually added masking onto its Cinerama screen for 35mm engagements. I remember being disappointed with DOLLY, since I loved the opulent sets on the Warner’s screen and was looking forward to seeing it on the full Uptown screen.

As for CIRCUS WORLD, this holds a particular memory for me. My father called the Uptown to ask what times the film played, and the person at the boxoffice sarcastically told him, “What time can you come?” My family laughed at that, but later realized why the joke was made when we had the theatre almost to ourselves.

Mikeoaklandpark on September 5, 2014 at 1:09 pm

It really concerns me that AMC will close this theater. Does it do well?

HowardBHaas on September 5, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Please be clear. Did AMC state they will close this theater?

Giles on September 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm

I got a Facebook message from AMC that stated they are in the process of figuring how to upgrade the sound system. It implied that it wouldn’t be Dolby Atmos but nor did the explicitly state Auto 11.1 either

bigjoe59 on September 5, 2014 at 2:22 pm

to richmurphy-

I guess no matter how well reviewed or not a roadshow film was its theatrical shelf life still varied from city to city. now I don’t remember how long Circus World’s roadshow run was at the Warner Cinerama at Bway & 47 St. but it was most certainly longer than 3 weeks. so I’m guessing whatever merits the film may have had were more inviting to NYC moviegoers than D.C. moviegoers. still a roadshow run of only 3 weeks especially for a big well publicized film regardless of whether is was Oscar material still seems inordinately short. hey the biggest roadshow disappointment in the prime Oct. 1955 thru Dec. 1972 period in Manhattan was Half a Sixpence which ran 6 weeks.

JodarMovieFan on September 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm

I doubt they’d close the Uptown. Even if its losing money, as long as its not a ton of money, you’ve got other theaters in the area under AMC that aren’t.

On the other hand, is it confirmed the old 35/70mm Norelcos, or whatever projection they had to play 70mm is really gone? Or just pushed aside to make room for the digital projector? Then we’d know for sure if classics would ever be shown again here..at least in 70mm. The extreme curved screen would be a waste if it were..hint installation of a smaller flat one? Nooooo. ;)

As I’ve said in previous post, IMAX-lite would be a much better fit here, if it can be decently shown on the curve then the other installs, imho. Dolby Atmos installed..hmmm. Think of the possibilities.

If they could do it at the Cinerama in Seattle, why not here? I guess it depends on if AMC has the guts and funds to do it to make it worthwhile. If it becomes something technologically superior (at least until the next BIG thing comes along) to whats shown around the beltway, it could revive this place despite the lack of parking.

No one has blogged about Doug Trumbull’s new higher frame rate super DP system that I believe made its debut at the Cinerama the other month. I wanted to go just to see how immersive the brighter, hyperrealistic experience could be but couldn’t make it :P If he ever gets it commercially going, the Uptown would be a nice place to outfit it if its possible given its current condition.

Giles on September 5, 2014 at 7:49 pm

NO —– IMAX-Lite !! [pulls hair out]– in doing that, they’d get stuck with all the crap IMAX exclusive titles i.e, ‘Teenage Mutant Turtles’.

I don’t know why AMC is thumbing it’s nose up at Atmos, when quite a number of past Atmos mixed films have played here. Personally I think Auro’s sound format is akin to the marketing and release of Kodak’s CDS sound all over again – they went tail up. They like to claim they have studio backing, but I don’t see it…

I think AMC is playing it cheap but one, not being more aggressive to the installation of Dolby Atmos – at least two other theaters that have balconies have figured out how to configure Atmos (and the speaker placement) around it.

Two: the Uptown should be considering what the Seattle Cinerama is doing now, upgrading to Christie’s new 4K laser projector system, but again, I don’t see AMC jumping up and down spending MORE money here at the Uptown for additional upgrades.

Mikeoaklandpark on September 6, 2014 at 11:16 am

Howard when I looked this theater up a few times on AMC web page it showed they only had 1 or 2 shows daily which is what they did with the AMC Palace in Philly before it closed. So I am glad to hear they aren’t looking to close it. I wish I would hit Powerball big I would buy the Ziegfeld and this theater.

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