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Unveiling the Uptown Theater: Clark Gable, Star Wars and Jurassic Park

Dive into the history of the Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park - from its opening night with Clark Gable to the chaos of Star Wars and the world premiere of Jurassic Park.
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It’s been a while since our last “Three Things…” post, so we queried the Twitterverse for GoDC suggestions on our next one. DrCapsFan, an old school GoDCer (i.e, a follower since week two) threw out a great suggestion to focus on Cleveland Park’s Uptown Theater, seconded by another frequent tweeter, stephaniekays (and big Nats fan). So that seals it … the Uptown Theater it is.

And of course, since it’s a movie theater with great history, we’ll dig up some of the bigger movies that have played at the favorite Cleveland Park movie house.

neon sign Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park (tawbaware.com)
neon sign Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park (tawbaware.com)

1. Clark Cable and opening night at the Uptown

Cleveland Park had its own giant movie theater ready to dedicate in the fall of 1936, right in the heart of the Great Depression. The dedication ceremony was to be held on Thursday night, October 29th, 1936 at 8:15 p.m., according to the Washington Post. Below is the article announcing the public unveiling of the uptown gem.

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The Uptown Theater, Warner Bros. new picture playhouse, located on Connecticut avenue at Newark street, will be dedicated this Thursday evening, October 29, at 8:15 o’clock, according to an announcement made late yesterday by John J. Payette, Warner Bros. general zone manager. Doors will open at 7:15 to give patrons ample time to inspect the theater throughout.

Two distinguished Washingtonians–District Commissioner Melvin C. Hazen, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, and Thomas E. Clark, president of the Cleveland Park Business Men’s Association–will take part in the program.

The inaugural attraction at the Uptown will be “Cain and Mabel,” Cosmopolitan Production, released by Warner Bros., and starring Marion Davies and Clark Gable. The presentation Thursday evening will be the Washington premiere of this new musical comedy.

The most modern type of projection and sound equipment have been installed in the new house, which will seat 1,500 people in the orchestra, balcony and loges. Appointments throughout are the most modern available. Throughout the year, winter and summer, the Uptown will maintain an even temperature, the latest type of air-conditioning equipment having been provided.

Check out the trailer for “Cain and Mabel” below.

2. ‘Star Wars’ wreaks havoc in Cleveland Park

Star Wars - 1977
Star Wars – 1977

This might be the greatest epic saga in the history of film. Star Wars was playing at the Uptown in Cleveland Park (along with probably 10,000 other theaters).

A great Washington Post details the chaos that ensued when the movie opened to the public in 1977 … and for some reason, it slightly reminds me of a scene out of Dazed and Confused (also great).

Scene I, Take I: 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 of people, tinkling out the allure of frozen goodies.

Close-up: discarded beer cars, 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 awakened 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.”

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Territorial imperative aside, however, [Ron] 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.”

That damn George Lucas … screwing up peaceful Cleveland Park. Any of you GoDCers wait in line to see it back then?

Here’s the trailer for Star Wars … AMAZING!


3. T-Rex and velociraptors terrorize Connecticut Avenue

You guessed it. Jurassic Park played at the Uptown, but not only that … it was the world premiere! The Washington Post wrote about it on Friday, June 11th, 1993 (the screening was Wednesday at the Uptown). All the celebrities were in town to see and be seen.

The Scene: World premiere of Universal’s “Jurassic Park” in Washington. The screening Wednesday was at the Uptown Theater, the after party was in the National Building Museum. Locally, a movie premiere is a major attention-getter since “glamour is as extinct in Washington as dinosaurs,” as one woman put it.

Who Was There: The film’s stars, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum and Samuel Jackson; plus 1,100 guests, including Muhammad Ali, Tom and Peggy Pollock, Sid and Lorraine Sheinberg, Lew Wasserman, Sens. Barbara Boxer, Arlen Specter, Harris Wofford, Patrick Leahy and Bob Kerrey; Reps. Tony Beilenson, Henry Waxman, Maxine Waters and Pat Schroeder; plus Mickey Kantor, Ron Silver and Peter and Eileen Norton.

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Who Wasn’t: Director Steven Spielberg (still working on “Shindler’s List”) and President Clinton and family; recent petty sniping from reptilian East Coast media pundits about Hollywood influencing the White House was said to have kept them away. L.A. media consultant Josh Baran said, “Rampaging dinosaurs reminded him too much of the press corps.”

Best Line From a Politician: Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California): “This is the first dinosaur Hollywood has sent to Washington since Ronald Reagan.”

Quoted: Of co-starring in this film, Samuel Jackson said, “Steven is basically the star of his own film. Then you have the dinosaurs. Everybody’s anticipating what they look like. People are coming to see them. Then they’re coming to see us. Kind of. We’re kind of filler.”

Of course we wouldn’t leave you without the trailer. Here it is … in crappy quality though.


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