Almost a year ago, the Uptown Theater’s new owners, the same folks who own Armory downtown, took down the Uptown Theater’s iconic letters from their sign without a permit. The historic building was the first movie theater in the United States to have a three-sided sign, which granted it national historical status.

On Tuesday, a City Council committee approved an appeal from the Uptown Theater to continue its replacement of the historic Uptown Theater sign.

The Heritage Preservation Commission staff ruled on June 20 that “The proposed replacement of the historic ‘UPTOWN’ horizontal wall sign on the marque face is not allowed under the guidelines since no evidence has been submitted to show these letters are deteriorated beyond repair.”

You can’t make changes to buildings like Uptown Theater without it being reviewed by Community Planning & Economic Development and the Heritage Preservation Commission first.  But Uptown Theater did just that.

In September 2022, 18 of the iconic Uptown Theater letters were handed over to a sign contractor without telling the City’s Community Planning & Economic Development or the Heritage Preservation Commission.

Twelve of them are now gone. At today’s Businesses, Inspections, Housing & Zoning Committee meeting, Michael Margulies, a consultant for Armory Holdings, LCC, confirmed that the sign contractor had thrown away 12 of the tower letters when they were being repaired. All of them were trashed without approval from the City.

The six remaining letters were painted and installed inside the venue, again, without City approval.

In a presentation, City Planner Rob Skalecki said that historical signage can only be replaced when it’s “deteriorated beyond repair.”

A picture from a MacDonald & Mack Architects report, showing the condition of the original Uptown Theater tower sign letters.

Pictures of the sign letters were supplied by Rita Goodrich of MacDonald & Mack Architects, but the sign contractor wasn’t present to speak to the sign letters’ condition.

A picture from a MacDonald & Mack Architects report, showing the condition of the original Uptown Theater tower sign letters.

“Typically we try to figure out how to save things,” Goodrich said. “And in talking to the owner, that was the initial intention.”

According to Margulies, the sign contractor said the letters could not be repaired. The Heritage Preservation Commission argued they had not seen any evidence to prove that was the case, per their previous ruling on June 20 that all the letters had to be repaired and returned to their original location.

Margulies explained the Uptown Theater owners went through a much more costly process of designing letters out of aluminum to match the design of the original letters. The design, done by Serigraphics, is outlined towards the end of this letter from MacDonald & Mack Architects for a previous Heritage and Preservation Commission meeting.

Armory Holdings also did not follow Heritage Preservation Commission procedures on other renovations. Prior to the Uptown signage removal, Armory Holdings removed doors without approval. In May, the BIHZ Committee approved an appeal for Armory Holdings after they were denied an exception for having less window space than required. Even though Armory Holdings’ appeal was approved, the window work was done prior to getting City permission or approval.  During the May meeting, Ward 10 Councilmember Aisha Chughtai said her vote to allow them to continue working was in support of Uptown businesses.

“I think this is the best way to move forward in our longer term efforts to revitalize our Uptown community,” Chughtai said.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, councilmembers approved the efforts to move forward with replacing the sign without comment.