Lincoln Theatre (Washington, D.C.)

Lincoln Theatre
Lincoln Theatre
Address 1215 U St. NW
Location Washington, District of Columbia
Coordinates 38°55′1″N 77°1′46″W / 38.91694°N 77.02944°W / 38.91694; -77.02944Coordinates: 38°55′1″N 77°1′46″W / 38.91694°N 77.02944°W / 38.91694; -77.02944
Public transit U Street station
Owner DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
Operator I.M.P.
Type Theatre
Built 1921-1922
Opened 1922 (1922)
Renovated 1989-1993
Architect Reginald W. Geare
Lincoln Theatre
Area less than one acre
Architectural style Classical Revival
Part of Greater U Street Historic District[1] (#93001129)
NRHP Reference # 93001129[2]
Added to NRHP October 27, 1993

Lincoln Theatre is a theater in Washington, D.C., located at 1215 U Street, next to Ben's Chili Bowl. The theater, located on "Washington's Black Broadway", served the city's African American community when segregation kept them out of other venues. The Lincoln Theatre included a movie house and ballroom, and hosted jazz and big band performers such as Duke Ellington. The theater closed after the 1968 race-related riots. It was restored and reopened in 1994, and hosts a variety of performances and events. The U Street Metro station, which opened in 1991, is located across the street from Lincoln Theater.


Construction of the Lincoln Theatre began in the summer of 1921, and it opened in 1922.[3] The Lincoln Theatre, which showed silent film and vaudeville, served the city's black community. The theatre was designed by Reginald Geare, in collaboration with Harry Crandall, a local theater operator.[4]

In 1927, the Lincoln Theatre was sold to A.E. Lichtman, who decided to turn it into a luxurious movie house, and added a ballroom.[5] The theatre was wired for sound in 1928.[3] The ballroom, known as Lincoln Colonnade, and the theater were known as the center of "Washington's Black Broadway".[5] Performers at Lincoln Theatre have included Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan.[6] A television projection system was installed at Lincoln Theatre in 1952.[3] The movie house televised boxing fights on many occasions, such as the Sugar Ray Robinson-Joey Maxim bout on June 25, 1952.[3]

The Lincoln Theatre struggled financially after desegregation opened other movie theaters to blacks beginning in 1953.[7] In the late 1950s, the Colonnade was demolished.[7] The theater fell into disrepair after the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots.[8] In 1978, the Lincoln Theatre was divided into two theaters, and was known as the Lincoln "Twins".[9] In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Lincoln Theater featured "All-Night Movie" shows on the weekend, attracting hundreds each weekend.[10] The Lincoln Theatre was sold to developer Jeffrey Cohen in 1983, who closed it for renovations.[10] The theater remained boarded up for many years.


The Lincoln Theatre was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.[2] In 1993, the theatre was restored by the U Street Theatre Foundation, with $9 million of aid from the District of Columbia government.[11] The restoration started in 1989 by developer Jeffrey N. Cohen, who was working on a controversial $250 million redevelopment plan, "Jackson Plaza", for the Shaw/U-Street area.[12] In 1990, Cohen ran into financial difficulties and filed for bankruptcy in 1991.[13] Restoration of the theater was taken over by the District government and the foundation.[14] The restoration work was done by the design firm, Leo A. Daly.[15] The building has a brick exterior, and the interior features Victorian trim.[14]

A "sneak preview" of the renovated theater was held on September 16, 1993 for D.C. Councilmember Frank Smith, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, and 1,000 attendees.[16] The theatre officially reopened on February 4, 1994 with a performance of Barry Scott's Ain't Got Long to Stay Here, which was about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.[17] In March 1995, Lincoln Theatre hosted a play, Where Eagles Fly, written by local playwright Carole Mumin.[18] The play told the story of a local elderly woman who fought the Shaw Urban Redevelopment Project that targeted the Shaw neighborhood for demolition, and sought to preserve the neighborhood and its history.[18]

The 1,250-seat[19] theater has hosted theatrical and musical shows, leased space to community groups and for events,[20] and hosted political events such as the mayor's State of the District address.[21] Jazz performances in recent years have included Cassandra Wilson, Quincy Jones, Chuck Brown, and Wynton Marsalis.[22] In 2005, the annual Duke Ellington Jazz Festival was inaugurated and hosted performances.[23] Others that have performed at the Lincoln Theatre include Damien Rice,[24] singer Brian Stokes Mitchell,[25] and comedian Dick Gregory.[26] Lincoln Theatre has also been a venue for Filmfest DC.[27] The theater was the primary venue for the annual LGBT film festival Reel Affirmations from 1998 to 2008.

The theater has struggled financially, and has received $500,000 of aid annually for the past five years from the District government.[20] The theater director, Janice Hill, has expressed concerns that the theater may have to shut down due to lack of funds.[20] On January 11, 2007, the District government provided $200,000 to the theatre.[28] Councilmember Jim Graham also suggested adding an annual line item to the city's budget to provide the theatre with $500,000 each year.[28]

In 2011, the theatre was threatened with closure after the city cut funding.[29] The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities took over management and began searching for new management.[30]

Current Operation by I.M.P.

In January 2012, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities began searching for a new entertainment booking group to operate Lincoln Theatre.[31] The process included evaluating business plans from various groups.[31] In April 2013, I.M.P., the company that owns the 9:30 Club and operates Merriweather Post Pavilion, was selected over other competitors to operate the theatre.[32] In June 2013, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the Deputy of General Services made the official announcement of the selection.[31]

Prior to obtaining sole operation of the theatre, I.M.P. had booked a few shows at Lincoln Theatre, including sold-out performances by Jeff Tweedy in 2010 and Jeff Mangum in 2012.[33] I.M.P. began sole operation of the theatre in the fall of 2013.[34]

Since gaining sole operation, I.M.P. has booked nearly 100 shows at Lincoln Theatre, including:


  1. Trieschmann, Laura V.; Sellin, Anne; Callcott, Stephen (November 1998), National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Greater U Street Historic District (PDF), retrieved March 31, 2015.
  2. 1 2 National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Headley, Robert K. (1999). Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, D.C. - Illustrated History of Parlors, Palaces, and Multiplexes in the Metropolitan Area, 1894-1997. McFarland & Company, Inc.
  4. "Greater U Street Historic District". National Park Service. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  5. 1 2 Savage, Beth L. (1994). African American Historic Places. Wiley.
  6. "Lincoln Theatre". Cultural Tourism DC. Archived from the original on October 5, 2007. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  7. 1 2 Roberts, Roxanne (February 5, 1994). "The New Jewel of U Street;Lincoln Theatre's Gala Return". The Washington Post.
  8. Becker, Ralph E. (1990). Miracle on the Potomac. Bartleby Press.
  9. McQueen, Michel (July 16, 1981). "Action!;Escaping Summer Heat & Boredom at the Movies;An Escape From Summer Doldrums". The Washington Post.
  10. 1 2 Sargent, Edward D. (August 18, 1983). "Small Merchants Feeling Squeezed In U Street NW Redevelopment". The Washington Post.
  11. "Lost Jazz Shrines". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  12. Dedman, Bill (September 7, 1990). "Shaw Group Files for Bankruptcy;Developer Cohen's Project Falters". The Washington Post.
  13. Sanchez, Rene (April 11, 1993). "Street, New Street?;Eclectic Entrepreneurs Are Bringing Signs of Long-Awaited Rebirth to Historic Black Neighborhood". The Washington Post.
  14. 1 2 Wheeler, Linda (July 29, 1993). "Reopening Night in Sight;Restoration of Historic Lincoln Theatre Is Nearing Completion". The Washington Post.
  15. "Lincoln Theatre". Leo A. Daly. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  16. Mills, David (September 17, 1993). "A Right Turn on U Street;Mayor & Co. Get a Sneak Peek at Renovated Lincoln Theatre". The Washington Post.
  17. Cooper, Jeanne (February 5, 1994). "Theater;A Musical Not Fit For King". The Washington Post.
  18. 1 2 Wheeler, Linda (March 10, 1995). "A Neighborhood Takes Center Stage; Shaw Playwright Brings Troubled NW Area's Rich History to Life at the Lincoln". The Washington Post.
  19. "Lincoln Theatre". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  20. 1 2 3 Schwartzman, Paul (January 9, 2007). "Storied Stage Could Go Dark; U Street Venue on Brink of Going Broke, Director Says". The Washington Post.
  21. Weiss, Eric (March 24, 2005). "Of Donors and Dirty Looks". The Washington Post.
  22. "U-Street". Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. Archived from the original on February 20, 2009. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  23. "Duke Ellington Jazz Festival". Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  24. "Music". The Washington Post. December 18, 2006.
  25. "Mitchell-to-Bring-Love-Life-to-DCs-Lincoln-Theater-in-November". Retrieved September 19, 2005.
  26. Fears, Darryl (December 2, 2006). "The Word That Is the Very Definition of Unspeakable; Black Entertainer Endorses Moratorium on Slur". The Washington Post.
  27. "At Festival, an Inside Look at 'Insider'". The Washington Post. April 8, 2005.
  28. 1 2 Alexander, Keith L. (January 12, 2007). "City's Grant of $200,000 a 'Good Band-Aid,' Official Says". The Washington Post.
  29. Press, Associated (June 27, 2013). "I.M.P. Selected to Run Washington, D.C.'s Historic Lincoln Theatre". Billboard.
  30. Righthand, Jess; Hahn, Fritz (December 21, 2011). "New horizons for Lincoln Theatre, new digs for HR-57". The Washington Post.
  31. 1 2 3 Fischer, Jonathan (June 27, 2013). "I.M.P. Productions to Take Over Operations of Lincoln Theatre". Washington City Paper.
  32. Freed, Benjamin (June 27, 2013). "District Awards Lincoln Theatre Contract to 9:30 Club Owners". DCist.
  33. Ramanathan, Lavanya (August 29, 2013). "Lincoln Theatre's revival ushers in a gilded age for music fans". Washington Post.
  34. Judkis, Maura (June 27, 2013). "U Street's Lincoln Theatre to be operated by 9:30 Club owner I.M.P.". Washington Post.
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