Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Saving the Lincoln


The Lincoln Theatre is one of those classic venues in Washington. Like the Avalon Theatre in Chevy Chase, the Lincoln was built in the early 20s, fitted with sound in the late twenties.  It's also a legendary jazz venue, having hosted Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, and, of course, DC native Duke Ellington. Located along U Street, the Lincoln Theatre was one of the few movie houses in the city that was open to African-Americans.  It fell to disrepair for a few decades, like most of the great movie houses in the US, and re-opened  in the 90s as a non-profit after many years of renovations.

It made its way to my blog instead of a review of the concert (by The Civil Wars) I saw there on Sunday because the Lincoln Theatre is at the center of an increasingly national controversy.  Because of shortfalls in the budget, the Lincoln Theatre really doesn't have the money to stay afloat much longer, and the District can't afford to keep the doors open, raising questions about the public responsibility to keep these places alive in DC and elsewhere.  The Lincoln's financial woes were the subject of a recent Huffington Post article by Rob Bettmann, chairman of DC Advocates for the Arts. His call to preserve the Lincoln Theatre and its historical legacy was met with opposition from Eli Lehrer, also of the Huffington Post, and VP of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that opposes all government spending and regulation (especially where the environment is concerned), and in the past has questioned links between second-hand smoke and health risks, as well as scientific basis of global climate change.

If I were a journalist, I suppose I'd have to take some un-biased, objective stance here, examining both sides of the issue fairly.  Luckily, I'm not a journalist, and I also don't have the time to write an investigative expose  on the city budget or the importance of preserving the historical integrity of the District.  Since I'm just a semi-anonymous blogger, I'll go ahead and tell you, even without all the facts, I'd side with the guy that wants to keep the arts accessible to all, rather than the guy that says smoking doesn't kill people and that polar bears will do just fine despite the naturally occurring cycle of ice cap melting.  But stepping away from pesky realities like budgets and hard science, the Lincoln Theatre should be kept open for use by the community and preserved for its role in the U Street Corridor's rich history. Also, if we can be vain for just a moment, it's just really pretty. There aren't many of these theatres left, and what we have shouldn't be leveled for more bars, burger places, cupcakeries, or whatever DC's latest food trend will be.  We've already brought the Lincoln Theatre back once. Let's not lose it forever.   

The lobby, via Instagram


  1. And, to pay the cost of preserving it, you propose cutting what other expense? Or raising what other tax? It takes money, and money is not infinite, especially after decades of profligate spending. If there are "shortfalls in the budget," that says real people affected by the facility aren't willing to pay the price of the tickets, or make the donations. So, the cost should be shifted to the abstract taxpayer, who won't use the facility? Pretend for a moment that you are your parents down south. How much do you want to charge them for this underutilized and underfunded Washington, D.C. facility?

  2. My parents down south don't have access to arts centers or theatres because they have not been preserved, but they speak lovingly of the places from their youth. They, however, would not be the abstract taxpayers who would preserve the Lincoln--the DC taxpayer would. Our city taxes, however, are almost always held at the whim of a Congress who habitually strips us of representation. DC, like other states and the federal government could protect the arts and other non-profit organizations, if the city eradicated the tax breaks and loopholes that benefit no one but the major corporations, super-wealthy, and lobbyists.

    The people who will be most impacted by the loss of the Lincoln are the U Street Corridor's schools and community groups who use the space for special events, and, of course, the staff who have dedicated years of their lives and work for next to nothing but the pride of being part of something passing away, the ephemeral threads that link them to the community's heritage.