DCentric » Black Broadway http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU A Look Back: Lincoln Theatre and Black Broadway http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/a-look-back-lincoln-theatre-and-black-broadway/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/a-look-back-lincoln-theatre-and-black-broadway/#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2011 12:00:45 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11445 Continue reading ]]> By Mary-Alice Farina

The Lincoln Theatre is approaching its 90th anniversary as a cultural beacon of the U Street district. But impending closure threatens to break an important chain in D.C. history.

The theater opened in 1922 at 12th and U Streets, at the height of the racial ghettoization of D.C. Although the District outlawed Jim Crow laws in 1917, segregation became a reality in D.C. Racially restrictive housing covenants and Depression-era laws ended up restricting housing and services to non-whites in certain neighborhoods.

618nl0010383-01bp.tif Atermath of 1968 race riots. Poster for Cab Calloway performance at the Lincoln Theatre's ballroom.

In the face of this, U Street evolved into Black Broadway, an inimitable nexus of businesses, civil institutions, entertainment venues and homes. The area first experienced a boom after the Civil War, as thousands of new residents moved from the south. Between 1900 and 1948, U Street proved a vital epicenter for those suffering under the legacy of slavery.

The Lincoln Theatre was a luminous cornerstone in the grim shadow of segregation, a place where those ostracized by much of the country had a bright future. Tennis star Arthur Ashe recalled the 1940s on U Street: “The cream of black society and everybody else passed through there… You always had the sense that something big was about to happen.” As Teresa Wiltz put it in her evocative 2006 Washington Post article, “With U Street, black D.C. could lay claim to a world that was, to borrow a phrase of the hip-hop generation, ‘for us, by us.’”

The theater was one of a number of such venues built in D.C. by two ill-fated white entrepreneurs. The Lincoln thrived when it opened, first as a first-run silent film and vaudeville house, then in 1927, when it became a luxurious cinema venue with a ballroom downstairs. Proprietor Abe Lichtman brought huge names to the theater including Count Basie, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bess Truman, which eventually paved the way for the likes of Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn.

For forty years the Lincoln reigned as an institution of U Street nightlife. That changed on April 4, 1968, the day of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. As the devastating news spread, crowds formed on the streets of downtown D.C., with outrage and sadness gradually twisting into violence and rioting. D.C.’s landscape would be radically altered for the next 30 years a result of the damage from the riots. U Street businesses were hit hard and wealthy and middle class people fled to the suburbs. Likewise, the Lincoln fell into disrepair and disuse, finally shutting its doors in 1981.

Then in 1989, the theater received $4 million in federal money toward its $9 million restoration. The Lincoln reopened in 1994, marking a turning point for the Columbia Heights, Shaw and U Street districts, which have undergone revitalization in recent years. These areas were back in business, with the Lincoln once again at the forefront.

But the Lincoln has been plagued by financial woes in recent years. It almost closed due to low funds in 2007, the year it became a historic landmark and property of the city. The city gave it $1.5 million for capital improvements to fix the roof and plumbing. But it once again faces closure. Without at a boost of at least $500,000, the theater will close by the end of the year.

Mary-Alice Farina is a writer for 365DC. Read her in-depth Lincoln Theatre history here and follow her on twitter at @mafalicious.

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Lincoln Theatre, Fixture of Black Broadway, To Close http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/lincoln-theatre-fixture-of-black-broadway-to-close/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/lincoln-theatre-fixture-of-black-broadway-to-close/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2011 16:28:37 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11016 Continue reading ]]>

Wally Gobetz / Flickr

We have an update on this story here.

Lincoln Theatre, which was a U Street landmark since the corridor was known as “Black Broadway,” may close next week because it’s run out of money, DCist is reporting:

Earlier this year, Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) and [Councilmember Jim] Graham, who sits on the theater’s Board of Directors, were able to secure $500,000 in funding for the Lincoln during budget negotiations. However, that money will not be allocated until the next fiscal year. [Mayor] Gray responded to Graham’s news by stating that the city couldn’t “pour money in” to the theater, which he described as having a business model that was “not sustainable.”

In its heyday, Lincoln Theatre regularly featured Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. It eventually added movie screens, offering entertainment options to African Americans at a time of segregation. The theater fell into disrepair after the 1968 riots, but reopened in the 1990s with federal, local and private financial support. Since then, the theater has hosted a diversity of performances while U Street experienced gentrification and rapidly increasing property values. But in recent years, the Lincoln Theatre has struggled to keep its doors open as money dwindled.

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