The Lincoln Theater
The Lincoln Colonnade
"The Lincoln was once a focal point of entertainment along the U Street Corridor." -Charles Countee
Much like the famous Howard Theater of Washington's 7th and T Street, the famous intersection of 14th and U Street offered headline attractions. During the days of segregation U Street entertainment was comprable to any commercial treasure of the city. U Street was a strip lined with exquisite restaurants, exciting nightclubs, theaters, and a host of other businesses. These venues had a higher style clientele noted especially for clothes and cars. On holidays, parades flooded the street, as the community celebrated its success as well as its inclusiveness. The U. Street area boasted many landmarks including the Industrial Bank. Nearby, Griffith Stadium housed the Homestead Grays of the Negro Baseball League. In recent times, Arthur Ashe commented, "In Washington, the corner of 14th and U was the grapevine. The cream of black society and everybody else passed through there, so if you were at 14th and U, you knew where the parties were, you knew who was in town, you knew if there was trouble."
The Lincoln Theater, located at 13th and U Streets, was at the center of thriving U Street. Built in 1921 for Harry Crandall, it was designed as a movie theater for black patrons. During segregation, most new movies could only be viewed at white theaters. With the advent of the Lincoln this was no longer so. The exterior of the Lincoln is simple and understated, however, the interior designed by Reginald Geare, boasts a tremendous lobby whose ceiling is coated with gold, a stage twenty-seven feet high and thirty-eight feet wide bordered by elaborate Corinthian columns. The Lincoln was personalized by plaster ornamentation and busts of President Lincoln.
Initially, the Lincoln was the place to view vaudeville acts, first-run films, and amateur competitions. In 1927, Abe Lichtman took over as manager of the Lincoln Theater. Mr. Lichtman was a veteran owner of African-American movie theaters. Lichtman attracted a wide array of stars to the Lincoln. During this time, the theater was expanded to include a cabaret, a hot nightspot, and a dance hall called the Lincoln Colonnade. Located in the basement, visitors had to travel through a long tunnel to reach the Colonnade. The success of the Colonnade attracted famous performers such as Louis Armstrong and Count Basie, who were performing up the street at the Howard. Most importantly, the popularity of the Colonnade served to further distinguish the Lincoln Theater from the other movie theaters in the vicinity.
In the 1940s, Lichtman succeeded in bringing the Presidential Ball to the Lincoln Colonnade. Lichtman also succeeded in attracting the first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Bess Truman to the Lincoln Theater for a March of Dimes rally. The Lincoln's name, its decor, its cabaret, and the politically and socially elite visitors all worked to affirm the importance, not only of the Lincoln, but of the community on U. Street. Despite being white, Lichtman was commended for his service to the community. Above all, he brought social elites to partake of the performance excitement on U. Street. Lichtman was generous in his employment practices. Out of 434 workers, only 11 were white, and all of the managers and supervisors of the theater were black.
Much like the Howard, the Lincoln Theater suffered in the advent of integration following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Black professionals moved their businesses downtown and many of the prominent individuals that characterized the neighborhood fled. The civil disturbances in 1968 in reaction to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also served to end the success of the Lincoln. The Lincoln played B movies until it was permanently closed in 1982. Currently the Lincoln remains in the custody of the District Government and is awaiting a proposal for restoration.
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