Arts Desk

Lincoln Theatre Will Close, Says Jim Graham

Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham has announced that the Lincoln Theatre is on the verge of shutting down, reports DCist. In a meeting with the mayor Wednesday morning, Graham said the theater at 1215 U Street NW is broke. Mayor Vince Gray added that its business model is "not sustainable."

A former fixture on Black Broadway, the city-owned theater is a historic arts venue in the District. It closed in 1983, underwent a $9 million renovation, and reopened in 1994. In recent years, the 1,250-seat theater has hosted concerts, comedy shows, plays and musicals, and a handful of Arena Stage productions while that theater was waiting on its new building in Southwest. But cash flow has long been a problem for Lincoln Theatre. Even with multiple public bailouts, the revenue from rentals has not been enough to keep the venue afloat.

Update: After an emergency board meeting Wednesday night, Graham will make an announcement about the building's future at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Lincoln.

It remains to be seen how Lincoln's possible closure may affect arts groups that have rented the venue this fall. Daniel Phoenix Singh, whose dance company is planning to host the Fall Festival of Indian Arts at the venue this month, says in an email: "We've partnered with Lincoln Theatre for over 6 years, and they have given us impeccable service in spite of having a skeleton staff and having to deal with political grandstanding like the one occurring now. Several theaters in DC receive federal subsidies because they are considered presidential memorials or other historic theaters—why is there a double standard when it comes to the Lincoln Theatre—the oldest continuously running African American theater in DC?" He says he is confident that the venue's staff will "able to negotiate through this latest hurdle without any problems."

Indie folk/country group The Civil Wars is also scheduled to play the theater on October 23. No word from promoter IMP on whether they intend to go ahead as planned.

In a phone call, Councilmember Graham said the biggest problem facing Lincoln is the lack of a substantial government subsidy. "I think we need to have...a better response from the D.C. government," he says. "This is a very important institution to the African-American community and to all of us. And I just want to do everything I can to make sure it stays open." As for Mayor Gray's comment that the theater's business model is not sustainable, Graham says, "I hope that was just an off-the-cuff remark."

This post has been rewritten to include more recent information.

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  • Skipper

    A total waste of many millions of dollars. All for Graham's pet project. Shameful.


    Would showing movies on a regular basis at the theatre be a viable way to generate enough revenue to keep it open?

  • Ace in DC

    This theater has stayed in 1994 with their programming and lack of open-mindedness to new show offerings, cutting edge theater, and supporting the changing demographics of the neighberhood. The place is rearely open, has unintersting and boring shows, and does nothing but suck tax payer dollars. Hopefully a new board and program mangament team comes in a nd totally reinvents this place. It will shine again I am sure.

  • monkeyrotica

    A little late to be thinking of ways to keep this joint viable. The Lincoln has been in the red since day one. They've never turned a profit. They're dark most of the year and when they're open, it's all step shows and jazz. They're a remnant of they old pre-riots U Street that never adapted to the new neighborhood. I hope the Howard Theater fares better, but I doubt it.

  • Now what???

    I have to agree I don't think DC is lucrative enough to be the potpourri of the theatre district, bar district, entertainment district, sports district and whatever else.

    Something had to suffer, you are opening up bars all of this city. A good drunk does not make a patron of the arts.

  • StrangeFruit

    @ Monkeyrotica, we can say the same about the BikeShare Program that has been operating in the RED since its inception!

    CM Wells added $5 million in this yr's budget for the Bikeshare Program, which the council approved, although Scott Kulby, former Chief of Staff at DDOT, admitted that it will take between 5 - 10 years before for the Bikeshare stops hemorrhaging taxpayers' dollars. He said the ridership doesn't sustain the program. This program only appeals to a handful of young, white transplants and most of DC residents don't utilize or benefit from the BikeShare Program.

    Therefore, the same can be said about the BikeShare Program, which represents the gov't's agenda to expedite gentrification by any means necessary, and at any cost to the taxpayers!

  • StrangeFruit

    @ Now What???

    YOu got that right! DC gov't can subsidize bars and clubs, but the arts and an historic Black Theater on Historic U St is considered by the Mayor and council as dispensable.

    Damn, how quickly DC's Black politicians sell-out the ones who support them.

  • michaeliceman

    Well…a stand alone theater is a very risky proposition. See…the Takoma….the Howard….the Tivoli before the renovation.

    I am all for using public money to fund renovations and such. I am a little less enthusiatic about using public money for operations when the Board cannot find a way to at least break even. Perhaps if there was some formal partnership with Duke Ellington or DCPS, I might be more subsidy friendly. I am Black but I am not buying the whole “we should keep it open because it is a historically Black theater.” First, if it so important for us to keep it open, why don’t we support it? We flock to DAR Constitution Hall for graduations and concerts, but we cannot go to a jazz concert at the Lincoln? But we want it open? Also, why can’t the Board do what so many old theaters have done nationwide and partner with some of these deep pocket corporations to fund operations. They are always looking for photo ops. But, I guess it is not worth it to these corporations if the Board cannot present good programming and the people do not patronize it.

  • Ward7Diva

    Sad! Truly Sad this venue will be dark again!

  • lovessoldier

    Michaeliceman - Folks would patronize the Lincoln if it were promoted as a viable venue. I doubt there is a promotion team or even personnel to market it accordingly. Most productions don't consider the Lincoln. There is also the parking issue; no underground parking opportunities available & you have to compete with other restaurant patrons (one of which is Ben's Chilli Bowl).

    It is beautiful. I agree if DC is going to pay for it's operation then it should be used for high school functions, UDC functions and such.


  • Shawn

    Money is only part of the problem - the other part is the Lincoln's unorganized and incompetent management. The Lincoln is well known in the DC-events world as being a last resort for a venue to host an event in...