Should the Lincoln Theater Become a Movie Theater Like the Avalon?

Avalon Theater located at 5612 Connecticut Ave, NW

Last week we spoke about the possibility that the Lincoln Theater could close at 1215 U Street NW. When I was up in Chevy Chase last Sunday I couldn’t get over how much the Avalon movie theater reminded me of the Lincoln Theater and I thought, man it would be sweet if the Lincoln showed films like the Avalon. But perhaps it’s not possible to put two movie screens in the Lincoln? Would it not be viable with only one screen? Maybe consider some sorta public/private partnership? Do you think a set up like the Avalon would be successful/possible at the Lincoln? Perhaps I’m being naive but I think the Lincoln as a movie theater would be a phenomenal addition to the neighborhood.

Lincoln Theater 1215 U St, NW

47 Comment

  • I don’t know if it could be profitable or not but the Uptown on Conn only has one screen and seems to do well. There’s enough traffic on U St. already — dinner, date-type traffic — along with Metro access that it seems that adding a movie theater there could be a good idea.

  • While I’m not the biggest fan of the losing the Lincoln theatre as a play house, I’m down for it becoming a cinema house if it’ll preserve the site itself. I mean, c’mon. I’d hate for this piece of history to crumble into just another abandoned structure.

    • What are we really losing? The Lincoln currently only shows ‘plays’ a few times a year. It’s closed 95% of the time.

      • Agreed. A movie theater would be a nice addition and it would be nice to have the spot occupied more frequently.

  • Art gallery. Brunch. Martinis. DJs lights, Dancing.

  • You mean become a movie theater again I grew up around the corner from the Lincoln and it was a thriving theater during the Black Expoit movie era with such movies as “Shaft” ‘”Sweet Sweet Back ” and others. Movie lines were around the corner but when Balcks became more main stream the theater tried to get more people into the theater the Lincoln tried to covert the balcony into a seperate screen and thus it was a dual screen movie house. The also tried things such as the ” All Night Movies” You would go in at 9 or 10 pm and stay all night till 6 am the next day . That was fun so I say again ” A movie house Again “

  • You mean become a movie theater again I grew up around the corner from the Lincoln and it was a thriving theater during the Black Exploit movie era with such movies as “Shaft” ‘”Sweet Sweet Back ” and others. Movie lines were around the corner but when Blacks became more main stream the theater tried to get more people into the theater the Lincoln tried to covert the balcony into a seperate screen and thus it was a dual screen movie house. They also tried things such as the ” All Night Movies” You would go in at 9 or 10 pm and stay all night till 6 am the next day . That was fun so I say again ” A movie house Again “

  • It should often be a movie theater, even if it shows classics or cult classics on off nights. It makes no sense to have the theater dark even if it only breaks even on those nights. I’d volunteer to work there one night a month.

    The problem is that the board is very stodgy- they didn’t even want the gay film festival to be there a few years back.

  • Sure, anything to keep it open, but I have to believe that more competent management could make it a profitable with plays and shows, too, though. I mean, it’s a beautiful old theater in the most happening entertainment district in DC. Force the foundation to sell it. Take proposals from people with the experience and money to make it work, while making them commit to making at least part of the programming continue the Lincoln’s historically African-American legacy. This can and should be done.

  • DC should sell the place.

  • How many DC movie theaters have closed in the past ten years? I don’t think this will be sustainable without massive taxpayer support, and then you’re back to the problem of “public/private partnerships” again. Unless the do a Cinema & Draft House model with pitchers, pizza, and a “Dolemite: The Human Tornado”/”Re-animator” double feature.

    • of all the movies theaters that were open 15 years ago, are ANY left besides the uptown? i guess the avalon… but it was closed for a while.

  • Good morning.

    What is needed most of all is that this wonderful venue be better utilized with regular recurrent use.

    It cannot continue as a sink hole for huge scarce public funding every year for 2 or 3 events a month.

    As is often the case, public sector nonprofit management is sadly replete with failure, protracted ineffectiveness, poor theatrical management, and deferred building maintenance with deficit spending and poor results all excused by good intentions.

    The Lincoln Theatre can be both a playhouse stage and a cinema with a retractable screen above the stage as long as the proscenium with the lighting and sound room doubling as a projection room.

    The site should be turned over to an experienced successful for-profit results oriented on going concern like Arena Stage or the Warner Theatre that could bring needed and now possible renewed robust urban life and regular recurrent use to this excellent venue in a now currently popular and now relatively safer locale on the U Street corridor.

    An active schedule of local academic drama and stage craft classes along with Saturday matinees during daytime hours together with nightly cinema most nights of the week and drama, comedy, and musical stage productions on weekends could stir round the clock vibrant life into and around the site.

    A Duke Ellington themed “Sophisticated Ladies” musical performance had to be reprised for a month with sell out audiences last year. But a venue like this cannot and should not be kept empty most days of the month the way it is now, so under utilized with huge government subsidies every year with ineffective public sector management:

    government work that confers upon itself immunity from real life for the mere sake of nostalgic history and local politically connected feather-in-the-hat community organizers with false leadership which sadly provide so little tangible results with their titles as theatre board members other than self aggrandizement and self empowerment.

    In the best interest of the city, the historic Lincoln Theatre should be specially site zoned for cinema and theatrical arts use exclusively so that the property and the huge parking lot in the rear in particular remain in perpetuity and not be converted to condominiums.

    The parking lot should be preserved as it is needed to facilitate much needed motorist sponsors and art patrons with money driving into the city for a show who don’t want to take the subway despite a station stop across the street.

    Again, it would behoove everyone if the site is just used regularly and more often, and so add to our growing vibrant cosmopolitan capital city life which the current public sector management structure has for years failed to do.

    Turn it over to experienced results oriented for-profit private sector operators like Arena Stage and Warner Theatre with perpetual zoning restrictions on the use of the site to ensure its continued use for the arts.

    That’s it.

    Government exists to do only what citizens cannot do for themselves.

    • +1 million on everything except the parking lot issue. People adapt and the drivers need to adapt too. We have a vibrant, prosperous inner core of a city where most people do not drive. There is no need for that valuable, prime piece of real estate not to be utilized to its max for condos or some other project. But the rest of your points are spot on and perfect. Well said.

      • +2. Ol’ Lumpy knows what he’s talking about 🙂

      • styglan1,

        I forgot to include that the parking lot should be preserved as well to facilitate commonly used tour bus patrons and hotel vans that bring paying audience members as well as the needed motorist sponsors and art patrons driving into this part of the city for a show who can’t or don’t want to take the subway.

        The adjacent parking lot facilitates filling a 1,250 seat venue and alleviates the concentrated traffic congestion that occurs 90 minutes before a performance for the existing condominium residents enough of which already surround this center block site.

        The Lincoln is a wonderful venue with beautiful high end interiors far too few Washingtonians are unfamiliar with because of so little exposure with so few events and a seemingly dormant exterior most every day.

        Here are interior pictures of this lovely, yet severely under utilized facility:

        • Actually, the evidence shows that more parking spaces leads to MORE traffic congestion, since it encourages more people to drive.

          Source: Can you tell I’m also a Greater Greater Washington blog reader? 🙂

      • It’s called “valet parking,” and the “motorist sponsors” would use that anyways.

  • Here’s the nail and thanks for hitting it smack on the head. The board of the Lincoln is extremely unprofessional and seemingly not at all concerned with the theatre’s longevity. Their business model of 3 or 4 shows a quarter is unsustainable, and their Chairman does silly things like smacking Vince Gray around in the press for not giving them a bailout they hadn’t actually asked for. And here we hear that they’re turning down what would probably be successful events because of their own political or social leanings. Sad to see such a beautiful structure fall victim to bad leadership.

  • cinema and drafthouse.

  • That area is severely under movie theater-ed. Having a one-screener there would be great. After that, maybe the dreadfully vacant former theater at 17th and Columbia could follow suit?

  • I’d gladly pay $20 to see a indie/art movie here and happily drink a couple $9 craft beers while I’m there. but maybe that’s just me.

    • It’s you and five others. Not sustainable – who pays $20 for any movie?

      • people who don’t wanna go to chinatown. or see movies that aren’t being shown at the mainstream theaters. obviously it’s a bit of a niche market but if you’ve only got one screen to fill…

  • The Avalon is a nonprofit, which is a very odd arrangement for a movie theater. I’m not sure how reproducable a management structure that is. Considering its location, it seems like any night the theater is dark is a tragedy.

  • how about a spot for go go bands?

  • fist I think you need to let it close so that the people who are in charge / on the board loose all ties to the theater. Then sell it to a competent owner… and as long as its not a chain that buys it I don’t care what they do with it.

  • Cinema and Drafthouse like the Bagdad in Portland, OR. The place is a cash cow b/c they show second run movies, so the tickets are cheap, and they serve good bar-style food and beer and wine. And, most importantly, it’s in a cool old theatre like the Lincoln. That’s a huge draw.

    • As someone who grew up less than a mile from the Baghdad (and even closer to the Barley Mill Pub) I have long missed McMenamins. It would be great if they ran it, aftr all they run a number of movie theaters

      I am sure if three is a cretive way to use the space, they will come up with it.

  • I’ve never been inside — is it already set up with a screen and projection booth?

  • It took a massive amount of private money to save the Avalon. Query whether that kind of money would be available for the Lincoln Theater, given its location (i.e., not in Chevy Chase).
    I think it should be put to its most profitable use. It’s a shame to see historic places shuttered but it’s not always a good use to keep an historic venue open just for the sake of history, especially if keeping the venue open will require large amounts of public money.

  • Really anything besides the limited programming that is there today

  • A second run movie theater would be awesome. I remember the one we used have in Gtown about 10 years ago, I think movies cost $2.50. Throw in a license for booze and surely they could make some money.

  • I think it would be cool if the Lincoln were to be used for mixed use events, movies, plays comedy shows and concerts, not unlike the Atlas theater on H St. That is a beautiful theater and I have attended movies and plays at the Atlas. I contributed money to the Avalon and lived in that neighborhood until recently. It is expensive and they do have a lot of community support. The air conditioning failed at the Avalon this summer and they had to pay to put in a new system and that was not cheap.

    Does anyone know what the plans are for the Howard Theater? I understood that they are planning to reopen n the Spring, but I’m not sure if how they plan to use the venue? I am looking forward to that revitalization effort too!

    • tonyr

      I’m glad that you mentioned the Howard. What’s the likelyhood of it being any better run when it opens? Also I went to see Bettye LaVette at the Atlas last week and she talked about performing at the Howard back in 1962. She would have been a good booking for the Lincoln, don’t you think.

      • tonyr

        Oh and for all those who are suggesting that it should be turned over to a private operator, you should know that you need better examples. Arena, Signature, Studio, Atlas, Avalon, Kennedy Center etc. etc are all non-profit operations. Do you think that people are queuing up to donate cash to for-profit companies? Or that the Government gives them special tax breaks? Actually ignore the last bit.

  • Can we turn it into a dog park with bike lanes?

  • The management of the building does not seem to have done a very good job. The building is often empty and there do not seem to be efforts to recruit new shows to the theater.

    A movie theater out of the hands of current management would get my vote.

  • It should be anything except what it is now.

    The current theatre board needs to be eliminated and the city should solicit proposals for putting this gem to actual use. It’s an absolute crime that the current board has managed to squeeze $millions out of DC without producing anything of any note at the Lincoln.

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