Friday Question of the Day – Will Howard Theatre’s Success Hurt the Lincoln Theatre?

A reader asks via the @PoPville twitter feed:

Howard theatre sounds great. But what about the failing Lincoln? Seems they will be even worse off now with the ‘competition’.”

I think that’s a really interesting question – do you think (if it is one) Howard Theatre’s (6th and T St, NW) success will hurt the relatively nearby Lincoln Theatre at 1215 U St, NW. Is this even more reason for the Lincoln Theatre to focus on movies? Or do you think the city, especially with all the new development/revitalization planned for the area, is big enough to support two historic theatres in Shaw/U Street?

30 Comment

  • how could the Lincoln possibly be in any worse shape? Until it’s use as a movie theater, it was dark 330 days a year. And I don’t think the Howard will compete with movies. The Howard will lift everything on U street by providing yet another draw that brings restaurants and bars and other services, which will increase the appeal of visiting the Lincoln if Lincoln management gets its act together.

  • There is no reason both can’t be successful. Especially given the Lincoln’s location and the programming coming to the Howard. The question is what would make the Lincoln economically viable and why hasn’t that happened already?

  • aren’t these both public/private partnership orgs (i.e. dc gov’t subsidized)? Can’t they both be poorly run by the city (or its preferred partner organizations) and continue to cost the taxpayers?

    • I pray for the day when these two venues compete. Hopefully competent leadership will lead them in this direction.

    • based on limited information, it looks like the Howard Theater’s management has been given to a private company with experience running successful entertainment businesses, while the Lincoln Theater is in the hands of a nonprofit that can’t manage its way out of a paper bag. We’ll see whether this turns out to be true.

  • As much as I hate to say it, yes, the Lincoln Theatre will be hurt.

    But I hope the Lincoln looks at this as a wake up call. The Howard hasn’t even opened yet, but they appear to be setting themselves up to do what the Lincoln could (and should) have done years ago. By contracting with Blue Note Entertainment Group they have been able to line up a very impressive initial slate of artists for this spring. BNEG handles bookings for New York’s famous Blue Note jazz club, the B.B. King Blues Club, the Highline Ballroom, and Baltimore SoundStage, among other venues.

    In other words, they hired PROFESSIONALS.

  • The city needs to sell the Lincoln.

  • The City should issue an RFP for a private management firm to take over the Lincoln. If the Howard team can pull off a management coup without even being open, there’s no excuse for the Lincoln to sit fallow for 300+ days a year. The demand for shows is there; the city just needs to get out of the way.

  • three words. blue oyster cult. may 4.

  • Just curious why the 9:30 club is not included in this discussion. There seems to be almost the same size talent going to the Howard as there has always been at the 9:30 club. Like it or not, this is also now an established DC institution which is much closer to the Howard than the Lincoln.

    • Good point. The Howard will have a similar capacity to the 9:30 Club (1100 and 1200, respectively). Looking at the upcoming schedule I see some acts that have played the 9:30 Club, but also many who haven’t (and likely wouldn’t).

      While Seth Hurwitz (9:30 Club owner) is probably not overjoyed — especially on top of the Fillmore Silver Spring opening in last year — I suspect they will co-exist just fine.

      Howard schedule (so far):

      • Wale 4/9
      • Wanda Sykes 4/13-15
      • The Roots 4/15-16
      • Robert Randolph & the Family Band 4/13
      • Yasiin Bay (aka Mos Def) 4/14
      • Bad Brains and GZA 4/20
      • Chuck Brown 4/21
      • The Taj Mahal Trio 4/22
      • Meshell Ndegeocello 4/25
      • McCoy Tyner Trio & Savion Glover 4/27
      • Chuck Berry 4/28
      • The Motet 4/28
      • The Bad Plus 5/1
      • Kathleen Battle w/ Cyrus Chestnut 5/2
      • Emancipator 5/3
      • Blue Oyster Cult 5/4
      • Chaka Khan 5/5
      • The Musical Box 5/8
      • Mark Lanegan Band 5/11
      • Esperanza Spalding 5/12
      • Jerry Lee Lewis 5/18
      • Bilal 5/19
      • Brian Mcknight & Duke Ellington Orch 5/20
      • Amel Larrieux 5/25
      • Los Straitjackets & Eilen Jewell 6/9
      • Ziggy Marley 6/13
      • Tinariwen 6/14
      • Raul Midon 6/15
      • Spectrum Road 6/30

      • Yep, they’re clearly targeting a different audience. Most of those acts are going to attract the 50+ crowd, not the 20-somethings who fill the 9:30 Club.

  • As others have said, the issue is not competition, the issue is that the Lincoln theatre sits on U Street and is largely unused (or has been for many, many years).

    Single-screen movie theatres are not economically viable, nor have they competition for live entertainment since, oh, the 1920’s. The Howard opening up will have no effect on the Lincoln as it is now since the current Lincoln business model is designed for failure.

    If the Lincoln actually programs live performances appropriate for its size, then it would probably do well to have the Howard nearby. That section of U Street could return to being an entertainment district and the two performance spaces would be good complements to one another (and to the nearby 930 club).

    • There aren’t many old-timey single-screen movie theaters left (which is a pity, in my opinion), but presumably the Uptown is doing well, or Loews Cineplex Odeon would’ve closed it.

      The Avalon is community-supported, so I’m not sure if that counts. I’m not sure whether the P&G Old Greenbelt Theater is also community-supported.

  • The Lincoln Theater’s website has exactly one event on it. It doesn’t even say if there’s going to be a movie after the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”.

    There’s plenty of room for both to co-exist and thrive, but the Lincoln Theater has to try harder. There is a lot of competition for entertainment dollars in DC beyond just the Howard Theater, and if the Lincoln wants the piece of the pie that is their due, they’re going to have to step up.

  • Personally, I think the Lincoln should become a porn theater like they used to have in the good old days. Cities need a certain amount of adult entertainment, and some riske nightlife would compliment the entertainment aspect of U Street. You could even base some advertising on the half-smoked weiners being sold next door at Ben’s. Also, it would be a taxable, private sector, functioning business.

    Okay… I started writing this as a joke, but I’ve talked myself into thinking this is a good idea.

    • ha! I was just about to post something about a porn theatre, too, mainly because I was reading the history of the Warner Theatre yesterday and its brief stint as a porn theatre. Learn something new everyday…

  • The Lincoln Theater bowling alley?

  • Its run like everything else the the city runs…awful

  • I don’t think they are in competition with each other. The Lincoln has a pitched floor so you can’t host shows like the 9:30 / Filmore / Howard where people stand and dance and mingle. More passive seated only events have a lot less appeal on U street on the weekends when most of the venues make their money.

    If you could get a Shakespeare theater caliber group to buy the theater then it could thrive.

  • has anyone considered the possibility that the people who run the Lincoln aren’t all that interested in it becoming a thriving business? i have no idea what their reason would be, but it would explain the baffling lack of anything resembling competence.

    • The Lincoln isn’t really a best thought of as an actual, functioning place to see shows. What it is is a plum patronage gig for pay-to-play cronies, bagmen, and other assorted local chiselers. That’s all. It’s never going to succeed, and the last thing in the world the people who run the Lincoln want would be its success. It’s just a no-show sinecure for connected insiders.

    • the lincoln is not a business. it is a non profit organization.
      fundamentally it exists simply to keep the building itself in existence.

  • First, wow, The Howard Theater has a ridiculously impressive line-up. I had no idea Chuck Berry was still alive, actually …

    Second, I think The Lincoln should emulate the Uptown (might need to upgrade, sound, etc.) and become a permanent old-school movie house. Maybe even like Arlington Draft House and include alcohol. There are no movie theaters anywhere nearby, and more and more people moving in with all the huge new buildings opening on 14th, etc. in short order. There is definitely a market for this if they do it right, and they would nto be competing with Howard at all. The other possibility is for them to emulate the Sixth and I Synogogue with a diverse line-up of really interesting and varied events. You put the same type of events at The Lincoln and it would be packed every weekend. This stuff ain’t rocket science.

    • Yes. Just that easy. 6 & I is using their space as an additional source of revenue, not the primary revenue generator, as with the former Lincoln. Converting to a movie house is an interesting proposition and one that the DCCAH should look into. However, I do not see an independent 501 (c) 3 being able to compete in a first run market (although this is not impossible). More than likely for this to happen, this means that the space would need to be sold to an established movie house. The building has a NUMBER of marks against it for this including limited space for kitchen facilities, poor sight line in the balcony (this used to be a smaller movie theatre in the old days BTW), sound and HVAC retrofitting needs, limited capacity for revenue generation (1 theatre) and that is just off the top of my head….Personally, I would like to see the space become more of a Performing Arts Center with theatre, dance, music and community events not just being held, but being produced by the new managing entity. The Howard line-up is interesting, but if you are trying to fundraise around that (which they will need to do), what makes it any more unqiue for the moment than for-profit entities like 9:30 club, Hamilton, State etc….. Just sayin….

      • I don’t think the 9:30 Club and Howard are going to be in full competition, in large part due to the different feel of the venues. Whereas the 9:30 club has the industrial warehouse vibe going, the Howard is drawing on it’s long and glorious history of attracting the greats. Also, the Howard will have a gospel brunch. All in all, it’s looking to be a classier joint rather than just a music and booze venue.

  • At this point, its been such an abject failure and given that the Howard and 9:30 Club, as well as several other venues offer performing arts, I think they should just throw in the towel and make it into a grocery store. If Harris Teeter can go into an old skating rink in Adams Morgan, why can’t a Giant/Safeway/MacGruders etc go in here?

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