A major element of the historic U Street commercial corridor, the Lincoln Theatre is a rare early movie theater. The Lincoln was completed in 1921 in the sumptuous style of the grand movie palaces of the day. The neoclassical theater retains a high degree of its architectural integrity and is among the most notable remaining buildings. The Lincoln Theatre is a splendid example of a major “first run” neighborhood movie house of the 1920s. It echoes the spirit and life that pervaded the U Street corridor in the first half of the twentieth century, when it was known as the gateway to the best of DC’s Black community. Some notable entertainers who came to the Lincoln Theatre were Pearl Bailey, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and Duke Ellington.
Starting in 1927, A. E. Lichtman managed the theater, which became an important cultural space for DC’s Black community. Due to segregation in the city, Black audiences were required to wait after show times reserved for white customers before they were allowed to enter the theatre. Unlike other theatres who followed this conduct, the Lincoln Theatre did not, and it provided the Black community with equal access to entertainment. Out of the 434 employees to work at the Lincoln Theatre during Lichtman’s management, only eleven (including him) were white. Today, the Lincoln Theatre is still a popular venue in the city for entertainment.
The exterior of the theatre is relatively simple. The principal facade is a fully-developed symmetrical imposition featuring neoclassical design which is typical of the period. A well-defined base, which resembles finished stone, has a central, recessed entrance with a large square marquee. The upper facade is of tan colored brick and has a large-scaled central window which is set within a slightly projecting bay. The three-part window is surmounted by a decorated recessed panel in its arched head, which employs a fan motif and other neoclassical motifs in pressed metal. A primary cornice beneath the brick parapet is enriched by its center pediment and running frieze which bears the inscription “Lincoln Theatre.”
The interior of the Lincoln is highly ornamented and is notable for its well-preserved state. The lobby, circulation spaces, and main auditorium feature neoclassical derived plaster details which are typical of the period and continue the motifs of the main facade. The ticket booth in the lobby is embellished with classically styled busts and medallions. Much of the decorative plaster was painted a deep bronze and highlighted in copper.
DC Inventory: September 16, 1992
National Register: October 27, 1993