Lincoln Theatre Funding Crisis Could Shutter U Street Landmark

Lincoln Theatre Funding Crisis Could Shutter Landmark

WASHINGTON -- U Street's historic Lincoln Theatre, which has hosted legendary artists like Billie Holliday, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong, is in danger of shuttering for good.

The theater, which has received $250,000 in grants from the District of Columbia government over the past 10 years, will run out of operating funds as early as the end of this year. And while D.C. Councilmembers Jim Graham (who sits on the theater's board of directors) and Vincent Orange were able to negotiate an additional $500,000 for the theater during city budget talks in May, those funds will not be available until the next fiscal year. The theater's annual budget is about $1.2 million.

Graham joined his fellow boardmembers at a press conference Thursday, where they made it clear that the Lincoln would close without immediate funding. The theater needs about $60,000 to run each month, but only has $50,000 in cash on hand.

The board placed much of the blame on D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who called the theater's business model "not sustainable" on Wednesday. Boardmembers said that Gray has not agreed to meet with them regarding the issue, and has yet to return their phone calls. However, DCist reported Thursday that the mayor's office was unaware of any requests to meet.

This summer, the theater faced a similar threat, but was bailed out when the city provided $250,000 at the last minute.

Established in 1922, the Lincoln Theatre originally served D.C.'s black population during segregation. In addition to nationally renowned acts, many homegrown artists like Duke Ellington and Pearl Bailey performed on the historic stage. After the 1968 riots devastated the U Street corridor, the Lincoln fell into disrepair and closed its doors in 1981. The venue underwent major renovations in the early 1990s to restore the space to its original state, and reopened in 1994.

Flickr photo of the Lincoln Theatre by NCinDC

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