The historic Lincoln Theatre where Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole once regularly performed on Washington’s U Street may be forced to close because it is running out of operating funds, and the city is not offering a bailout.
District of Columbia Councilmember Jim Graham, who sits on the theater’s board, told WAMU-FM he doesn’t know how the Lincoln will survive another year. An emergency meeting was scheduled Wednesday night to determine the theater’s fate. An announcement was scheduled for Thursday.
The theater has been on the brink of closing before. Officials were set to announce it was closing this summer, but the city provided $250,000 in last-minute funding. The theater’s annual budget is about $1.2 million.
Lincoln Theatre opened in 1922 to serve Washington’s black residents during segregation. It was restored and reopened in 1994 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More recently it has hosted popular productions by Arena Stage and other arts groups.
The theater has a storied past on the strip once known as America’s “Black Broadway.” Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong were among the performers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had birthday parties there, and Langston Hughes once wrote a poem about the stage experience entitled “Lincoln Theatre.”