Lincoln Theatre: A Nocturnal Vintage Gem in a Sunny Urban World
U Street seems like an unusual spot for a theater. Sure, the surrounding area’s recent urbanization hosts a slew of restaurants and hipster hot spots, but much of the area is still home to locally owned shops and uniformed rows of apartments. With the sounds of construction coming from across the street, you can tell that the area has upgraded from its older community, slowly becoming a part of modern D.C. The street itself is very open and airy with plenty of sidewalks to keep pedestrians moving besides traffic, the kind of street you feel like you would find in a quiet end of a city. Therefore, you can understand my amazement when I spotted the grand Lincoln Theatre wedged between a phone repair store and a chili restaurant.
(When walking up U Street, it is impossible to miss the theatre’s awning that juts out into the street and provides a brief period of shade for passersby.)
And the theatre truly is grand, even from the outside. A red, marquee type overhang with vintage lampposts on either side give depth to the simple, flat building. A large vertical sign with large capital letters spelling ‘LINCOLN’ sits prominently on the building’s right side. In comparison to its original state in 1921, the building seems to have barely changed besides a fresh coat of paint between its detailed stone carvings (product of its restoration in the 1990s) (“Lincoln Theatre (Washington, D.C.)”). The theatre has kept its original set up; the box office greets you right as you face the door and advertisements for the upcoming concerts/events are featured in its windows. There are hints of development inside the structure though; after comparing my photos with a picture of the theatre in 1921, I saw that they had taken over the two stores next to them (Boese).
(Those exiting the metro stop across the street can see the full face of the theatre including its original carvings and famous sign.)
It is rare to see a venue so quiet and peaceful, a structure that is usually wrapped in so much festivity. So, at 2:00 in the afternoon (the time of my visit), the Lincoln Theatre’s true form seems hidden. It seems destined to shine at the late hours of the night when its bright lights can bring brightness to the simple structure. It needs people to bring it to life and not just people walking unknowingly by it. No, it needs a line of excited people wrapped around the building waiting for a show. It needs an artist inside doing a soundcheck with their favorite instrument in hand. It needs a sold out crowd, a chorus of voices singing, listening, and watching others share their hearts and secrets on stage.
Even at 2:00 in the afternoon, this is what you feel when you are at the Lincoln Theatre in the middle of a quiet city street: the ghosts of Louis Armstrong, Hozier, and the talent that has walked inside and the memories of blues ballads and rock anthems that haunt the air. For a moment, you are transported to another world. You can feel the cold air in your lungs as you wait for your favorite artist on a dark night. You can hear the excited voices surround you and wire the air with an infectious electricity. You can feel the lights radiate a golden heated glow across your skin as you look up at that sign that so many fans and music lovers has gazed upon. But this is not a sold out crowd on a dark night. This is the Lincoln Theatre in D.C. on a sunny afternoon.
But you can still feel it.
(Even the storm drain by the theatre has been marked by its music loving attendants.)
Boese, Kent. “Then and Now: Lincoln Theatre.” Greater Greater Washington, April 27, 2009. http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/2147/then-and-now-lincoln-theatre/.
“Lincoln Theatre (Washington, D.C.).” Wikipedia, September 30, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Theatre_(Washington,_D.C.).