Historic Lincoln Theatre improvements coming along nicely

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Construction workers outside the historic Lincoln Theatre on East Long Street. The theatre, in the process of being renovated, is set to reopen April 2009.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)
Construction workers outside the historic Lincoln Theatre on East Long Street. The theatre, in the process of being renovated, is set to reopen April 2009.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)

The revitalization of the Lincoln Theatre on East Long Street is moving ahead as planned. The 80 year-old-theatre is set to re-open in April next year. The Lincoln will combine 21st Century amenities with its old-time style.

In it’s heyday, the Lincoln Theatre played host to many jazz greats including Cab Calloway, Count Basie and Duke Ellington

For decades, the theatre and the East Side, for that matter, remained a Mecca for local black entertainment. But the Lincoln quit having live acts and it became a movie theatre about 1970. Eventually the Lincoln closed.

Some are hoping a multi-million dollar renovation of the theatre will put some life back into the East Side. Columbus Association for the Performing Art’s vice president of operations, Todd Bemis, said the Lincoln will be state-of-the-art but retain its original motif.

“If someone who was here in the 1950s and 1960s walks in the theatre in April of ’09 and doesn’t feel like they’ve walked into the theatre they remember I’ll be disappointed,” Bemis said.

Bemis said the Lincoln, like many others entertainment venues of the 1920s and ’30s, had an Egyptian theme with beautiful red, gold and green colors. There were two large columns on either side of the stage with Egyptian paintings on them, and a Greek Isis hung over top of the proscenium. Bemis said those pieces were salvaged and will be part of the renewed theatre.

Construction workers put together frames for the 150 seats in the balcony. This is one thing that is not original to the theatre.

“This theatre never had a balcony before. The reason we know for sure it didn’t have a balcony is that when we came into the theatre a few years ago we saw where the movie projection booth was and it was actually on the level that we’re standing on right now. So if there had been seats up here the projector would have been shooting into the back of the heads of everyone in the balcony,” Bemis said.

And the balcony is not the only add-on. The original stage was 20 feet from back to front. But it will be doubled. That expansion allows for a bigger orchestra pit, which lets the audience see the musicians.

The theatre will loose seats, though, in the renovation. It used to hold 700 people, but with new, roomier seats the capacity will be about 570.

The building’s 5,000 square foot ballroom is being refurbished and there’s a jazz academy upstairs. Again, Todd Bemis.

“So there will always be life in the building at one time or another,” he said.

The estimated cost of the renovation is almost $12.8 million. The city of Columbus and Franklin County each put up $4 million. Private donations are paying for the rest.

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