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Lincoln Theatre Board Blames Gray For Imminent Closure

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The historic Lincoln Theatre at 1215 U Street NW, which long served D.C.'s African American community, may have to close its doors this year due to a lack of funding.
Patrick Madden
The historic Lincoln Theatre at 1215 U Street NW, which long served D.C.'s African American community, may have to close its doors this year due to a lack of funding.

D.C.'s historic Lincoln Theatre may be forced to close unless the city steps in to bail out the landmark. The theater’s Board of Directors says without a $500,000 infusion of cash from the city, the famous venue on U Street will likely have to shut down at the end of the year.

"I don't know how the Lincoln's going to survive another year," says D.C. Council Member Jim Graham, who sits on the theatre's board of directors.

Originally built in 1922, it was once known as 'the jewel on U Street' -- a venue that Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey and Ella Fitzgerald regularly called home. But in recent years, the Lincoln Theatre has struggled financially and relied heavily on city funds to stay afloat. The venue was restored by the city in the 1990s.

Theater board member Rick Lee personally called out Mayor Vincent Gray yesterday,  shaming the mayor for not meeting with members and for not allocating funds. Lee says he's upset his calls to the mayor were never returned; the mayor’s office says it’s the other way around, and that its calls to the board were never returned.   

Either way, the mayor says the city is committed to trying to keep the theater open but says the board needs to consider "all options."

Board members say it costs about $60,000 a month to operate the theatre and they have about $50,000 on hand. The Lincoln has been struggling for years, and had been relying on yearly $250,000 grants from the city. This isn't the first time the theater has been on the brink of closure. Officials were set to announce the its closure this summer, but city leaders were able to inject $250,000 of funding at the last minute.

"We appeal to Washington’s old and new to stand up for the Lincoln and demand that we receive the necessary funding to keep the doors open and to preserve the current management structure,"  Lee said yesterday. The theatre board says it needs $500,000 by Monday to ensure the venue remains open.

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