Lincoln Theatre

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The Lincoln Theatre is a former movie theater for Black audiences, located at 1926–1928 1st Avenue North in Bessemer.

Sam Raine, owner of the nearby Frolic Theatre, purchased the 5,000 square foot building, built in 1910, from Mildred Terry in October 1942 for $7,750. In 1947 he commissioned architect Charles McCauley to design renovations for a 750-seat theater. His design for a steel-framed air-conditioned theater included a new facade clad in teal and white glazed tile. Bids for construction were solicited that October, and the low bid of $46,000 was accepted, and the new theater opened in 1948. Raine's son-in-law, Sam Maple served as manager.

In 1950 the Lincoln was scheduled to screen the 1949 feature "Lost Boundaries", about the family of Dr Albert Johnson who passed for white while living in New England in the 1930s and 1940s. As in Atlanta, Memphis and Birmingham, Bessemer's censors banned the screening. The board's opinion, reported byBessemer Police chief Lacey Alexander, was that, "We didn't want it shown in Bessemer. We didn't like the looks of it."

In March 1955 the Lincoln hosted Boy Scouts of the Bessemer-Fairfield Division for a morning film party.

Raine put the theater up for sale in 1961, asking $40,000. Theodore Jones Jr ended up leasing the auditorium for $400 per month. He advertised a "Grand Opening" of October 14 with free cotton candy for the first 100 children. The two features shown during the opening were 1957's "Satchmo the Great", a documentary featuring Louis Armstrong and hosted by Edward R Murrow; and "Wonderful Country", a 1959 Western produced by and starring Robert Mitchum, with Satchel Paige appearing as a cavalry sergeant. Over the next several years, Jones rent was reduced to $200/month.

On October 1, 1968 the theater building was sold to Sarah LaSala from the Great Valley Land Co., a holding company established by Sam Raine in 1960. The theater continued to operate until at least the early 1970s, and perhaps as late at 1983. After it closed, the building was used by other businesses. In the early 21st century John Boyd used the auditorium as storage space for his adjoining Economy Clothing & Furniture business.


In July 2012 attorneys Jake Bivona, Bret Gray and Ken Gray incorporated a non-profit organization, the Lincoln Phoenix Project to pursue restoration of the former theater as part of a performing arts center for downtown Bessemer. Board member Kevin Wayne produced and directed a short documentary film about the theater's history and potential reuse.

Actor André Holland purchased the building in 2017, and began making plans to restore it as a community asset. The non-profit Holland Project was incorporated by his parents, Mary and Donald Holland, and his sister Natalie. The group was awarded a $21,000 grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts in 2019 to support the project's design phase. Ted Perry of Shive Design designed a logo for the project.

In December 2021 the Alabama Historical Commission added the theater building to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.

In December 2023 Jason Smith and Jason Diamond from the Atlanta, Georgia office of Perkins & Will architects performed a 3-D digital survey and scan of the interior and exterior of the theater building. Their services were donated as part of the firm's social responsibility efforts.


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