The Lincoln Theater is a two story brick veneer-over-concrete building located at the corner of Myrtle Walk and Eddie Robinson Sr. Drive. The rectilinear building features touches of the International Style as well as some holdover Art Modern styling.
Baton Rouge city directories show the Lincoln under construction in the 1950 volume. Historians have stated 1949 as the year of its construction. The 1951 city directory lists the Lincoln Theatre, Lincoln pharmacy and Lincoln Barbershop at the building’s address. The facility was built by a team led by Dr. A. L. Chatman, a local African American physician. According to his niece, Verader Loreatha Chapman, Chatman was born Chapman. He changed his name in college, apparently because a favorite professor’s name was Chatman.
When the theater opened, it was one of three African American theater in the city of Baton Rouge. The other two were the Mckinley, about one-half mile to the west o the Lincoln and the Temple located in the Prince Hall Masonic Temple about a mile north of the Lincoln Theater.
Patrons have stated “it was a first class theater”. The Lincoln Theater was the newest, most up-to-date of the three. Roscoe Perry, whose father was the Lincoln’s first projectionist, explained that sometime in the 1950s, the theater became even more up-to-date when it acquired a larger screen with cinemascope projection.
In an age before the ever present television set, movie theaters across America were major sources of entertainment. The Lincoln Theater was air-conditioned from the beginning according to Roscoe Perry. The Lincoln Theater is also believed to have had the largest seating capacity of the three African American theaters reference above. The Lincoln Theater presented the three-day feature “Street Corner”. The caption in the newspaper article noted that the movie “brought thousands to the Lincoln Theater last week”. Jessie Hebert, former manager of the theater at the time stated, “The lines were continuously long for three days. On several occasions, a huge crowd was turned away until a later show.”
The Lincoln stage also hosted numerous live performances by big name entertainers. Lionel Hampton and Orchestra appeared there on March 1, 1952. The Weekly Leader reported there also was a special midnight concert. Verader Loreatha Chapman, age 75 recalled a Nat King Cole concert in the 1950’s as her most memorable time at her uncle’s theater. Roscoe Perry, the son of the first projectionist, remembers his father operating the spotlight for the Ink Spots in the early days of The Lincoln.
Adolph Byrd, age 88, recalled seeing Reverend King entering the Lincoln Theater building for a meeting with bus boycott leaders. The Lincoln Theater also played a role in voter registration efforts in the African American community. An article in the July 17, 1953 issue of The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate mentions that “headquarters” for a voter registration campaign were being set up “in the Lincoln Building on Myrtle Street., where a “registration school” will be conducted. The United Defense League office, member of the Legals Committee of The 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott strategists, was located in The Lincoln Theater.
The Lincoln Theater closed for services in the mid-1980s, reopened in the 2000s and closed in the later years of 2007.
The Lincoln is in its second of three phases of reconstruction. Upon completion and reopening the Lincoln will host live stage plays, film screenings, concerts, and poetry readings. In addition, a mentoring institute will provide training to youth and young adults interested in all areas of performing arts. One-on-One question and answer sessions with “Lincoln Legends,” important figures in Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas, celebrities, and civic leader are designed to educate and inform audiences of the cultural and historical significance of citizens in our community. The monument is set to re-open in November 2014.