Lincoln Theater

The King-Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood was best known in its glory years for its jazz clubs that catered to African-American artists between the 1920s and 1960s. As the new decade begins, one historic theatre is launching a brand new venture that will be a new experience to experience the sound that the Near East Side neighborhood was known for decades ago, Jazz. Welcome to Club Lincoln.

In 2020, the second-floor ballroom of the Historic Lincoln Theatre, at 769 E. Long St. in the King-Lincoln District, will re-open as Club Lincoln. There will be an Open House complete with an Open Mic at Club Lincoln on Friday January 31 at 8:00 P.M. 

The Lincoln Theatre Association, which operates Club Lincoln, will also launch the Club Lincoln Concert Series, which will be a platform for burgeoning local artists that have participated in the Lincoln’s artist incubation programs, such as the Jazz Arts Group’s Jazz Academy, which is located on the third floor of the Lincoln.

The Lincoln Theatre Association added that The Club Lincoln Concert Series will offer a middle ground betweentheir intimate Backstage at the Lincoln Series (which seats up to 100 patrons) and their Main Stage shows in their beautifully restored Egyptian Revival Style Theatre, which can seat up to 580 patrons.

According to the Lincoln Theatre Association, “Club Lincoln will be a performance space offering an organic and intimate experience that can accommodate between 150 and 250 patrons in a variety of general admission seating configurations, including traditional theatre-style, performance in the round, or club-style. The ballroom has been equipped with an all-new digital sound and lighting system and been fitted with acoustical panels to improve sound quality.”

Lincoln Theatre Executive Director Suzan Bradford stated, “We are excited to take this space back to its roots and offer it to the community as a destination for quality, live music once again. Club Lincoln will take our talented Lincoln incubation artists to the next level, allowing them the opportunity for more creativity and larger audiences.”

The Lincoln Theatre opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1928 as the Ogden Theatre. Because of the racial segregation of that era, African-American jazz performers were required to stay in hotels in the Bronzeville neighborhood, where after their Downtown shows, they often performed second shows at clubs like Club 502, the Yacht Club, the Pythian Theatre, Macon Lounge, and the Ogden Theatre, which was later renamed the Lincoln Theatre. 

Among the big names in jazz that performed at the Lincoln Theatre in its prime were Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Miles Davis, Etta James, and Columbus native Nancy Wilson.

As an overwhelming majority of the Near East Side residents moved out of the Bronzeville neighborhood in the years that followed the construction of Interstate 71 through the neighborhood in 1962, all of the elite jazz clubs closed their doors, including the Lincoln Theatre. 

The theatre sat vacant for over three decades and the building started to deteriorate as the years went by. According to the Columbus Association for Performing Arts, which operates the Lincoln Theatre, the theatre was slated for demolition in the early 1990s, when it was saved due to mandatory repairs that were to the building’s exterior. 

This sparked the first part of a two-decade long conversation of saving the theatre (and the community around it), which led to the Lincoln Theatre begin placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.  After then-Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s interest in revitalizing the King-Lincoln District, the City of Columbus purchased the Theatre, a $13.5 million renovation took place in the 2000s, with both public and private funding along the way. The Lincoln Theatre has grown in its rebirth as a state-of-the-art performance and education space with year-round artistic and cultural offerings.

In addition to the January 31 Open House, three performances have been confirmed on the official Club Lincoln web page, although a complete 2020 schedule for Club Lincoln has not been announced beyond the four events. The Deal Breakers will perform on Leap Day, February 29. Bobby Floyd will perform at Club Lincoln on May 29, and The Zach Compston Big Band will perform on June 20. The Club Lincoln Ballroom space is also available for rental space through CAPA.