Little Lincoln Theater To Reopen In Spring

Allan Appel PhotoIt survived the movies in the 1920s that gradually required bigger and bigger houses for the new cinematic melodramas and spectacles.

In the 1960s and again in the 1980s it survived the wrecking ball of the city planners who envisioned a drive-through from Trumbull Street into the evolving arts district.

Now the Little Theatre (formerly the Lincoln Theatre) at 1 Lincoln St. has survived a prolonged gut rehab, and will again open in the spring.

That’s the news from Evelyn Rossetti-Ryan, the public relations and marketing manager for the Area Cooperative Educational Services, which operates the nearby half-day arts magnet high school, the Educational Center for the Arts (ECA).

ECA student plays have been produced for years at the Little Theatre. So have special community performances (like this one).

The theater, which has been dark for about five years, is about to light up again.

Theater History Lives!

The Little Theatre was built in 1924, part of “the little theater movement.”

Its purpose was to build smaller theaters that featured intimate, experimental, and more daring, often social-reform dramas. They were an alternative to the Cecil B. DeMille-style spectacles that had become increasingly the bailiwick of that new art form, the movies. It became the Lincoln Theatre, a popular art cinema that eventually shut down in the 1980s.

In 2009, ACES/ECA secured a $5.7 million state grant to modernize and overhaul the building.

Plans called for expanding the little theater from 6,000 to 10,000 square feet; completely renovating the interior; redoing the standing-on-its-head shoe-box addition that had been clamped on the east side of the structure; and adding state-of-the-art lighting and seating to make a theatrical space that would also be a first-rate learning and rehearsal classroom for ACES students.

Click here to read of those plans and approvals at meetings of the City Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals in 2009.

The handiwork is now about to be unveiled. Iit has taken a few years longer than the originally projected one-year construction schedule. That’s in part because the building is a national historical landmark and in a residential neighborhood, said Rossetti-Ryan. “We really were very careful to not disturb the building, to keep the integrity, to accomplish the whole inside while not disturbing the outside took great care,” she said. She said the project came in on budget.

Among the new features: a sound-proof divider on the stage to accommodate two performances/rehearsals at once; platforms that can come down and be raised to create an orchestra space to support a broader range of performances; and theatrical lighting that will enhance not only drama, but also ECA’s dance performances.

Rossetti-Ryan confirmed that the theater will again be available for use by the public, but not in the first months after it reopens.

“Ghosts of the Little Theatre are happy that they’re well cared for,” she said.

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posted by: Paul Wessel on March 10, 2014  3:02pm

Looking forward to see the Lincoln back in use.  In my high school days, it was a great place to see classic movies.  Admission was 99 cents and it was a double header.  For an extra treat, periodically bats would flap around inside the theater.  In the days before DVDs and streaming video, it was a the place to be.

posted by: citoyen on March 10, 2014  10:24pm

This is indeed great news.  I too remember the Lincoln Theater days when movies were shown.  The front archway of the building back then had been mostly filled in, with only the merest suggestion visible that it had ever existed.  At some point I came upon photos of how it originally had looked, and was astonished to discover both that it had had a lot of character (now restored), and embodied historical significance.

(Which leads me to a small and picky matter—the building does seem to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but it is not a National Historic Landmark.  There is a difference.  National Register sites around the country have significance to state and local areas, while National Historic Landmarks are considered to have national significance.  Any National Landmark is automatically listed in the National Register, but few National Register sites are actually National Landmarks.  It gets confusing.)

posted by: Walt on March 12, 2014  10:10am

Do not know whether or not Mr.  Wessel’s so-called “classic”  movies were the same but when I was a student at nearby high school,  St.  Mary Academy,  the Lincoln was the home of near -porn flicks,

The Academy,  not having large-enough space for all its student’s at one time,  used the Lincoln for its assemblies.

On those side panels shown above,  the posters for “How To Take a Bath”  and other features,  definitely not acceptable to the nun-teachers , would always be covered up before   we got there.

If we were found in the Lincoln at times other than assemblies,  we would have been in   real trouble