Bessemer’s historic Lincoln Theatre added to Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage

Lincoln Theatre
The historic Lincoln Theatre (left) next to Sam Dunn’s Saloon in downtown Bessemer, Alabama. (Photo via Jeff E. Newman)

Big news for Alabama’s Marvel City! On December 9th, the Alabama Historical Commission unanimously voted to add the historic Lincoln Theatre in Bessemer to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage!

Recognized by the Alabama Historical Commission

The Lincoln Theatre
The facade of the Lincoln Theatre in 2019. (Photo via Leland Kent / Abandoned Southeast)

Positive news for the historic Lincoln Theatre in Bessemer.

Last week, the 73-year-old theatre was officially added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, an official list that, “documents buildings, sites, structures, objects, districts, and cultural landscapes in Alabama that have historic integrity and significance.” Although the designation is honorary and carries no restrictions or financial incentives, the Lincoln Theatre’s recognition is a big step forward in the effort to renovate the building.

“For us, the hope is not just to have the Lincoln Theatre as it was, but to have it even better than before. To be added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage is a big deal and a great honor, and it helps position the Lincoln Theatre to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. Because of the Lincoln Theatre’s history and its status as the last remaining Black theatre in Bessemer, we plan to seek recognition from Alabama’s Black Heritage Council as well.”

Glenny Brock, Project Consultant, Lincoln Theatre
Lincoln Theatre
Inside the projection booth of the Lincoln Theatre in 2019. (Photo via Leland Kent / Abandoned Southeast)

The Lincoln Theatre dropped the news on Facebook yesterday:

“Big news for Bessemer and beyond: On December 9, 2021, the Lincoln was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, following a vote of unanimous approval by the staff of the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC). The Alabama Register documents buildings, sites, structures, objects, districts, and cultural landscapes in Alabama that have historic integrity and significance. The AHC created the Register to recognize Alabama’s historic places and to encourage their continued preservation. We so proud and thrilled!”

The Lincoln Theatre – Bessemer, Alabama in a post on Facebook

In order to qualify for the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, a property should be at least 40 years old, show the authenticity of its location and convey a feeling for the time of its construction.

The Past and Future of the Lincoln Theatre

Lincoln Theatre
The Lincoln Theatre in 1948. (Photo via Birmingham Public Library Department of Archives & Manuscripts)

In the 1940s, the owner of the nearby Frolic Theatre purchased a 5,000 square-foot building in Bessemer in order to make a new theatre. By 1948, the Lincoln Theatre was open to the public, showing first-run movies to the African-American audiences barred from other theaters due to segregation.

However, dwindling audiences—the same problem plaguing the Alabama and Lyric Theatre’s at the time—forced the Lincoln Theatre to close around the 1970s. Although the building was used for other businesses throughout the years, the Lincoln Theatre began a long process of deterioration.

Lincoln Theatre
Old flyers advertising movies for as little as $1! (Photo via Leland Kent / Abandoned Southeast)

In 2017, the Lincoln Theatre building was purchased by actor and Bessemer native André Holland. Holland, who has played major roles in 42, Selma, Moonlight and more, purchased the Theatre in order to restore it as a community asset.

“Built in 1948 to show first-run movies for African American audiences, the Lincoln is the last remaining historic theatre in the Marvel City. The mission of the Lincoln is to preserve, promote, present and celebrate diverse cultures with special emphasis on African American cultural heritage.”

The Lincoln Theatre

Want to help with the restoration of the Lincoln Theatre? Click here to learn more about their mission & how to donate!

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Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer with Bham Now | Originally from Tennessee, Nathan moved to The Magic City after graduating from Birmingham-Southern College. Nathan is passionate about recognizing Birmingham's history and is thrilled to learn more about the big things planned for The Magic City's future.

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