58 West 135th Street,
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The Lincoln served as a cinema in the 1940s and 50s, but may have had a larger seating capacity when originally presenting vaudeville and plays. The 850 comes from Film Daily Year Books. According to a recent article in the weekly New York Press, the Lincoln first opened in 1915 and was the first theatre in Harlem (then a predominantly white neighborhood) to cater exclusively to a black clientele.
The Lincoln had its own stock company of black actors, but earned its greatest fame in the 1920s, when it presented black vaudeville, including such headliners as Bessie Smith, Florence Mills, and Ethel Waters. For a time, the very young Fats Waller was its resident organist.
Since the 1960s, the Lincoln has been home for the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. Although there have been decorative changes, “much of the structure remains intact, notwithstanding the tiled, 60s-era facade and dropped ceilings”, David Freeland reports in the NYP story. “A sturdy rectangular proscenium, richly brocaded in lovely floral patterns, dominates the front interior, while the original sloping floor is steep enough to make first-timers wobble. Best of all, the theater’s boxes were never removed, and their gentle, curving lines add delicacy to a space that appears larger than it really is”.
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