An exclusive look inside Bessemer’s historic Lincoln Theatre [PHOTOS]
On Friday, November 3rd, a group of local officials, preservationists, restoration experts and others met to discuss the best ways to restore the Lincoln Theatre—a historic African American theatre in downtown Bessemer.
Bham Now tagged along to learn more and get a rare glimpse inside the historic theatre.
About the Lincoln Theatre
Located in downtown Bessemer, the Lincoln Theatre was a cinema that first opened in 1948. At the time, the Lincoln Theatre was one of the few places showing first-run movies to African-American audiences prohibited from other theatres in Birmingham and Bessemer. For decades, the theatre was a popular attraction in Bessemer. However, a dwindling population of moviegoers forced the Lincoln Theatre to close in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
Although the building was used by other businesses—including as storage space for a neighboring clothing store—the theatre deteriorated over the years.
A new lease on life
In 2017, Bessemer native and actor André Holland purchased the Lincoln Theatre in order to restore it as a public event space and cultural asset. Holland—who has appeared in more than a dozen films, including the Oscar-winning Moonlight—remembers his dad telling him about the Lincoln Theatre as a child.
“My dad would take me to a barbershop next to the Lincoln Theatre as a kid, but the building was all boarded up. When I asked, he told me it used to be the only theatre in the area that Black people could go to. He told me that he had his first dates at the theatre, and I’ve been fascinated with it ever since. When the building was listed for sale a few years ago, my dad helped me get in touch with the owner to buy it.”
André Holland, The Holland Project
To help with the restoration, André’s family—including parents Mary and Donald and sister Natalie—incorporated the non-profit Holland Project. After the death of Donald Holland in 2022, the Holland family became even more committed to restoring the Lincoln Theatre as a community asset that will show movies, offer space for the performing arts and help celebrate diverse cultures, with a special emphasis on African-American cultural history.
“We want to make this space available for other people like me who have an interest in the performing arts but not enough access to those programs. We’re going to be showing movies and live performances, and the theatre will have educational components to it as well. We think it’ll be a great economic driver for the community.”
How you can help with the restoration of the Lincoln Theatre
To learn more about what it takes to restore a theatre, the Holland Project recently hosted a roundtable with local officials, preservationists, restoration experts—including Leigh Burns, director of Atlanta’s Fox Theatre Institute—to discuss best practices moving forward.
According to André, the next step of the renovation process is demolition and stabilization, outlining tasks to be completed before construction begins. At the same time, the group is beginning to raise money for a capital campaign to fund the project.