Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Lincoln (Theatre) Log

A hundred years ago, when movie houses were a brand-new phenomenon, many of them became the centerpieces of their communities, places where locals could gather to laugh and cry over what they saw on screen. Via the hard work of the L.A. Conservancy, Los Angeles has managed to preserve some of its onetime movie palaces, particularly on Downtown’s Broadway. The Conservancy’s “Last Remaining Seats” film series, featuring movie classics and related stage presentations, has been around for 35 years. Happily, it has returned, following 2 years of pandemic closures, allowing Angelenos to watch old favorites in such pristine (and hugely historic) venues as the Orpheum, the Los Angeles Theatre, and the elegant United Artists. I was last at the Orpheum, home of a mighty Wurlitzer organ,  several years ago, introducing an excited seven-year-old to Laurel and Hardy (and the pie fight to end all pie fights). It was one of my favorite afternoons of all time.

 Small towns may not have had the wherewithal to support gargantuan movie palaces, complete with elegant lounges and “crying rooms” for babies and their mothers. Still, many towns had their own movie houses, which quickly became the center of local lives. A lot of these are gone now, having fallen victim to real estate booms and urban decay. In some cases, the old marquees (and quaint glassed-in ticket booths) survive, but not the theatres themselves. But I’m always cheered when I come across a classic movie house from the 1920s, one that still fulfills a need within its community.

 I found one such recently in Mount Vernon, Washington, a cozy town at the heart of Skagit County, not far outside of Seattle. This amiable community features on its main street a cooperative health-food market, some artists’ ateliers, artisanal coffee places (of course!), and boutiques. But I was drawn to the Lincoln Theatre, dating back to 1926, and thriving now as the county’s historic performing and cinematic arts center.

 The Lincoln Theatre began life as a vaudeville house that also screened silent movies. (Yes, it too boasts a Wurlitzer organ.) For years it featured first-run films, but in 1987 a community foundation purchased the place and  began using it for local events. The shutdown of the pandemic years allowed for a throughgoing refurbishing, designed to return the Lincoln to its original glory. Now it hosts—in addition to movies—local youth theatre performances, touring musicians, live-opera screenings from the MET, a Voices of the Children festival, and other well-attended gatherings. (And, yes, also the Skagit Drag Show, scheduled to take place not long before Halloween.) On the afternoon I was there, a local volunteer proudly showed me around, while her colleagues bustled to prepare for that evening’s Spoken Word presentation, It was to feature Washington State poet laureate Rena Priest, an Indigenous woman with strong environmental interests. Everyone seemed excited about the audience participation aspect of Priest’s appearance, which would encourage the audience to join in by making their own salmon-related poems.

 The lobby of the Lincoln has been expanded to include the inevitable wine and coffee bar, but you can also go old-school, munching on freshly-made popcorn. Gazing around at the framed copies of “News of Screen and Studio,” I saw big ads for Boris Karloff in Frankenstein and Barbara Stanwyck in  Forbidden at the Lincoln. Today’s presentations aren’t quite so splashy, I suspect, but the Lincoln continues to fulfill its role in both amusing and enlightening audiences who come all the way from Seattle and Vancouver for good hometown entertainment. And you can’t ask for much more than that.

 

 



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