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Lincoln Theatre

1998 Photo from the Darren Snow collection.
103 E Main St
Belleville IL 62220
(618) 233-0123

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Record #6120  
 Opened: October 6, 1921
Capacity: 1800 seats
Architect(s): William Henry Gruen
Architectural Style(s):
National Register:
Current Organ: 3/15 Hybrid
 Also Known As:
 Previously operated by: Fox Midwest Theatres, National Theatres & Television, National General Theatres, Mann Theatres

Information for this tour was contributed by Darren Snow.

OPENED: 10/21; "The Old Nest," plus four live acts and Rudy Magin's 7-piece orchestra. SEATS: 1800 (originally). COST: $50,000.

Built on the site of the old Voss Building (demolished 5/26/20), the Lincoln got its name in a contest. The six contestants who submitted the winning name each received season tickets.

Forest C. Templin was one of the first managers of the Lincoln.

Notable early events included an appearance by Ginger Rogers on 11/28/26 and an auspicious gig by the Marx Brothers -- it's said that Harpo stole his famous horn from a Belleville taxi. In April 1927, a Wurlitzer organ was purchased for $30,000 and installed for another $30,000. The silent era ended on 3/13/29 with "Four Sons," and the talkie "Alias Jimmy Valentine" debuted the following day. A chandelier was added in 1937.

The Fox chain ran the Lincoln beginning in 1932, and National General took over in the '50s. The Mann chain was the next operator, and Richard Wright took over in 1980.

Wright is constantly working on improving the Lincoln; he converted the balcony into two additional screening rooms and remodeled the ground floor to seat 584, plus four to six spaces for wheelchairs. He reckons he "threw enough old scenery out of the backstage window to fill a dump truck." He turned down an offer by the Arts Commission to buy the theatre in 1988, the year a new sign was installed to replace the vertical sign that had been damaged in a storm several years before. The Lincoln switched to a second-run policy in 1991. A new staircase was installed in November 1995, which facilitated the removal of the old fire escape.

The Lincoln held a gala 75th anniversary celebration on 10/19/96, with a guest lecturer and a recital on the 3/15 Marlin Harrison Mackley organ. Other special organ recitals of late include a Halloween 1997 performance by Dennis Ammann of Highland, accompanying the classic "Phantom of the Opera." On August 8, 1997, the KMOX morning show was broadcast live from the theatre, and Stan Kann and Bob Heil guested on the organ.

In mid-September of that year, the Wrights bought the neighboring Ritz Theatre, the first in a chain of events that led to the Lincoln's renewed primacy in Belleville. The Ritz had been operated for several years by the Kerasotes circuit, and the two cinemas -- located just three blocks apart -- often wound up running the same second-run films simultaneously. Wright had tried to get Kerasotes to cooperate on a copacetic booking policy, but the larger company apparently figured that "might is right" and that they'd eventually run the Lincoln out of business. Instead, the Lincoln prospered and Kerasotes threw in the towel, choosing to concentrate on its newer Quad Cinema in the suburbs. When the Quad was forced to close due to structural damage, Kerasotes was officially out of Belleville, and Wright found himself running the only game in town. The Ritz is now a church, the Quad is shuttered, and the Lincoln has returned to booking first-run films.

 Photos remain the property of the Member and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the Member.

August 2002 photos from the Darren Snow collection.

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1998 photos from the Darren Snow collection.

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October 1996 photos from the Darren Snow collection.

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Last featured 10/9/2003. Last edited 12/1/2022.

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