Spectrum Design Architecs | Engineers

The Lincoln Theatre

Blue Ridge Chapter AIA Merit Award for Design Excellence, 2005

Marion, Virginia

Accessed on Main Street in the heart of downtown Marion the Lincoln Theatre is a rare surviving example of an ornate moving picture palace which first opened to the public in 1929. Closed in 1977 the derelict building was purchased by a community group in the 1980's in efforts to preserve the theatre. The three-story building has no façade and is not visible from Main Street because it is located behind a four-story retail/apartment house. These adjacent buildings are separate and distinct structures that share a firewall and main entrance. An unusual cooperative arrangement, made when the buildings were conceived, allows access to the theatre via a broad arcade on the ground floor of the Main Street building. The 14,000 s.f. - theatre, except for eight attached garages, occupies all of the one-fifth acre lot on which it was originally built.

What makes The Lincoln Theatre unique is not the exterior architecture, but the interior of the theatre, designed to suggest a Mayan temple, which is remarkable and unique in southwest Virginia. The community wanted to restore the theatre and create a multi-use facility that would seat 500 people. The theatre would be equipped to offer live performances on a thrust stage, movies, lectures and other community and traveling shows. Preserving the original appearance of the theatre was a primary goal of the project. Also necessary to the success of the project was the reconstruction of the balcony, new toilet facilities, new dressing rooms, accessibility improvements and a stage extension.

The restoration effort included close-coordination between the general contractor and voluntary painters to refurbish and recreate where needed, the original glory of the interior design. Three-dimensional appliques and stenciled Mayan designs and glyphs cover the walls, the proscenium arch, the pilasters, and the ceilings of the theatre. Even more outstanding are six large paintings, depicting scenes from American and local history, which are located on both sides of the auditorium and framed in Mayan motif. Restoration of several of these large paintings has been completed and as funds are acquired the balance of the paintings will also be restored. Conceived and designed as an elaborate theater set by the Novelty Scenic Studios of New York City, the interior walls and decorations are constructed of composite fiberboard that was painted and textured to resemble plaster and stone blocks.

The project received historical tax credits and The Lincoln Theatre re-opened on May 16, 2004, with Riders in the Sky to a sell-out crowd. The community is thrilled with this resurrected treasure and expects The Lincoln Theatre to be an important component of Marion's cultural life and economy.