An Old-Fashioned Digital Theatre

By Mathew Williamson

Curtains pass over my head and the walls bleed sound. An organ has eaten into the stage, a Wurlitzer 2-manual 7-rank style D-2 ‘special,’ a master of machination within the walls, an orchestra of keys and pedals, of strings and pipes and percussion, of two hands and two feet. Above the antique Wurlitzer hangs a sleek digital screen, a recent addition that marries history with modern technology.

Envisioned by Edwin A. Halberg and summoned through the mind of architect William Aitken, The Lincoln Theatre breathed its first light in 1926.  A period theater in the Spanish style, it was somewhat of an oddity in the Northwest, at a time when more exotic styles were in fashion. Built in downtown Mount Vernon, it housed silent films while also providing a stop between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. for performers on the vaudeville circuit. The Argus, a newspaper published out of Burlington, WA reported on May 13, 1926: “Nothing like it has ever been constructed before…the theatrical world is sitting back astounded.”

The room hums. Surfaces are clad in deep reds, browns and black, transporting me outside of reality even before the show starts. Every surface is a memory of a time when aesthetics didn’t hide function but entangled it. Soft light glows from lamps hung under a slightly domed auditorium ceiling painted sky blue and white. Finding a seat within so many does not make me feel alone. I am walking through a place possessed with great intent and history. The organ continues to play. One of only two of it’s model, the ‘mighty Wurlitzer’ is something of an artifact, purchased in 1926 for $22,500. It sits front and center on the stage whenever its services aren’t necessary. Today it is brought to life by Glen, one of threevolunteer organists that often provide music in the half-hour leading up to a show. Upon completion he exits with only the slightest affirmation of the applause he is receiving, vanishing stage right. Slowly the room fades, and the lamps dim to only the softest of red light. The walls pull away and images begin to move across the screen.

The Lincoln has been maintained through preservation and restoration, retaining it’s appearance over 88 years. Resurrected as a community arts center in the 90’s after an extended closure throughout the late 80’s, it has found continued community support and development. This was highlighted yet again in 2013 after a successful drive to fund the purchase and installation of the digital projector and file server needed to screen the newest films.

The lights come up, the room returns, and I remember what it actually feels like to watch a film in a theatre. Even after the bombardment of car engines, the clap of my leather soles on sidewalk, the sights of an enduring downtown, the theatre still holds onto me. It’s shape may get lost in the mass of blocky architecture, the brick and concrete and glass that has encased everything in sight. But it still rests, somewhere in there, patiently waiting.

At the height of its popularity, the Lincoln theatre transported patrons with ambiance as well as entertainment. In its latest incarnation, it continues to inspire visitors with beautiful architecture and carefully chosen films and stage performances. Independent films are usually shown Friday through Monday, along with high-definition broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera and National Theatre Live during the week. The Lincoln is also host to musical performances from both local and touring acts along with assorted community events.

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