In 1924, the Lincoln Theater was built at 1157 11th Street in Portsmouth. It served as the only movie theater open to African Americans in the community, as businesses and other facilities in the city still operated under the blanket of segregation.
The theater was also a popular meeting place for the North End community. Many black churches as well as the black Republicans within the city met inside its brick walls.
Despite its almost 100 year history, the Lincoln Theater sits vacant and condemned. It was last known as ‘Vibration’s Bar’, but is now reportedly a hangout for drug dealers and vagrants. City officials are now stuck pondering whether it would be better to simply demolish the structure.
“It is burned out. It is condemned,” said City Solicitor John Haas at Monday evening’s council meeting. Haas supports demolishing the building. However, it is owned by a private individual who would need to sign it over to the city to being the process. Tax payers would then foot the bill for its demolition.
“It’s not something the land bank can necessarily deal with,” continued Haas. “My thought is this: the owner’s filed bankruptcy, they tried to give it to the bank but the bank refused to take it. The owners aren’t paying taxes on it and they have no interest in it. They would be willing to sign it over to the city.”
Under Haas’s recommendation, the city would then demolish the building and resell the lot to recoup over $5,000 in property taxes owed on the property. But Andy Gideon of the Portsmouth Health Department says demolition work would likely cost between $10,000 and $12,000.
But as 5th Ward Councilman Gene Meadows said, that money could also come back to the city years down the road if a new or existing business utilized the space and generated additional tax revenue.
Upon 2nd Ward Councilwoman Jo Anne Aeh’s request, the matter will again be brought before council during the next meeting scheduled to be held on Tuesday, May 29th at 6PM.