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As renovations continue, Lincoln Theater doors expected to reopen early next year

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BATON ROUGE - A padlock adorns the door to the historic Lincoln Theater, now-shuttered for nearly four decades. If all goes as planned, those involved with the building's restoration say the lock could come off in early 2022.

"Now we're ready to shift into high gear and get going," Morgan Watson, the project engineer, said.

Restoration of the theater on Myrtle Walk Street in Old South Baton Rouge, to this point, has been a painstaking process since the effort first began years ago.

From broken and busted window panes to graffiti sprawled along the facade, the building looks relatively unchanged from years past, but progress is being made.

"Now we are into the restoration of the historical features, which includes repairing the seats, restoring the sign and the marquee."

The iconic sign, now weathered, worn and waiting to light up once again, was lowered from its perch last week to be sent off for restorative work.

"We realize that neon is sort of out now, so we're looking at LED [lights] and other means to at least replicate as much as possible what we have," Watson said.

While the sign's absence might be the most noticeable aspect of the building, once visited by the likes of Duke Ellington, James Brown, and Louis Armstrong, it's not the only work underway.

Inside, mold remediation is complete, many of the hundreds of seats are in the process of being restored, instead of replaced, with more work slated to begin soon.

"We have to rewire the building," Watson said. "We have to restore the air conditioning system, and we have to do some plumbing alterations."

While the public can't see the laundry list of projects happening inside, in about a month or so, Watson says the exterior windows will be replaced, proving the restoration is alive and well.

"So they'll see things going on," Watson said. "Once the windows are repaired, they'll know we're well on our way."

While Watson's plate is full, and budget concerns stand to potentially delay the project, it's realistic he says for the doors to be open for entertainment late this year or early 2022.

"We'll be able to say 'live at the Lincoln Theater' again and bring some life to this part of the community," Dr. Thomas Durant, vice-chair of the Louisiana Black History Hall of Fame Board of Directors, said.

The Louisiana Black History Hall of Fame will eventually call the Lincoln Theater home, with an expansion expected in phase two of the restoration project. Exhibits, including one dedicated to the Baton Rouge bus boycott of 1953, will be on display.

For Watson, whose career has taken him from NASA to Southern University, this restoration serves as a personal legacy project of sorts for him. More importantly, he acknowledges, it serves as a bridge between the past, present, and future of Baton Rouge.

"The best is yet to come, Watson said. "This is just the start."


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