Growing up in Skagit County, Rachel Reim-Ledbetter has fond memories of attending events at the Lincoln Theatre with her mother, a local high school English teacher, who eventually became a theater board member. Even after leaving home to attend college in Spokane and work in Seattle, Reim-Ledbetter regularly returned to the Lincoln to attend shows when visiting her parents.
Decades later, after marrying her wife, Tammy, in 2006, Reim-Ledbetter did something she thought she would never do: move back to her hometown. Although she was initially unsure where she would find a sense of community, it quickly became clear that the Lincoln was her answer.
Now the branch manager at the Peoples Bank Mount Vernon Office at Haggen Foods, Reim-Ledbetter is quick to champion the community value of the 1926-built, 500-seat theater, which holds true to its mission of entertaining, informing, and inspiring through cinema, live performances, and educational programs.
“It’s a wonderful gathering place,” she says. “For me and so many others, the Lincoln Theatre is the heart of Mount Vernon.”
Lincoln Theatre: A Space for All
Decades ago, the Lincoln was joined by the Lido and Lyric theaters in downtown Mount Vernon.
While all three buildings still stand, the Lincoln is the only one fulfilling its original purpose. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the theater still houses the original Wurlitzer organ that was installed when it opened – a true rarity among historic theaters in the United States.
The Lincoln became a non-profit in 1986, and today it serves an increasingly diverse set of events for an increasingly diverse community. A theater that once relied on silent films and vaudeville acts now showcases international touring performers, drag shows, high school mariachi concerts, and even films about fly-fishing.
“It really is a space that is unlike anything else that’s in our area,” says Damond Morris, the Lincoln’s development director. “We embrace whoever comes through the door.”
Roger Gietzen, the Lincoln’s executive director, feels that having a community theater in a city’s downtown core is essential, like the need for, a city hall, courthouse, community center, and place of worship.
While the Lincoln was effectively closed for 18 months during the COVID-19 pandemic – a time during which it lost nearly half of its paid membership support – it is rebounding quickly with a busy events calendar.
Among those events is the Skagit Theatre Camp, a two-week, in-house camp for children in grades 1 through 8. The camp allows children to study a broad range of stagecraft in a real theater setting and culminates in two live performances at the theater before a public audience.
This year, the camp – which returns to normal form after a three-year hiatus – will produce Disney’s “The Jungle Book Kids.”
Tuition for the camp is $400 per student which is not always affordable for many families. Peoples Bank recently donated $5,000 towards the camp’s need-based scholarship program, allowing several children to attend free of charge.
“The financial support provided to us by Peoples Bank is absolutely vital,” Morris says, pointing out that the Lincoln suspends all other revenue-generating events during the entirety of the camp’s two weeks.
Reim-Ledbetter says the common link between the two organizations is clear.
“Peoples Bank’s mission is to support the local community with a people-first approach,” she says. “The Lincoln shares many of the same values, so it really is a great match.”
Keeping the Lincoln Theatre Going
It’s not just money that keeps the Lincoln surviving and thriving.
A group of over 200 volunteers contribute their time to the theater, doing everything from ushering, sewing curtains, and hanging posters around town.
Reim-Ledbetter’s parents continue to be ardent supporters. In fact, the couple – whose birthdays are two days apart – booked the Lincoln in March of 2021 for a small party when the theater was closed to the public. With masks and social distancing, a small group of the couple’s family and friends celebrated with pizza and cupcakes from local establishments.
To significant success, some non-profits also live-streamed or held fundraisers at the Lincoln during the pandemic. The Lincoln will also bring back its signature fundraising event this year. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, “BrewFest on the Skagit” will take place on August 13 at Edgewater Park on the banks of the Skagit River. This year, 36 craft breweries from Bellingham to Oregon will participate, donating kegs for an event also featuring food trucks and live music.
And, of course, there are plenty of unique events taking place on the Lincoln’s stage, from local and nationally touring musicians to various arthouse and family-friendly movie nights.
At a time when many theaters in small, rural communities like Skagit County have disappeared, the Lincoln Theatre is still fulfilling its mission as an important gathering place that brings the community together.
Rachel Reim-Ledbetter is living proof of the theater’s positive effect. She hopes it can continue to inspire for years to come.
“There’s something for everyone at the Lincoln,” she says.