Because of the quality and fame of the entertainers, the Lincoln Theatre was sometimes called the “West Coast Apollo” after Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, and in fact they both featured many of the same acts.
The building was designed by architect John Paxton Perrine, who was also responsible for the design of San Diego’s California Theatre (1926), the Roosevelt Theatre in Hawthorne (1926), the Fox Redondo Theatre (1927), and San Bernadino’s California Theatre (1928).
Designed in the Moorish Revival architectural style, the front façade is divided into three symmetrical bays with the marquee above the entrance of the central bay. The façade is marked by decorative ceramic tile above arches in the side bays and columns that are capped by onion-shaped capitals and lance-shaped spires.
Inside, a mural of the theatre’s namesake president rises above its grand staircase. With a large stage, an orchestra pit, and seating for 2,100 patrons, the Lincoln Theatre was designed to accommodate live performances and movies.
In addition to movies, from the 1930s through the 1950s, many leading African American entertainers performed live theatre, concerts, stage shows, vaudeville, and even talent shows at the Lincoln Theatre. Musical performers included Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, the Nat King Cole Trio, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Louis Jordan, Pigmeat Markham, Fats Domino, and B. B. King. It was outside the Lincoln Theatre in the late 1940s that songwriter eden ahbez (aka “ahbe”) handed the song "Nature Boy" to Nat King Cole's road manager.
The performances at the Lincoln attracted many Hollywood celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, Irving Thalberg, Janet Gaynor, and Fanny Brice.
In 1962, the Lincoln Theatre became a church when it was sold to the First Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ. Today, it is operated as the Iglesia De Cristo Ministerios Juda.