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FORGOTTEN PHOTOS: Lyric Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama – a treasure that is now saved

The old Lyric theatre in Birmingham, Alabama has an interesting history. Located on the corner of Third Avenue and Eighteenth Street, it was originally built and operated as a vaudeville theatre and was the last theatre in Birmingham built exclusively for live professional performances.


Lyric Theatre under construction in 1912 (photograph by Oscar V. Hunt – Birmingham Public Library)

Lyric Theater under construction in 1912 (photograph by Oscar V. Hunt - Birmingham Public Library)

It began when “Louis V. Clark built the theatre and leased it to Jake Wells, a Southerner entrepreneur. Then Carl Hoblitzelle, a powerful financial figure interested in theatre purchaces stock in the Lyric but Wells retained controlling interest. They did not get along and feuded frequently which resulted in various openings and closings of the Lyric.

Lyric Theatre lobby 1924 with nine women in costume advertising Iron Horse movie (O. V. Hunt – Birmingham Public Library)

Lyric Theater lobby 1924 with nine women in costume advertising Iron Horse movie (O. V. Hunt - Birmingham Public Library

Lyric Theatre ca. 1938 (Birmingham Public Library)

Lyric Theater ca. 1938 (Birmingham Public Library)

Lyric Theatre from Light of the Lyric

Lyric Theatre

Built in 1914, the Lyric saw stars such as Sophie Tucker, Mae West, Milton Berle, Will Rogers and even the Marx Brothers.

The Lyric had 1583 seats and the center of the floor could be taken out, and a large tank underneath could be filled for water shows.

There were 12 separate exits, 55 fly-lines, and the most complete light-dimming system in the South. There was even a rough air-conditioning system made by using two tons of ice under the stage with fans blowing the cool air out over the audience. If you were lucky enough to get a reservation, tickets cost 25 to 75 cents. “Seating was segregated, but the Lyric was one of the first places in the South where blacks and whites could watch the same show at the same time for the same price.”

The Lyric was second only to the Jefferson, the premier downtown theatre with legitimate drama in Birmingham at the time.

After an abrupt closing in 1915, the theatre reopened on May 19, 1915, with continuous run features. At the time, ‘continuous run’ was a lowered status in the theatre industry. However, the Lyric’s status improved in the fall of 1915 and offered the ‘Three-a-day” format when the Jefferson fell into financial troubles.

The Ritz Theatre opened in 1926 and since it was air-conditioned, this theatre was favored over the Lyric.

A favorite repertory group, the Favorite Players, came to the theatre in 1927. The director of the group was Russell Fillmore, a Birmingham native. They did light comedy and were there until 1930. Russell Fillmore became a film director but committed suicide in 1950. After his death, the Lyric closed.

The Lyric has been restored and is located at 1800 3rd Ave. North. It sits across the street from the Alabama and both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. See more about the Lyric at lightupthelyuric.com

SOURCES

  1. lightupthelyuric.com

  2. Metro Magazine November 8, 1978

 

Alabama history and genealogy books

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1)

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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25 comments

  1. Vicki Palefsky

    for Christopher M. Jones

  2. Kase Parrish

    Psst, you should proof read your articles. This is the last paragraph. “The Alabama sits across the street from the Alabama and both are listed on the National Register of Historic places.”

    1. Alabama Pioneers

      Thanks for catching that. I do proof read but sometimes my eyes start running together. I am only one person writing this page and sometimes the days are long.

  3. Christopher M. Jones

    A trip to see this jewel must be added to our calendar.

    1. Vicki Palefsky

      When you go make sure you eat at Bottega, also in a beautiful building. Have an ‘Orange Thing’ and the parmesan soufflé, plus, plus for me!

  4. Glad to hear they are restoring it. I can’t wait to see the finished renovation. Has the work began and when will it be completed? As a child standing in line at the Alabama Theatre, I would focus on the Lyric sign and wondered what it looked liked like inside and if it was ever going to reopen.

  5. Michael Lee Springfield

    Todd Ponder……Jill Chambers…..

  6. Neal Fondren

    And the real shame is that the Temple Theater was torn down.

  7. W K Boris Moran

    When ya gonna do the Thomas. Jefferson tower? Remodeling it now. Cool history of famous people stayed there.

    1. Alabama Pioneers

      Send some information to [email protected] and we’ll see what we can do.

    2. W K Boris Moran

      Don’t know from a resource but were told Frank Sinatra , a president or 2 bear Bryant stayed there when in town. It was the only derigible docking building on east coast besides empire state building in new work. And more I’m sure it’s a 100+ yrs old.

  8. Wes Jarrett

    My dad worked there as a teen before going off to WWII.

  9. Juanita Bailey

    I live downtown…would like to see when finished. I love old theaters.

  10. Donna Israel McCay

    My grandparents went on dates to this theatre to see Vaudeville shows. Grandmother said some famous people came there, before they were famous!

  11. Mary Lee
  12. Remember Tuscumbia

    Wish some one would save the old Tuscumbian theatre in Tuscumbia.

  13. Elene Teal Tucker

    So glad this is being restored! Thank you!

    1. Todd McCraw

      Nice! Did you ever know of it?

    2. Lillian Morrison

      Todd McCraw no, I just mentioned to someone today about all the places I could have gone to but didn’t. Anyway I did see see a lot though!

  14. Cecil Glenn

    I was there for the reopening. It’s a beauty and the acoustics are amazing

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