Built in 1914, the Lyric had pin-drop acoustics and beautiful décor and played host to such entertainment legends as Mae West, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers.
However, many Birmingham-area residents have no idea that the Lyric — one of the few surviving vaudeville houses in the U.S. — even exists, much less that it has an honored place in the history of American show business.
Birmingham Landmarks, Inc., the not-for-profit that owns the Lyric and the Alabama Theatre, will attempt to help raise the Lyric’s local profile when it hosts an open house at the venue this Saturday and Sunday from 1-6 p.m.. Admission is free, but donations toward the renovation of the theatre will be accepted.
Dan Liles, unofficial historian for the Lyric and the Alabama, will be on hand to answer questions about the Lyric’s past and future. The two-day open house is meant to take advantage of the foot traffic generated by the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, which uses the Alabama as one of its venues.
Birmingham Landmarks, led by Alabama Theatre general manager Cecil Whitmire, has owned the Lyric since the early 1990s. The organization is struggling to draw attention to the theatre and raise the money needed to restore it and create a performing arts center that could help anchor a viable downtown entertainment district.
The Lyric’s relative obscurity is not difficult to understand. The theatre has been closed since 1958, except for a few years in the 1970s when it had brief stints as a revival movie house and a porn theater. The Lyric marquee was removed decades ago, leaving the front of the building rather plain. However, the Third Avenue entrance to the Lyric is brighter now with the recent addition of painted signage over the front door. “We recreated the original signage and logo of the theatre,” Whitmire said.
Even in its present state of disrepair — with the seats missing and the old opera boxes removed — the Lyric is well worth a visit. Visiting the space for the first time is like stumbling into an undiscovered Pharoah’s tomb where the royalty are the crowned heads of 20th century American entertainment.
In May 2009, the Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation included the Lyric on “Places in Peril,” a list of the 10 most endangered historic sites in the state.
To learn more, visit www.alabamatheatre.com and look for the Alabama's fall 2009 newsletter. A new web site for the Lyric is under construction at www.lyricfineartstheatre.com.