As I’ve said before, the state of Alabama is full of hidden gems that are contant sources of inspiration not only for my work, but also for life itself. I was recently invited to tour another one of these such gems right down the road from our office here in Birmingham, and I want to share it’s story with you.
As a member of the Grants Review Committee for the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, I had the pleasure of visiting The Lyric Fine Arts Theatre not too long ago. Built in 1914, and as the sister theatre of the famous Alabama Theatre, the Lyric is a part of Birmingham’s downtown historic district. Originally built for vaudeville shows, the Lyric has hosted quite a few legendary stars including Will Rogers, Milton Berle, Mae West and the Marx Brothers. I can only imagine the atmosphere in theatre back in its heyday with people like Will Rogers gracing the stage!
One of the things that makes the Lyric so special is that it was specifically built to maximize the acoustics and close seating needed for vaudeville-type shows. So, the theatre boasts an 80-foot stage and seating for 1,500 on the main floor, plus has two steep balconies as well as two opera boxes. One of my favorite elements of the theatre is the gold leaf hand-painted stage curtain. Above it, is a stunning mural on the proscenium entitled “The Allegory of the Muses” done by local artist Harry Hawkins.
During the 20s, most people attended shows at the Lyric Theatre on Monday nights. Tickets ranged in price from 25 to 75 cents! The Lyric was also 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 Civil Rights Movement and Birmingham’s history are greatly intertwined. And, while the entrances were unfortunately separate, I love that this theater included everyone when others did not.
Over the years, the Lyric has fallen into neglect and has not been in use for decades. However, recently an exciting campaign to “Save the Lyric” was formed. With support from the city of Birmingham, public and private organizations, and individual donations, I hope to see the Lyric theatre restored to what it once was.
The restoration process is going to start with the theatre lobby. The idea is to showcase the entry-way to the theatre as a potential for what the remainder of the Lyric could become again, given that there are funds to complete a full renovation. Plans for the lobby to become a venue for parties and events are in full swing. And, what a spectacular setting for hosting a future soiree!
The ultimate goal is for the full renovation to be completed in time for the theater’s centennial which is January 14, 2014. I am excited about the potential for this theater in the heart of Birmingham’s cultural district, and I hope those of you with an interest in Birmingham, theater, historic preservation, or soirees will become involved!