It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and I assume no one is on the internet, so naturally I decided it’d be a good time to do a post because I’m a moron. I’ll keep it brief, I have a lot of decorating and cooking to do before tomor…lololol I can’t even finish that sentence. While y’all are mashing potatoes and shoving a baster up turkey’s butt, I’ll be tromping through the woods and exploring an old sanitarium. If you’d like to surreptitiously follow my adventures while pretending to listen to your Uncle Merv complain about his colitis, you can see my photos on instagram @Captain_Scraps
Last summer I took a road trip through the south with some exploring pals, and since one of them is really into abandoned theaters, we hit up a bunch, mostly with permission from the owners. This is the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama. Currently undergoing renovation process, the Lyric Theater is on its way to reopening as a concert and rentable event venue.
The Lyric opened in 1914 as a Vaudeville hall, featuring musical, theatrical and comedic acts. According to lightupthelyric.com, performers at the Lyric included “Rube Goldberg, Mae West, the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Will Rogers and many others.”
The Lyric Theatre was owned and operated by Louis V. Cark, a real-estate developer, and Jake Wells, who already owned many theaters throughout the south. It had 1,583 seats, two opera boxes and two balconies, which were segregated. However, it bears noting that the Lyric was one of the first theaters were black and white people were allowed to see movies at the same time, although the ‘black only’ seating was in the far corner of the highest balcony.
The “black only” seating in the balcony.
The theater was renowned as the “grandest Vaudeville hall in Birmingham,” until the 20’s when other theaters, such as the Masonic Temple Theatre and Empire Theaters, opened nearby. In 1926 it was finally upstaged by the Ritz, which was the first fully air-conditioned theater in the city. Many previous attempts at air conditioning were inventive but insufficient, mostly involving fans blowing air across ice. At the Lyric, a water tank had been installed under the front center of the stage for aquatic shows, and in the summer it was used to hold the ice.
The Lyric in it’s heyday, c/o lightupthelyric.com
The Lyric Theatre in June 2013
In 1927, owner Jake Wells went bankrupt, lost his theaters and committed suicide. Shortly after, the Great Depression hit, and the theater briefly closed in 1931. However it was quickly reopened the following year as a movie theater. The Lyric showed feature films until it’s second closing in 1958.
During the theater’s multiple closings, the adjoining offices continued to operate as dental clinics, the House of $8.50 Eyeglasses and the Southland National Insurance Company. The theater’s current owner told us that during the process of cleaning out the offices, teeth could be found in the cracks of the floorboards.
The theater remained closed until 1972, when it was reopened as the Grand Bijou Motion Picture Theater, which featured films from the 1940’s. The Bijou was short lived and the theater again closed and reopened as the Foxy Adult Cinema, which is self-explanatory.
Poster for the opening of the Grand Bijou, c/o Birmingham Rewound.
The Lyric shut down permanently in the early 1980’s. After a few failed restoration attempts, Birmingham Landmarks now owns the Lyric and is slowly restoring it. They’ve almost reached their $7 million goal. To contribute, please go to lightupthelyric.com.
The Lyric, like many theaters in the early to mid 1900’s, had an asbestos curtain, which was used to stop fires. The asbestos curtain was painted to look like a real curtain, with the word ‘asbestos’ painted prominently in the middle.
Yeah, that’s the original asbestos curtain. From 1914. Minus some water stains, it’s in almost perfect condition. If I recall correctly, I believe the current owner said they found it in the basement and restored it.
The Lyric and the Alabama Theatre in 1948 (I surmised from the film showing- Romance on the High Seas)
And a shitty Google Maps screen shot of the theaters today.
Despite remaining vacant for many years, the ornate carvings throughout the theater are in excellent condition.
The theater lobby in 1924, decked out for the premier of The Iron Horse, c/o Birmingham Rewound
The lobby today, c/o my old, crappy cell phone.
Bodybuilders posing on the fire escape of the Lyric for the 1976 release of Stay Hungry.
The fire escape today, c/o my exploring pal Dan Marshall. I don’t know why I didn’t get a shot of this side, I didn’t even see it. I was probably off dickin’ around in the basement looking for treasures like usual.
Speaking of the basement, here’s one of the doors of the dressing rooms that are in the sub-basement dressing rooms.
There was a loose step in the balcony and when we peaked underneath it, we found tons of old (gross) treasures. There were old soda straws like the ones in cartoons, Beech-Nut gum and a Hershey’s Krackel wrapper from the 60’s, I presume. I couldn’t find the exact wrapper (I didn’t try that hard) but the back says it costs 10 cents, and that’s how much they cost in the 60’s.
This post is by no means a complete history of the Lyric Theatre, I left out a lot of information, but if you’d like more info and possibly even a tour, please contact lightupthelyric.com.
For more photos, go to my Lyric Theatre Flickr set.
Disclaimer: If any information on this post is incorrect, if you have more info or would otherwise like to tell me something, feel free to contact me.