Preservation Magazine, Winter 2016

News Brief: The Lyric Theatre's Encore Performance

Lyric

photo by: Brant Beene

With headliners such as the Marx Brothers, Mae West, and Will Rogers, the Lyric Theatre, built in 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama, was a key destination on the popular vaudeville circuit of the early 20th century. The Lyric also was one of the first theaters in the city where African-American and white audiences could watch the same show at the same time—though seating and entrances were still segregated. In 1958 the theater closed, succumbing to the popularity of motion pictures. Despite reopening for brief stints in the 1970s and ’80s, the Lyric did not begin its journey back to glory until 1993, when it was donated to the nonprofit Birmingham Landmarks.

The organization has spearheaded a restoration project, meeting its $11 million fundraising goal through donations and federal and state historic tax credits. “Across the board, we have great participation,” says Birmingham Landmarks Executive Director Brant Beene. “We’ve had some really great citizens step up and contribute to this project.”

In addition to the Lyric’s iconic marquee—which drew 3,000 citizens to its re-lighting ceremony in October 2013—the century-old interior mural by Birmingham artist Harry Hawkins and the 80-foot stage have been restored. Slated to reopen this winter, the theater will seat up to 750 spectators. “It’s an authentic vaudeville theater designed for live performances, and it’s unique to Birmingham,” says Beene.

Katharine Keane is a former editorial assistant at Preservation Magazine. She enjoys getting lost in new cities, reading the plaques at museums, and discovering the next great restaurant.

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