In 1903 real estate entrepreneur General Louis V. Clark purchased lots 1 1,12, and 13 on Third Avenue and Eighteenth Street. The soon-to-be Lyric Office Building and Lyric Theatre occupied addresses 1800-1808 third Avenue North. The Lyric Theatre Lobby occupied the 1800 Third Avenue North address. City Directories reveal this location to have been a grocery store, a furniture store, a shoe shop and a saloon.
General Clark engaged the Birmingham firm of Hendon Hetrack Construction Company to construct the office building and theatre. To operate the theatre. Clark entered into a partnership with Jake Wells. Mr. Wells was a leading Southern Theatre owner. Wells owned the Bijou Theatre (former Birmingham Auditorium. Bijou, Lowes Bijou, Pantages, and Birmingham Theatre) on Third Avenue and Seventeenth Street.
The Lyric Theatre was advertised to open its doors on January 12, 1914. Due to an injunction filed by the Orpheum Theatre (Third Avenue and Seventeenth Street) the Lyric opened January 14, 1914. The dispute centered around the fact that both the Orpheurn and Lyric Theatres had a vaudeville booking contract with B.F. Keith Shows. The Lyric would present B.F. Keith Big Time Vaudeville from 1914 until the opening of the Ritz Theatre in 1926. Some of the show business legends to perform on the Lyric stage were Sophie Tucker ( during second week the theatre opened) Gus Edward’s Kid Kabaret with George Jessel and Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Buster Keaton with the Keaton Family acrobats, Milton Berle, and Mae West. In the fifties, both Roy Rogers and Gene Autry appeared live on stage at the Lyric.
Until the 1930s, theatre buildings were empty on Sundays. The newly formed Independent Presbyterian Church used the Lyric as its location for the Sunday evening service until their building on Highland Avenue was completed. Church records reveal that the Lyric was a vital part of their “downtown’” mission.
After the 1926 Ritz Theatre opening, the Lyric Theatre’s star began to fade. To supplement the loss of the B.F. Keith Vaudeville, the Lyric began to produce plays. Changes in ownership and the depression took their toll on The Lyric. The theatre closed and when it reopened it operated as a holdover house for the Alabama and later the Empire – Melba Theatres. From time to time, the Lyric showed lower grade movies and was not the best place to go to see a movie.
Never again would the Lyric Theatre attain its former greatness. Over the years the theatre would gradually decline. In the late 1950′s the Lyric closed its doors. The lobby would be used for retail space and the theatre would be vacant. In 1972, a group of young businessmen reopened the Lyric as the Grand Bijou Theatre showing classic movies. After the Grand Bijou closed, the Lyric Theatre ended its operation as the Foxy and later Roxy Adult Cinema
RESTORING THE LYRIC:
The Lyric Theatre is now owned by Birmingham Landmarks Inc. Landmarks owns and operates the Alabama Theatre complex. Landmarks’ plans are to restore the Lyric Theatre to its former glory and operate the theatre as a performing arts house. The Lyric Theatre will seat approximately 1,200 patrons with an excellent view of the stage. In addition, the stage has wing space needed for plays, opera, and musical presentations.
Considering that the Lyric has not been used and has sat idle for many years, the theatre is structurally sound and maintains much of its original decor. The balcony rails, the proscenium and side decorations, fire curtain, and mural “Allegories of Spring,” painted by local artist and interior designer Harry H. Hawkins, give the viewer a hint of the Lyric’s glory days.
Reports of Paranormal activity include smell, full apparitions, and unexplained noises,being watched.