Staging a comeback

On a glorious spring post-Passover pre-Easter Friday, I’m thinking about the fantastic tour I had of the Lyric Theatre earlier this week. For those that don’t know, the Lyric is one of the few surviving Vaudeville theatres in the South, and one of only three intact historic theatres remaining in Birmingham (the Alabama and Carver being the other two). In order for us to have a real Theatre District, we must get this beautiful theatre renovated. Birmingham Landmarks, which owns and operates the Alabama, is getting ready to launch this renovation effort;  the community must get behind it.

Amazing historic architecture

I was also able to tour the office building connected to the theatre. Almost 100 years old, the 6-story building is amazing: original doors with glass transoms above, terrazzo floors, original wood moldings. It has been vacant for 30 years along with the theatre, and will hopefully be brought back to life as well.

Theatres are essential to any city’s cultural life. To me personally, the Lyric is the ideal size not just for special concerts and plays, but as a regular home for the symphony, the ballet, and the opera–all of which perform currently in less-than-ideal venues.

One thing is for sure: we don’t want the Lyric to end up like the many other historic theatres nearby that were demolished by the 1980s. As a sober reminder of this sad history, I present this shot below of the Ritz Theatre under demolition one block away on 2nd Avenue in 1982. Birmingham, this time let’s preserve a much-needed venue (the Alabama has to turn away hundreds of events a year and this would help).

Oh by the way, where the Ritz used to stand? It’s a parking lot now.

Incredibly sad.

8 responses to “Staging a comeback

  1. Why was I not invited to this site visit? We need to talk, bhamarchitect… 🙂

    Thanks for the peak inside! Tell us how we can help Bham Landmarks with their effort!! It takes a village, right?

    #save_bham_culture

    • Sorry, it was a strictly private tour 🙂

      And hopefully soon I will be able to enlist your help and that of others in making this a reality! The structure is truly amazing.

  2. Sad, yes, but as the downtown crabapple, I’ve decided to present a more positive face this Easter.
    Let’s be mindful of the fact that the Lyric, Carver & especially the Alabama, STILL exist. Many cities twice our size can’t say this. Sure, we have many issues, and yes, Chattanooga is making us look like morons in comparison… but not everything was turned into a parking lot. The goal is to help locals see what we STILL have, and how unique that is. We don’t have to build a dome, or an aquarium, to be special. Our “special needs” status already makes us special. Birmingham has a thriving theatre scene, even as our alt-music scene & visual arts galleries wither. I can live with focusing our efforts with a booming theatre, dance, ballet, opera and orchestral community, if that’s what it takes to be creative in Birmingham. If we lose galleries to Atlanta, and live music to Austin, let’s at least focus our efforts on the rich architecture and “Broadway”-style artistic venues we seem to be so good at.

  3. Thanks so much for this terrific post. I’m passionate about the Lyric & try to spread the word about it whenever & wherever I can.

    For LK Whitney and all the other readers of your blog, there are a few ways to keep informed about the Lyric & to help the cause.

    http://www.savethelyric.com
    The URL above will take you to the Lyric Fan Page on Facebook. That’s the most frequently updated page.

    http://www.lyricfineartstheatre.com
    You can donate $$ on the official website or on the Facebook Cause page. Use the cause app to search for “Lyric Fine Arts Theatre.”

    http://bit.ly/bcmg8F
    Photographer Bradford Daly sells postcards & fine art prints of his panoramic pictures of the Lyric, and donates 50 percent of the proceeds to the restoration fund. (He also toured the office building once & took some fab photos that you can see here: http://bit.ly/cHS3Ky)

    Finally, when the Lyric has an open house, come tour the amazing place for yourself!

  4. Here’s my vision for re-opening the Lyric:

    Every Sunday afternoon, a two-hour local talent/variety show hosted by seasoned theater vets — either cabaret style or improv style (or both), but welcoming musicians and comics and turkey callers and gymnasts and whoever else can pass a tough audition. Broadcast the weekly show on public access TV and a local community radio station.

    Start a local community radio station with a studio in the Lyric office building (or a ground floor booth). Do a lot of interviews and in-studio performances with acts appearing at the Lyric and air live performances as often as possible.

    Open a snazzy cafe next door, brightly lit with yellow light pouring out of plate glass windows (check Chez Fon-Fon for lighting cues). Serve good beer, wine and cocktails in real glassware. Serve light food at accessible prices, and keep the kitchen open late every night there’s a show and as many nights as possible in any case. Have an ice-cream soda fountain, too, so that people naturally walk over from the Alabama after events there.

    Run movie series that are worth leaving the house for. Bring in screenwriters or camera operators or whoever you can get to come do Q&A’s. Show foreign films and art films and revival series with strong themes that people will twitter™ about. Do weekend matinees on the cheap, but also create “deluxe nights out” with red-carpet premier elegance (live music before and after, champagne at intermission, locally-produced cartoons and newsreels from Sidewalk and the UAB ethnographic film class). Focus on creating unmissable attractions for specific demographics (John Wayne weekend, Shark week, Hard sci-fi, Baseball) and tie into other cultural events in town (Int’l Festival, BMA exhibits, Motorcycle races, Fantasy conventions, Taste of 4th, etc)

    And… opening night, Tom Waits hosts a Vaudeville-style variety show with performers he selects, but including a re-creation of whatever the heck cartoonist Rube Goldberg did for a stage act when he opened the Lyric the first time.

    • Great ideas. In response to this and to other posts here, after years of being able to only focus on the Alabama Theatre, Birmingham Landmarks is making a major effort to restructure themselves in anticipation of a new focus on the Lyric. They are currently doing due diligence, exploring the various funding models, community support models, preliminary architectural needs, operating business models, etc. before mapping out a plan of action. All of us who recognize the importance of this theatre to the community will be needed to pull this off. So thank you all for your interest, and soon we should be able to start spreading the word about what specifically can be done to support this cause (beyond the initial options listed by Glenny below–thanks for that as well!).

      • I think all of these comments are great! Its exciting to know that more and more people are becoming involved in this terrific project.

        With the Lyric, there are too many positive aspects about the building’s restoration to simply ignore it. Restoration projects benefit the city with jobs! But, the restoration would be only the beginning. It could spark more restaurants and retailers wanting to locate downtown as well, not to mention the tenant space located in the Lyric space itself. It would also be a prime location for community and arts events.

        Its really a win-win for the city and would be an excellent companion to the Alabama.

  5. To help, go to http://www.lyricfineartstheatre.com/

    Click on the How To Help tab.

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