LIMA — The Lyric Theatre opened its doors Feb. 6, 1911, to glowing reviews from Lima’s daily newspapers.
“The Lyric, Lima’s new vaudeville theatre, opened last night with more than enough enthusiasm on the part of the amusement loving public to assure those back of the enterprise of gratifying success,” The Times-Democrat wrote Feb. 7.
The Republican Gazette summed it up the same day with this headline: “Lyric Theatre Opens with Bill of Clever Acts by Decidedly Clever People.”
The men behind the Lyric, Thomas Doyle and Charles Berger, couldn’t have been happier and treated all involved with the theater’s construction and opening night to dinner following the performances.
Vaudeville, a type of live variety entertainment, was king in 1910 when construction began on the Lyric Theatre, which was just north of and across North Main Street from the elegant Faurot Opera House, which went up on the northwest corner Main and High streets 30 years earlier
The Lyric would survive the Faurot by more than 30 years, going from an opening night with Joe Edmonds, “the how-de-do man comedian” to Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns in the mid-1960s. The curtain went down on the Lyric, then known as the Ranger Theater, in 1967.
In the fall of 1910, the Daily News reported, Doyle and Berger were inviting the public to submit names for the new theater going up behind a row of existing buildings in the 200 block of North Main Street. “Since it is to be an independent house and is therefore not copying after the style of the old-time or so-called ‘Big Time’ circuits why not name it the ‘Berdoyle,’”? the newspaper suggested. “Composite names being quite the thing now.”
The public had other ideas. The Daily News reported Dec. 9, 1910, the name Lyric had been chosen over Olympic, Lyceum, Peoples and Majestic. The newspaper also reported the same day that Charles C. Deardourff, of Piqua, “a vaudeville man of a number of years’ experience,” would manage the new theater.
On Jan. 15, 1911, the Daily News wrote, the Lyric was “a beehive of industry as the electrician, decorator and carpenter vie with each other in their daily labor of completing the house for the opening date ….” The theater would be equipped with “automatic ventilators which change the entire air in the theatre every two minutes,” while “the auditorium proper is as nearly fire-proof and sanitary as human ingenuity can devise, the seats being made entirely of wood, the floor cement, while six exits furnish ample means of clearing the theater in an incredible space of time.”
Getting out of the Lyric might have been easy but getting in, at least initially, was not. With no frontage of its own on North Main Street a deal had to be made with the owner of the Oxley Millinery Store to give the theater a grand entrance.
All was ready by Feb. 6 and the Lyric opened with headliners Horton and Larika in “a novelty comedy sketch which they have dubbed ‘The Clown and the Human Doll,’” the Daily News reported. The fare also included Franklin a “singing and talking comedian,” comedienne Emma O’Neil, and “The Hoeys in a rural comedy, “Thoughts of the Old Home,” as well as Edmonds, the “ho-de-do man.” And finally, “the Lyricscope will show the latest motion pictures.”
Two and a half years later, the afterthought became the headliner. By then Doyle had bought out Berger and leased the theater to a group called the Lima Amusement Co.
“Lima’s moving picture realm is to be invaded by a new feature beginning next Saturday, Sept. 27,” the Daily News wrote Sept. 21, 1913. “Feature ‘movies’ and the Edison talking pictures will open the Lyric Theatre. On that date, for the first time in the history of the city, a ten-cent moving picture house will be offered theatre-goers. The Lyric is to be hereafter an exclusive moving picture emporium.”
The Lyric’s incarnation as a ‘moving picture emporium’ in 1913 was praised as highly as its vaudeville debut in 1911.
“The doors of the remodeled Lyric were thrown open yesterday afternoon to Lima’s amusement-loving public and a steady stream both afternoon and evening, which several times overtaxed the capacity of the theatre, was the reward of the Lima Amusement company for its efforts in giving the finest picture theatre in this part of the country and the public the best to be obtained in the picture line,” the Daily News wrote Sept. 28, 1913. “The music was an innovation for this part of the country and it scored an instant success.”
Among the ‘moving pictures’ the Lyric offered in 1913 were “The Schoolmarm’s Shooting Match” and “Their Wives’ Indiscretions.”
On Feb. 17, 1916, the Republican Gazette reported “the first Lima-made movie film” would be shown at the Lyric. “The picture-taking process was completed yesterday,” with Lima’s Bonnie Linn in the role of the heroine and Don Leatherman as the leading man in “Ohio.”
“Lima’s own golden headed star of the silent drama – Gertrude Astor, daughter of Assistant Fire Chief Eyster – will be seen in her own home town in one of her foremost pictures, starting Sunday at the Lyric.” The Republican Gazette wrote Dec. 8, 1922. “Miss Astor will play the leading feminine role in ‘You Never Know’ with Earle Williams as the masculine star.” According to online biographies, Astor, who worked into the mid-1960s and died in 1977, actually was born in Lakewood.
By December 1922, the Lyric had passed into the hands of Charles Settos, who announced the theater would again be completely redecorated. In July 1924, according to The Lima News, a $20,000 organ “specially designed for the Lyric” was to be installed to accompany the silent pictures.
A little more than three years later the News reported yet another remodeling of the Lyric. This time, in addition to new seats and a projection booth, the old vaudeville stage would be demolished. Movies were now talking.
Next week: The Lyric changes with the times.