“I never attended the Lyric so I hold no fond memories of it,” says Thomas Tolliver, East End activist and former newspaper reporter.
“The Lyric was already closed when I came to Lexington in 1980. Since moving to the East End in 1994, I had grown to hate the mere sight of that decrepit building because I thought it tarnished the entire neighborhood, sitting there with its crumbling facade, right there at the central gateway into my neighborhood.
“I can't count the times I've driven past it and wished it were not even there. For 20 years I had heard rumblings about fixing up the Lyric and reopening it but I was one of the skeptics. I never thought it would happen, and I said so. Imagine my surprise, and my delight, to see that decrepit building transformed into something beautiful.
“I welcome the re-opening of the Lyric but not for what it will mean for my social life or for the social life of other Lexingtonians,” Tolliver says. “I welcome the re-opening of the Lyric because of what it does for the image and indeed the spirit of the East End neighborhood. To me, it says the East End is on the rise again.
“In its dilapidated state, the Lyric defined the neighborhood. It said ‘Here's a neighborhood whose heyday has come and gone.’ Just as the dilapidated Lyric held the neighborhood back, I'm optimistic that the refurbished Lyric will propel the neighborhood forward. I'm hopeful that once again East Third Street will become a destination for people rather than merely a corridor by which to escape downtown.
“I'm hopeful that the restoration of the Lyric will jumpstart a restoration revival that spreads through this neighborhood causing homeowners and landlords alike to get on board. If the Lyric does this, or just some of this, then I will deem the millions of dollars pumped into that building as money well spent.”
Tolliver is not alone in his thinking. Others in the community have similar thoughts.
Tom Martin, editor of Business Lexington, says the Lyric Theater is as much about the future as it is about its past.
“Its history is steeped in the musical "soundtrack" of the African American experience. The greats have performed on that stage,” Martin says. “Now, however, in its revival with a much improved auditorium and the addition of a cultural center, the Lyric is poised to serve as a cultural hub and economic touchstone for an increasingly cosmopolitan community.
“Located near a new elementary school, community centers, the Urban League, a medical facility; within walking distance of new housing developments, and close to the campuses of the University of Kentucky, and Transylvania University as well as the future site of the Bluegrass Community & Technical College campus, the Lyric has the potential to ignite a spark of entrepreneurialism and prosperity in Lexington's East End neighborhood.
“That's good for everyone who calls Lexington home,” Martin says. “We should all be very proud of this accomplishment.”
Juanita Betz Peterson, who served as Chair of the 16-member Lyric Theatre Task Force from 2005 -2009 says “My first two words regarding what the rebuilt Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center means to Lexington are ‘Mission accomplished.’
“We who served, untiringly, passionately, and lovingly on the Lyric Theatre Task Force were inspired and determined to bring back the Lyric. Our due diligence would not have been complete without the assistance, inspiration and hard work of many, supportive citizens of Lexington. The appointment of a business plan work group added the valuable assistance and support that was needed to achieve success.
“The dream of the Lyric’s renaissance for the residents of Lexington’s East End and the African American community has finally become a reality,” Peterson says. “The Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center will continue to reflect the rich cultural heritage of African Americans. Moreover, it will be a facility of inclusiveness for all ages, cultures, ethnicities, and groups. Our hope is that the Lyric will once again become the ‘the place to go and the place to be seen.’
“My heart bursts with pride to see the rejuvenated Lyric, standing tall and beautiful, on East Third and Elm Tree Lane.”
Former First District Councilmember George A. Brown, Jr.’s recollection of the Lyric Theatre is that of a patron of Saturday matinees in which they showed westerns, horror films and cartoons.
“I feel a great sense of pride in my service as the First District Council Member to insure that the city didn’t waiver in its commitment to restore the Theatre, in concert with the memorandum of understanding in settling the Ben Snyder lawsuit,” Brown says. “The city has made a significant investment in the East End, which will pay long term dividends to the revitalization of a community.”
Current First District Councilmember Andrea James says the re-opening of the theatre, with the addition of the Cultural Arts Center, is a monumental statement of Lexington’s love for the arts and its diverse culture.
“Annually, part of the city’s budget is allocated to go towards Arts funding and, I believe, that is an acknowledgement of the important role the arts plays in our beautiful city,” James says. “The addition of the Lyric in our local and regional arts circuit allows for an opportunity to invite locals and visitors to enjoy the variety of cultures, with an emphasis on African-American culture exist in Lexington, but are often overlooked.
“I look forward to watching the economic vibrancy created because of the Lyric and Cultural Arts Center. Arts organizations similar to the Lyric throughout the nation have seen their communities flourish when these investments are made. I believe the same will hold true for this beautiful facility.”
Kimberly Baird, the chair of the annual Roots and Heritage Festival, says the festival’s kick-off weekend is held on Elm Tree Lane, with the Lyric Theater as its foundation and cornerstone.
“For years, the community has heard about the importance of the Lyric, the world-famous entertainers who performed, who made Lexington and specifically the neighborhood so well-known,” Baird says. “Now, with it’s re-opening, the community can re-learn and enjoy first-hand the rich history of the Lyric, and it will provide valuable educational opportunities for all generations. The Roots and Heritage Festival is honored to be able to connect more of its programming to this wonderful building.”