Sunday, July 11, 2010

Some good preservation news, for a change

Hartford Courant columnist Helen Ubiñas reports today that a fund has been set up to save what's left of the Lyric Theater, at the corner of Broad and Park streets.

The Broad Street side of the vacant building was demolished in March. The city had declared it in imminent danger of collapsing; whether the city had done everything it could to prevent the building from deteriorating to the point of collapse is very much open to debate.

Now, to avoid creating a gaping hole in the storefronts along Park Street, there's a movement to salvage the Park Street section of the Lyric. Ubiñas credits Edison Silva of the city's Licenses and Inspections Department with suggesting the fund and Councilman Luis Cotto with helping to set it up.

Donation checks should be made out to "City of Hartford," with "Lyric Theater Fund" written in the memo line, and sent to 550 Main Street, Hartford, CT 06103.

By the way, September 1 marks the 87th anniversary of the Lyric's grand opening. An article published in the September 3, 1923 edition of the Courant, a few days after the opening, noted that Mayor Richard Kinsella, a host of other politicians, and a seven-piece orchestra had been on hand for the event, just the latest in "the rapidly developing Park Street section." The bill included a newsreel, the Wallace Beery movie "Bavu," and Irish tenor John O'Malley, "who captivated the audience with his lilting Irish folk songs." (In those days, it was common for theaters to present a combination of movies and live entertainment.)

"The theater appeared in gala array," the Courant noted, "from the spacious lobby of Italian marble to the attractive stage, resplendent with pleasing blue draperies. Little wall lights made for an atmosphere of coziness, and baskets of flowers throughout the house added to the inviting interior." All of the seats were upholstered in leather, and the lobby included a "confectionery store," complete with "a well-appointed soda fountain." It was also noted that the theater "employs only girl ushers, neatly dressed in blue uniforms."

The theater's architect was Edward T. Wiley. It was owned by Park Street Development Company, a partnership led by Joseph Dolgin and A.M. Schuman, two young men who had gone into business together after serving in World War 1. As the '20s went on, they became hugely successful, acquiring four more theaters: the Lenox on Albany Avenue, the Rialto on Franklin Avenue, the Colonial on Farmington Avenue, and the Central on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford. In 1930, they leased the entire chain to Warner Brothers. The Courant reported at the time that Warner paid $2 million for the deal -- a whopping sum as the country plunged into the Great Depression.

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