Dear Journalists: Brian Morton has been sharing this URL with you, and for that I am grateful. But I do urge caution. This article is not in publishable form, the copyrights have not been cleared, and I had not yet announced this page to anyone outside of a small circle of interested parties. Please be careful not to reproduce the photos without clearing them with the photographers, one of whom I have not yet contacted. Also be aware that this draft may contain historical errors. Above all, now that we are at the last moments before the execution, PLEASE TRY TO STOP THE DEMOLITION!!!!!! The stories about the imminent danger posed by the building are FALSE! For proof of that, see below. My infinite thanks to you.


12 Mary St
Hamilton ON
L8R 1J7

Anyone and everyone who is interested in this theatre is strongly encouraged to contact me at Thanks!

(Photo discovered and shared by Hamiltonian theatre buff Brian Morton)

Nobody in Hamilton remembers, or can remember. So here is a little reminder about the magnificent Lyric Theatre in downtown, hidden just off of King Street.

The first public announcement of this building was made in The Hamilton Herald on 15 April 1910, in an article entitled “Will Build Theater Costing about $140,000. The Site Has Been Purchased and the Plans for the Building Have been Drawn. Will Have a Seating Accommodation for 1800 Persons and Will Be a Fine Structure.” where we see that it was originally intended as a burlesque house. No owner was mentioned. As for the architect, there was only this: “A Rochester firm of architects has prepared the plans, and, as this firm builds nothing but theaters and has a large part of that business in the United States, there can be no doubt that this latest addition to Hamilton’s amusement places will be a credit to the city as far as the building is concerned.”

The location was being kept secret. The irony is that almost a hundred years later it’s still a secret. The architect was not named. That was a secret as well, and it has remained a secret to this day. We shall reveal the secret: It was Leon Henry Lempert Junior, successor to his father’s firm of Leon H. Lempert & Son, Theatrical Architects, based in Rochester, and responsible for a great many of the finest theatres ever built in the northeastern US and Southern Ontario, almost every one of which has by now been demolished.

More than two years later, there was a follow-up story, which was actually a press release. The Hamilton Herald of 13 July 1912, which referenced an earlier article in The Hamilton Spectator. The building would be on Mary Street, and the unnamed owner had already signed a lease with the Griffin Amusement Company in Toronto, a vaudeville circuit that had nothing to do with burlesque. Indeed, as we see below, with mention of ladies and infants, this would be a family theatre. Occupants of the current building at the address were evacuating and that building was scheduled for demolition. The plans were to be altered significantly:


Handsome Modern Structure Will
Be Built on Mary Street

   The property has a frontage of 70 feet and is 190 feet deep. It has a twelve-foot alleyway on both sides, which will permit of many exits being provided. The seating capacity will be 2500, and it will be the largest and finest theater in the city....

   It will contain balcony and gallery, 24 boxes, 10 ground floor exits, ladies’ retiring room, nursery for infants in arms, with a trained governess in attendance, gentleman’s retiring room, free telephone, etc.

   Many new and novel features will be installed, and the ventilating system has been specially designed to supply pure, fresh, cold air in such a manner that the temperature in the theater can be regulated to any degree desired.

On Tuesday, 12 November 1912 The Hamilton Spectator provided yet more information, in yet another press release, where we learn that our guess was right: burlesque was out and vaudeville was in. Theatre fires were all too common in those days, and the fires were not anything we have experienced today. A single spark could ignite the scenery or any other fabric, and in an instant it coud burst into a fireball that would kill nearly everybody in the building within just several seconds. Audiences were aware of this, and simply hoped for the best, much as we do when we drive our cars even though we see several fatal accidents every week. Judging from the wording of the following press releases, it is clear that a local theatre fire was still very much on Hamiltonians’ minds. The Canadian firm of Dominion Theaters, Ltd., would be in charge, and sought to allay fears:


Dominion Theaters, Limited,
Will Erect Fine Structure on Mary Street


And Safe House Will Be
Motto of Management

   The Dominion theaters, limited, announces that work will be commenced on its new theater on Nov. 18. The site of the new playhouse is on Mary street, about 50 feet from King street. There is a building on part of the property, and the work of wrecking it will be commenced immediately after the present tenants vacate, which they will do on Nov. 15. The Dominion theaters, limited, is composed of men of the highest standing both socially and financially, and the citizens are assured of having one of the very finest theaters in Canada.

   The property has a frontage of 70 feet, and is 190 feet deep. It has a twelve-foot alley on both sides that will permit of many exits being provided. It will contain one balcony, sixteen boxes, ten ground-floor exits, ladies’ retiring room, nursery for infants in arms, with a trained governess in attendance, gentlemens’ retiring room, free telephone, etc. The very latet improved ventilating system will be installed. It will supply pure, fresh, cold air in such a manner that the temperature in the theater can be regulated to any degree desired.

   The heating and electrical plants will be installed entirely outside of the theater at the rear. The moving picture machine will also be located outside of the theater, so that there will be absolutely nothing in the building that could possibly cause a fire.

   The earnest desire of the men behind this project is to provide a place of amusement that will be absolutely fireproof; that will seat 2,300 people, and be panic and fool proof.

   This theater is affiliated with one of the strongest circuits of vaudeville theaters in the United States. It is only by having a large seating capacity that the management can afford to provide a high-class entertainment at a small admission charge; therefore it is building many new theaters specially desi[g]ned for this class of entertainment that will seat from 2,000 to 3,000 people. The most careful and critical parent need not hesitate to allow his children to visit this theater, as they will be carefully and courteously looked after. Every performance will be strictly censored before being presented, and only a clean entertainemtn of an instructive and educative order will be permitted.

What was this nameless US vaudeville circuit? It was the Loew’s circuit.

The Hamilton Herald of 11 April 1913 told yet more, as part of its piece on “Summer Drama at the Three City Theaters — Something of the Past, and a Peep into the Future”:

   ...Men are busily engaged on the new vaudeville house being erected just off King street. So far as the building is advanced, it promises to be a commodious structure. The other day, a procession of wagons, each loaded with tons from the mountain quarry, was... [REMAINDER OF ARTICLE ILLEGIBLE].

Shortly afterwards, on 26 April 1913, both the The Hamilton Spectator and The Hamilton Daily Times published another press release, this time with the architect’s sketch of the proposed building. But someone in the publicity department had made a mistake. This was an earlier sketch, which had since been considerably revised. Here we see a building with a level roof over the auditorium, which the final building would not have. We also see a building that is considerably longer than the theatre actually under construction.

The text is blurry and small and a bit difficult to read. Basically it’s a repeat of the above press releases, but with a few additional details, which show us that this theatre was built with a plenum chamber beneath the orchestra-level floor. A plenum chamber is a sealed room with a terrifyingly enormous blower that pulls air in from the outdoors and then filters it, filling the chamber so violently with so much air that the air must escape through any means it can. Its only escape consists of the small holes that are placed in the ceiling, each leading to a mushroom-shaped ventilator under one out of every four or five seats in the orchestra-level auditorium. In summer months massive blocks of ice are strapped between the blower and the intake to cool the air. Here are some highlights of this press release:

   ...At great expense, a ventilating system will be installed that will eliminate all draughts, and will provide each patron with a sufficient quantity of pure fresh air. Underneath each seat will be located a small concealed ventilator. The air supplied to these ventilators is brought from the top of the building down into a large chamber in the basement and then forced through a water screen, which washes, cools and removes every particle of dust and dirt. It is then distributed through the small ventilators underneath each chair, thus assuring a uniform ventilation.

   A large vacuum cleaning plant will also be installed. No dust or germs of any kind can remain in this Theatre as the entire premises will be thoroughly cleaned after each performance.

   This Theatre is affiliated with one of the largest circuits of Theatres in the United States. The performances will consist of high-class vaudeville and moving pictures and the evening prices will be 10, 15 and 20c.

   In another part of this paper we are offering $200.00 in Gold in prizes for the best suggestions for a name for this Theatre. We want the public to give it a name, and we want the people to come and see the substantial manner in which it is being built, and the absolute safety, comfort and protection we are providing to all who favor us with their patronage.

Two weeks later the $200 in gold was given out, though the prize winners must have been disappointed, because it was divided 84 ways! And the 84 who received the money were the losers! The rules of the game had been changed after the entries were in. We can see from the previous press release that the most popularly desired name would be the one bestowed upon the theatre. Now we learn that Dominion had already chosen a name, and anyone who had suggested the name already chosen would get the money. (This is the way things are still done, isn’t it?) Here is The Hamilton Daily Times of 7 May 1913, p 1:


New Name Selected for New
Mary Street Theatre

   Dominion theatres, Limited, to-day announce the result of their name contest. In this contest the company, which is building a magnificent modern theatre on Mary Street, received ten thousand answers. Eighty four of these chose “Lyric” as the name, and as that is the one selected, those will divide the prize money. The judges were Messrs. C. S. Wilcox, J. W. Lamoreaux, F. F. Dalley and E. R. Marshall. The name which was mot popular with the guessers was “Centennial.” Over 250 suggested that as a suitable name.

The Hamilton Daily Spectator reported on the opening night, stating that the decorations had not been entirely finished, that the auditorium had eight boxes, that it was “decorated in green plush curtains,” and that above the stage (on the sounding board?) was “a mural of cherubs on the wing.”

The Hamilton Daily Times on Tuesday, 12 August 1913 provides us with yet another press release, nestled amidst its reports on “Music and the Drama”:

   Hamilton vaudeville lovers and the many old boys who flocked last night to the Lyric, the new theatre on Mary street, were given a distinct surprise, and an extremely pleasant one at that. Although holding several thousand people, it did not take long for the huge building to fill up, and by the time the performance was under way there were few seats left down stairs. The programme for the opening night could not have been chosen to greater advantage. There were eight acts in all, and every one worth a lead. In view of the fact that the opening had been decided on at the last minute, there were no printed programmes, but these were not missed. There was not a minute’s delay of any nature, and the evening’s performances gripped with a tenacity that left no room for other interests.

   To Hamiltonians the interior of the building was of more than usual interest. Besides being the largest theatre in the city, it is built of more modern materials and up-to-date methods. No posts interfere with the sight of the audience, every precaution is taken for safety, the scenery is of the best. In fact, Hamiltonians have a theatre that compares well with some of the leading houses in the big cities of the States.

   Mayor [John] Allan opened the initial performance. With his usual suavity, he expressed great delight at the interior of the playhouse, and thought that the management was composed of such representative citizens as to insure that the performances would be of the right kind. As one well versed in the building trade, he was surprised at the rapidity with which the place was erected and thought it spoke well of those in charge.

   The programme is an ideal one for this time of the year, and no doubt the place will be packed each performance from now until the end of the carnival.

Dominion learned the hard way that its estimate of prices was considerably off-base. Just a month after opening, the prices for orchestra-level seats was raised from 20 to 25 cents, and box seats would now be 35 cents. The lower balcony would remain at 15 cents, and the upper part of the balcony (there was no gallery) would still be 10 cents. Matinees were still 10 cents for any seat, orchestra or balcony, but the box prices were to be cut from 25 to 20 cents. Whenever management raises prices, it should issue an excuse, and make it appear that it is the customer who is getting the better end of the deal, as we see in a press release entitled “Change of Prices — Lyric Theatre Makes an Important Announcement,” published in The Hamilton Daily Times of 15 September 1913:

   In raising the prices for the lower floor for the evening performances, we have in mind the best interests of our patrons. It is our intention to bring our vaudeville bill to a higher standard by the importation of at least one foreign act each week, in addition to the present type of bill we are now playing. As this feature will prove an expensive one to the management, and at the same time prove highly acceptable to the patrons, we have decided to meet this extra expense by advancing the lower floor to 25 cents.

That price adjustment led to a war, a war that ultimately killed the Lyric Theatre and brought about its current state of dilapidation. In an article entitled “Vaudeville War Cry Has Been Sounded,” published in The Hamilton Daily Times on 24 September 1913, we get the sense that the Lyric was too successful for its own good. It was pulling business away from its neighbors, and they wanted to kill the beast:


Temple Begins Cutting
the Prices.

One Thousand Seats
at Ten Cents.

   Not since 1907 have Hamilton theatre-goers had an opportunity to get the benefit of a vaudeville price war. Previous to that year the Savoy Theatre entered to the vaudeville hungry of the city. Then the Bennett interests built here, and a small fortune was lost by both companies, resulting from a cut in prices and increased cost of shows. At the end of the season they came to an arrangement whereby the proceeds of both houses should be pooled. Shortly afterwards the Savoy branched out into moving pictures, and the Temple has had a monopoly on vaudeville until August, when the Lyric Theatre opened its doors, with prices considerably lower than the former house.

   Commencing practically now, Hamilton will be treated to an interesting vaudeville war. The management of the Temple Theatre announced this morning that they had decided to make a cut in the present prices in order to compete with the Lyric and Griffin Theatres. The prices for matinee performances will be 10 and 25 cents, 1,000 seats being put on sale at ten cents each. In the evening the prices will range from 10 to 50 cents. These decreases will not be in force on Saturdays or holidays, when the prices will be [the] same as formerly. The company is also going in for more extensive advertising.

   In connection with the situation, Manager [J. G.] Appleton issued the following statement:

   “The people who will benefit by the fight, which opens on Monday, will be the theatre-going public of Hamilton, and principally Temple patrons, because this house will present the best that vaudeville produces at the lowest prices. The Canadian Theatres Company, Limited, is a big concern, controlling a large circuit of the best theatres in the country, and, if necessary, can afford to lose a lot of money without feeling it. The company is associated with the United Booking Offices, which books for such houses as Hammerstein’s, Keith’s, the Orpheum, Shea’s, and in fact all the first-class houses from coast to coast. The bills presented in these houses represent almost perfection in vaudeville. The United Booking Offices absolutely control the high-class vaudeville situation in Hamilton, and will continue to do so.

   “With these advantages we feel that we can successfully bid for the best theatre patronage in Hamilton, and hold it. There is no room in Hamilton, with its present population, for five large theatres — the Grand, the Temple, the Savoy, Griffin’s and the Lyric, no matter what class of vaudeville the variety houses may play. This season will prove that. It’s going to be a case of the Temple and Savoy against Griffin’s and the Lyric. The Grand will draw a large percentage of the money that the public have to spend on amusement. With the policy that we have adopted we expect to get the big bulk of the money that is spent here on vaudeville.

   “If five years ago, with three theatres, the Grand, the Temple and Savoy, competing, two houses lost $60,000, it is not hard to figure what will happen this season with five big houses and a hard winter ahead.

   “We are satisfied that the house which gives the public the best value for its money will survive. We are going to make a great bid for the patronage of the Hamilton vaudeville-loving public. We are out after the business, and we are determined to get it by giving the public the best that the Canadian Theatres Company, Limited, with his unexcelled booking conditions and wealth can command.”

Isn’t that an amazing article? That is the sentiment and the strategy that is no longer spoken publicly. Here it was announced in a newspaper article for all to see. And if we read it again we will conclude that this is not a newspaper article, but a press release. Yes, the above was a press release, hammered together by the Canadian Theatres Company, Ltd., perhaps with some coöperation from the local manager, Mr. Appleton, or at least with his reluctant acquiescence, as the words attributed to him are surely not his. Basically, here we are dealing with predator corporations. Griffin’s built the Lyric to steal away all of the Temple’s business. And now the Temple announces that it is so wealthy that it can afford to slash prices and lose money until it drives its competitor into bankruptcy, after which, of course, prices would be raised drastically to make up for the several-year loss.

Something else is odd as well. We cannot know for a certainty what happened, and there could be a thousand innocent explanations. But it looks as though the Lyric’s brand-new, up-to-date, state-of-the-art coal-heating system was vandalised in late October or early November, shortly after declaration of the vaudeville war, and at a time of winter when a large cavernous building is uninhabitable unless all the radiators turn cherry red. Take a look at this advertisement from The Hamilton Daily Times of 5 November 1913:

Above is the only known surviving photo of the interior of the original Lyric Theatre, published in The Hamilton Spectator on 3 January 1914. The original caption read: “AN EXPECTANT AUDIENCE. NEW YEAR’S DAY PERFORMANCE OF NOODLES KING OF THE NEWSBOYS IN AID OF LOCAL ORPHANS.” It seems that the Lyric wished to ring in the new year with visual evidence of a full house, to demonstrate its continued popularity despite business raids by hostile competitors. This photograph, poorly printed in half-tone in a local newspaper, and then poorly microfilmed, battered, and finally copied on a standard-quality photostatic machine, reveals precious few details. We can see how large the place is. We can see the locations of the sconces and ceiling lights. We can catch glimpses of the box seats, which appear to be three on each side at the balcony level, though we know that there were actually a total of eight. They appear to be as elaborate as all of Leon Lempert’s beautiful box seats in other theatres. We can see where the two stairways emerge upon the middle of the balcony, to a walkway that separates the upper balcony from the lower balcony. It is impossible to tell if there are windows at the back of the balcony. If there were, they would have been covered by heavy draperies during a show. One would not guess from this photograph that the Lyric was capable of showing movies, but the press releases quoted above tell us without question that there was indeed a projection booth, segregated from the auditorium. So where is it? It’s behind the stage, amidst the dressing rooms. All movies at the Lyric were rear-projected!

Courtesy of Brian Morton: The Sanborn Insurance Map, drawn in later years.
The offices have been replaced by apartments, no balcony is indicated because it is gone, and the stage is now a warehouse.
But the original “operating rm,” or projection booth, still appears,
disused, protruding from the rear of the building.

Three months later hostilities ceased, for the moment, by a merger. The article makes it appear as though Dominion Theatres, Ltd., owner of the Temple, acquired the Lyric. Of course, as we have seen, the ownership was the reverse of that. Dominion already owned the Lyric, and it was Canadian Theatres Company that owned the Temple. The reporter was confused; that’s all. We don’t know the story, but apparently somebody in power was quite the enemy of E. R. Marshall and all the Marhsall family. Here is The Hamilton Daily Times of 5 February 1914:


Two Fine Theatres Now
Under One Ownership

   The Lyric Theatre, Mary street, has passed into control of the Dominion Theatres, Limited, of London, which has the lease of the Temple and also a working arrangement with the Savoy. E. R. Marshall, chief shareholder in the Lyric, has disposed of his entire holdings in the Lyric, according to a letter sent to all shareholders a few days ago.

   Rumour had it this morning that the theatre had been acquired by the Temple people, because within a short time they will have to move, the Cataract Co. requiring the premises on which the Temple is located, and it is rumo[u]red that the Temple shows will be transferred to the Lyric, and the cheaper line excluded from Hamilton. This coud not be verified this morning, as Cataract officials declined to discuss the matter.

   Certain it is, however, that a few weeks ago the company had an architect from the States to pass on the feasibility of moving the Temple, without destroying it. The architect declared that the building could be moved and when the time comes that is probably what will happen. However, the Temple will finish out the season and probably play next season as well.

The article above is notable for several reasons. As the Temple had begun its maneuvers to destroy the Lyric, it was the Temple that was destroyed by another company that acquired the land it was sitting upon. Astonishingly, there were serious plans physically to move the Temple Theatre. Our current mentality would be to demolish it and build anew. But even in 1914 its architectural value was recognized.

Just over a week later, the Lyric lost the war. It would become a movie house. Vaudeville was gone, though not completely and not forever. The Hamilton Daily Times, 13 February 1914:


Temple Will Have the Vaudeville.

New Arrangement Begins Next Week.

   After the Saturday night performance the curtain will ring down on Lyric vaudeville. Then but the one vaudevil[l]e house will re[m]ain in Hamilton, the Temple, and picture shows will be given at the Mary street playhouse. this was decided upon at a meeting of the directors late yesterday afternoon. The directors were elected at a meeting of the shareholders held earlier, at which officially the Canadian Theatres, Limited, took over a controlling interest of the theatre. In future the Marshalls will have nothing to do with the Lyric. The prices will be reduced. The same figures as prevail at the Savoy will be charged and pictures of a decidedly high class will be put on. One or two vaudeville sketch artists will also be presented, but the theatre will be known as a picture house. The Canadian Theatres, Limited, now control the Lyric, Temple and Savoy.

   The New manager of the Lyric will take charge at once.

   The new directors are A. C. Garden and W. D. Wilson, of this city; J. C. Duffield and John Pringle, of London; and A. C. Dyment, of Toronto.

That same day another local newspaper (clipping unidentified) ran a similar story, but with a few more details:


It Will Be Run as Moving Picture House

   A meeting of the old and the new directors of teh Lyric theater, which has now passed into the hands of the Canadian Theaters, limited, of London, Ont., was held at the theater yesterday at noon, when temporary arrangements were made regarding the policy of the house. Beginning next week this theater will be devoted entirely to high-class moving pictures, Loew’s circuit of vaudeville being cut off entirely. Regarding the Temple and the Savoy, which are also under the control of the Canadian Theaters, A. C. Garden stated this morning that there would be no change in the policy of these houses. The Savoy had, since its opening, drawn crowded houses, and a change was not required. The Temple will continue in high-class vaudeville, as before. The changes of management made at the meeting yesterday were also announced by Mr. Garden this morning. The new board of directors of the Lyric will comprise J. C. Duffield and John Pringle of London, and H. E. Dyment of Toronto, and Manager Morgan will continue in his position. Regarding the future of the Lyric, Manager J. G. Appleton of the Temple stated this morning that none but the very best of feature moving pictures would be screened in that house.

   “Manager Morgan, Thomas Logan of the Majestic in London, and I are journeying to Toronto today to arrange for big feature pictures for the Lyric,” said Mr. Appleton. “Only the best films will be secured for this house, the intention of the management being to run the highest-class moving pictures yet seen in this city.”

Here is another clipping, a press release published amidst “Music and the Drama,” probably from The Hamilton Daily Times and probably dated 14 February 1914:

   Commencing Monday afternoon, the Lyric will open its doors under the new management of the Canadian Theaters, limited, as the first and last word in moving picture theaters in this city. In keeping with the surroundings, it has been decided to show only the best in the moving picture field. Three feature films, averaging 2000 feet each, will be shown in a week, augmented by five other reels, thus giving patrons of the “movies” in the [ILLEGIBLE] of films in a week. Arrangements have been made with the General Film company to supply films from such well known firms as the Vitagraph, Biograph, Lubin, Kalem, American Pathe, Edison, Selig, Cinex and many others. The well known favorites such as Lillian Joyce, John Bunny and other artists, whose work in picture plays has made for them an international reputation, will be seen in the Lyric pictures. And this further assurance is given by the Lyric that it will have the first run of every film shown in the city.

   The Lyric will present an entire change of program on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That means three big feature reels and fifteen other reels, embracing the whole field of comedy, farce, tragedy and educational.

   For the opening on Monday the feature film will be Indian Blood, a realistic photo play, dealing with the love and hatred of the Redman. During the evening, Samson and Reilly, refined entertainers, will offer a singing novelty.

   The Lyric will open at 1.20 in the afternoon and 7.30 in the evening. the splendid orchestra, which was used in connection with the vaudeville in the house, has been retained, and will offer a splendid repertoire of music. The prices will be [ILLEGIBLE] and [ILLEGIBLE].

   T. W. Logan, from the main office of the Canadian Theatres, Ltd., will be in the city for the enxt few days assisting H. H. Morgan, the resident manager.

(No idea who Lillian Joyce was, and the print is blurry, so “Cinex” is doubtful, especially as I know of no such company from the 1910s.)

Another unidentified clipping, dated 18 February 1914, consisted of the predictable press release:

   Photo-plays at the Lyric have caught on with the lovers of the “movies” in this city. This has been amply demonstrated since the opening on Monday, in the large crowds which have been in attendance at Hamilton’s largest theater. The policy of showing the first run of all the latest reels is something which is appreciated by those who desire to see the best. In offering such a large program as is contained in the six big photoplays shown at each performance, the public is assured of not only the latest, but in added quantity and quality, the very best to be secured. The big feature film for this evening and tomorrow will be A Question of Right. It is a powerfully interesting drama which calls for splendid acting by a capable cast. There is also an entire change of program with regard to the other five reels. For Friday and Saturday the management has secured for its first presentation in Hamilton a feature reel entitled Zuma, the Gypsy. This photoplay is in two parts and contains many tensely interesting situations which carry one irresistibly along with the action of the drama. Zuma the Gypsy is one of the greatest films ever shown in this city.

A month later came a strange article in The Hamilton Daily Times, 14 March 1914:

11,000 PAID IN

At the Various Places of Amusement Last Evening.

   This is a bad season of the year, people are laid off and are suffering great privations, hard times has the city in its grip — so they say, but last night 1,200 people or so attended the Lyric and heard the great Kublik; 1,800 attended amateur night at Griffin’s; 700 had the pleasure of seeing Alice Lloyd at the Grand Opera House; 1,000 witnessed an excellent vaudeville performance at the Temple, 600 or 700 entered the armories and paid to see the many splendid cars on exhibition; at the moving picture houses, 1,250 were at the Savoy; 750 at the Red Mill; 1,400 at the Princess, and possibly 2,000 at the other houses, making a grand total of about 11,000 people that attended some kind of paid amusement.

It is curious to note from the above that the Lyric was not counted among the picture houses, but was counted as a live theatre, at which the great Kublik was heard. And no, I have no idea who the great Kublik was.

By the way, above we read about how Loew’s vaudeville was denied a venue in Hamilton, thanks to the Vaudeville Wars. It does not require a psychic to understand that Loew’s vaudeville would come back to town, with a vengeance, as it did in late December 1917, when the Loew’s Capitol Theatre was opened.

A local stock company, the Lyric Players, presented plays during the summer months of 1916, 1917, and 1918, but I have no details.

NOTE ADDED WEDNESDAY, 1 JANUARY 2014: Everybody’s favorite researcher Brian Morton made a discovery by breezing through the pages of The Moving Picture World. I had been wanting to do that for years, but where’s the time? He found something in the 17 January 1916 issue, on page 73. Wow.

Note that by this time a new projection booth was built above the balcony. The old alleyway rear-projection booth was likely now being used as storage.

Next comes an interesting method to hold an audience’s attention. This is from The Hamilton Herald of 24 September 1918:


Tribute to the Flag at Close of the Lyric Performance

   Theater patrons who have a habit of hustling for the exits at the close of performances and paying little attention to the playing of the national anthem received a surprise at the Lyric last night. The instant the feature picture ended a fine union jack, thrown into bold relief by means of a spotlight, appeared on the stage just as the orchestra struck up the first bars of “God Save the King.” It was an impressive spectacle and the idea of it immediately suggeted itself to many people, who, through thoughtlessness, have not been in the habit of standing at attention during the playing of the anthem. The flag will appear at the close of each performance at the Lyric while the orchestra plays “God Save the King.”

Next are two curious stories from The Hamilton Herald of 5 November 1918. “Big vaudeville” was a euphemism for “small unit review” and by 1918 vaudeville was suffering so much from the incursion of the movies that even the Temple was beginning to succumb:


Big Vaudeville Will Be Resuming at the Lyric Next Week

   After being closed for three weeks in compliance with the board of health’s order, as a result of the outbreak of Spanish influenza here, the Lyric theater reopens on Monday, when big vaudeville will be continued at the “house of reserved seats.” Manager [James A.] Wall promises an all-star vaudeville bill for the reopening. Mabel Normand will be the picture star in the six-reel wonderplay, “Back to the Woods,” In addition there will be the Pathe official war news and the usual [one and] two reel comedy features.




Famous Features to Be Presented Again Monday

   Like all other local theaters, closed by the board of health order on account of the influenza outbreak, the Temple will reopen on Monday, Hal Morgan, manager, announced this morning. The Temple will resume the policy which has proved so popular with lovers of the silent drama, two big features each week, one show in the afternoon and one performance in the evening. All the big stars, arranged for by Mr. Morgan before the closing order came into effect, will appear as originally planned. The Temple’s ten-piece orchestra will continue to be a pleasing feature.

Mabel Normand in Back to the Woods.

Then by or before early 1919, vaudeville at last returned to the Lyric, though in a diluted form. Keith, the premier circuit, would supply the acts, but the acts would open for a feature picture. Among numerous other famous performers that season was the great Harry Langdon, appearing in his popular hit, “Johnny’s New Car.”

The halting of the narrative here to incorporate a side story is evidence of my deep bias, since I feel that Harry Langdon is one of the greatest performers who ever lived. He had been a solid middle-of-the-bill act for many years, but with the defection of so many of his colleagues to the pictures, he found himself a headliner. Here is the press release published in The Hamilton Herald of Saturday, 15 February 1919, p 12:

Lyric Vaudeville

   “Johnny’s New Car,” a mirthful offering, featuring the Langdons — Harry, Rose and Cecil — is to be the Lyric’s headliner this coming week. With this vehicle the Langdon trio keeps the audience in a constant uproar. For good, solid cleverness in funmaking or entertaining without laboring to get his points over, Harry Langdon is easily in a class by himself. Every line in the act is bright and pithy and the situations are amusing in the extreme. Their boulevard setting is beautiful. “Johnny’s New Car” is a riot of laughs.

   That the serious is the comical may be paradoxical, but is nevertheless truthful. When a courtly, dignified gentleman slips on a banana peel and falls it is certainly serious and equally funny. The affairs of Hyman that lead to spooning, honeymooning and possibly the domestic relations court, are also very serious, but if there are actualities productive of more humor than these they have not yet come to light. Stuart Barnes, a monologist, singing comedian and entertainer par excellence, at any rate believes this to be a fact, and his belief is certainly crystalized into facts by the enormous barrels of laughs he reaps at the expense of those who have been targets for General Daniel Cupid. He has harnessed the weakness of the swain to a chariot of mirth, which he drives a sure winner over the tape of public opinion.

   When the tidewater gates of dancing were thrown open a few years ago, a perfect flood of dancers came surging through the locks of vaudeville. The public has now closed these gates and the managers, through a filtering process, only select a few and these are necessarily of wide range and each one an artist in his or her own line. Harold De Kane is a fine representative of the so-called school. He and his feminine assistants have taken the dances of the ball room and executed them into a perfectly pleasing and picturesque stage picture. De Kane is assisted by June Edwards and Peggy Smith. He does not alternate with his partners, but dances with them jointly. He has framed his pictures with a particularly handsome set of the futurist kind, and is contributing a dancing act that most decidedly deserves the recognition it is accorded.

   Bryan Lee and Mary Cranston are playing a musical comedietta by William B. Friedlander called “A Brittany Romance.” This is a charming little piece that just bubbles over with good humor and contains several melodies, any one of which is good enough to be a hit of musical comedy. “The Brittany Romance” is an episode of the war; not the war as it is waged at the front, but an occasional occurrence way behind the lines. Friedlander has done admirable work in writing this charming little vehicle.

   Walter Clinton and Julia Rooney are presenting a skit called “After Dark.” It is a flirtation in song, dance and story. Miss Rooney is a sister of Pat Rooney and has inherited her share of her father’s (Pat Rooney the first) ability. Clinton is a clean-cut, amiable young chap who knows his amusement book thoroughly. They are one of the newer teams of entertainers and one of the most promising.

   Willia Hale and Brother, the cosmopolities of vaudeville, have a turn called “Bits of Vaudeville.” They are comedians, jugglers, tumblers and xylophonists.

   The picture feature will be Tom Mix in the Fox production, “Mr. Logan, U.S.A.”


   Tom Mix, the William Fox star who ranks foremost as a portrayer of dramatic western roles, and is the screen’s greatest daredevil, will be seen in an entirely new character in “Mr. Logan, U.S.A.” which will be shown for the first time at the Lyric theater, commencing Monday.

   The role that the intrepid Mix plays in this newest Fox production is different from those that he has most recently appeared in, but the action still takes place in the great west.

   “Mr. Logan, U.S.A.,” shows the inner workings of the secret service against the activities of the great Germany spy plot to cripple the great war industries of the United States. It tells of the work of two Germans, ostensibly affiliated with a renegade labor organization, who try to cause a strike in one of the great tungsten mines which the war department is depending on as a source for material for its mighty guns.

   Mix’s portrayal of William Logan, the secret service man, will keep one in suspense throughout the picture. The photoplay abounds in patriotic thrills and a real love story that engages one’s sympathies for the man who is unable to justify himself in the eyes of his sweetheart, until the unexpected finale.

The Hamilton Herald, Saturday, 15 February 1919

The Hamilton Herald, Wednesday, 19 February 1919

Among the countless others who appeared on stage was little Jackie Coogan, fresh from a leading rôle in Charlie Chaplin’s movie, The Kid (1921). That information comes from Brian Henley’s column from The Hamilton Spectator from 4 July 1992. He also reveals that: “In October 1920, the whole theatre was turned into a temporary movie studio, and local talent was recruited for a motion picture shot on the Lyric’s stage. In another article, by David Wesley, entitled “The Ghosts of Hamilton Theatre,” published in The Hamilton Spectator on Saturday, 5 May 1979, pp 27, 29, we hear a little from the chief custodian, 72-year-old Charlie Jarvis, who told of seeing a most youthful Red Skelton performing on the Lyric’s stage, as well as Jack Benny and George Jessell.

The Hamilton Daily Times had another surprise in store for us on 10 July 1919:


Manager of Lyric Honored by Veterans.

   Further evidence of the popularity of Mr. James A. Wall, the able manager of the Lyric Theatre, was produced in public yesterday afternoon, and it showed how the veterans appreciate what he has done and is doing for returned men. Just before the matinee performance ended a deputation from the east end branch of the Great War Veterans wa[i]ted on Mr. Wall and requeted permission to make a presentation on the stage.

   Anything the returned boys want at the Lyric they get without a moment’s delay. But Mr. Wall got the surprise of his life when he started to introduce the deputation to the audience and suddenly discovered that the presentation was to be made to him. It consisted of a beautiful dinner set of 144 pieces for Mrs. Wall and himself. W. Jordan, D. C. M., president of the East Hamilton Branch, read the following explanatory address:

   Dear Sir and Madame.—Members of the East Hamilton Branch of the Great War Veterans wish to show their appreciation towards you for the untiring and generous spirit you have shown towards all returned soldiers of this city, and we ask you to accept this small gift from the above-named branch as a mark of esteem from your admirers. Every member of the branch joins in best wishes for the future.

   Mr. Wall was deeply affected and made a very feeling response.

James A. Wall was not alone. As we see from the 25 July 1919 issue of the Daily Times, Hal Morgan of the Temple was honored as well, with a similar gift.

Of course, it wasn’t only Harry Langdon who found himself playing second-fiddle to feature pictures. Even the Marx Brothers had been reduced to functioning as a warm-up to a strip of nitrocellulose, as we can see from The Hamilton Herald of 6 September 1919:

Lyric Vaudeville

   Probably the highest salaried feature act ever booked for Hamilton is the offering of the Marx Brothers’ company which will headline the bill of Keith’s big vaudeville at the Lyric theater next week. There are eight people in the company, an array of brilliant talent, wonderful instrumentalists and singers, graceful dancers, and above all, comedians and comediennes of the first rank. Everything the artists do is funny and exceptional. The originality of the entire entertainment, which lasts forty minutes, makes an instantaneous appeal. The big act is staged with special scenery in two scenes. It is an attraction out of the ordinary that no one will want to miss.

The Hamilton Daily Times printed another press release on 14 January 1920, which is not quite the sort of piece one would expect, unless, of course, one’s electrical service keeps going out:


Always Anticipating Patrons’ Best Interests

   Now that so much trouble is being experienced with Hydro power, which frequently is cut off without previous warning, it is interesting to note that the Lyric Theatre is particularly well protected with its modern electrical system. A little over two years ago the big house arranged for a supply of both Hydro and Cataract power and installed special equipment to handle the energy off either line. As a result the electrician, without moving, simply by pressing a button, can change the system from Hydro to Cataract and vice versa.

   Manager Wall announced this morning that the Lyric for next week has secured Charlie Chaplin’s latest picture, “A Day’s Pleasure.” The world’s most famous screen comedian will be seen in this picture at the Lyric next week.

As for the next press release, printed in The Hamilton Herald on 2 April 1921, no, I don’t understand either:

A mayoral proclamation printed in The Hamilton Herald on 6 April 1921. I shall refrain from commenting:

The dangers of the stage. Let no one tell you that the life of the stage is a life of ease. The Hamilton Herald of 26 November 1921 had a chilling story:


H. Grubb, Actor, Shot and Probably Fatally Injured Miss Bartley, Actress


He Died Shortly After — Both Were Members of Act at Lyric

   Miss Cecile Bartley, aged 21, of Chicago, a member of a musical comedy act showing at the Lyric Theater this week, entitled “Under the Apple Tree,” lies at the City Hospital with a bullet wound in her stomach, another in her chest, and a third behind her left ear, with little chance of recovery, Hosptial authorities say, and Harry Grubb, aged 42, of New York City, another member of the company, and the one responsible for Miss Bartley’s condition, lies dead at the City Morgue.

   Miss Bartley had a part in the chorus and is a very pretty young lady.


   Shortly after the matinee yesterday afternoon when Miss Bartley was leaving the theater, Grubb, who had been forcing his attentions on the young lady for some time past, attempted to stop her, but she rejected him, and without warning of any kind Grubb pulled a 32-caliber revolver and shot the young woman three times, then walked boldly to the back of the stage, turned the revolver on himself and shot twice, both bullets going into his breast. He died shortly after.

   The police were immediately notified and Detective Joe Chamberlain, who was on station duty at the time, rushed to the theater, in company with several policemen who were waiting to be relieved, and on arrival there found Miss Campbell, another member of the company, in a very nervous state, and between sobs the girl told the detective what had happened.


   Grubb, stated the young lady, had been forcing his attentions on Miss Bartley for some time past, despite the fact that she had informed him that she did not wish to have anything whatever to do with him. After the performance yesterday, Miss Campbell and the unfortunate young woman left the dressing rooms together and started up the stairs to the alleyway beside the theater, but on reaching the top of the stairs they found Grubb standing there and evidently waiting for Miss Bartley, for when she approached him he informed her that he wished to speak with her on a very important subject. But as in the past, Miss Bartley attempted to pass him. He stepped towards her to block her passage and Miss Campbell, who accompanied her, pushed him out of the way. Without warning he backed up against the door leading into the alleyway, pulled the revolver from his coat pocket, and pointing directly at Miss Bartley, fired.


   The first shot evidently hit her in the chest, as the young lady’s both hands went to her chest and she shouted, “My God, I’m shot!” Grubb did not stop at this, but fired another shot into the young woman’s stomach, and as he turned around to run down the steps, he fired again, this time the bullet entering her head just behind the left ear.

   Miss Campbell then ran to the front of the stage and shouted loudly for help and W. R. Whiteman, 75 Kelly street, an employee at the theater who was turning back the seats, rushed to the stage. In the meantime Grubb walked to the back of the stage and then shot himself.


   Despite her serious injuries, Miss Bartley ran down the steps and back into the dressing-room, where she fell on the floor, and where she was found some time later by Detective Joe Chamberlain and the police, still conscious, but owing to her serious condition she was not questioned. The ambulance was immediately summoned and the young lady and Grubb were rushed to the City Hospital with all haste, but Grubb died before the institution was reached.

   Miss Campbell and Detective Chamberlain went to the hospital shortly after the shooting in hope of getting a statement from the girl, but, although still conscious, hospital authorities thought it advisable not to bother her as they stated her condition was critical and she was not expected to live many hours.

   According to Miss Campbell, Grubb had been constantly coaxing the young lady to keep company with him, but she did not approve of it and had told him so on several occasions. That he was determined to have a show-down yesterday afternoon was evident, as he waited around the theater much longer than usual after the performance, but those that knew him did not think he would take such desperate action.


   Five shots in all were fired, three at the young lady and two into his own body, as the revolver when found contained five empty shells and one loaded one.

   The police were at a loss to know just how to notify relatives of both people, as their addresses could not be learned from members of the company, and they will have to wait until it can be secured from the booking office. An effort is being made to hold an inquest tonight on Grubb in order to get the necessary witnesses before they leave the city.


   At press time today the Hospital authorities announced that the condition of Miss Bartley was somewhat improved.

I never found out what happened to Cecile Bartley.

Vaudeville was still the thing, despite the advent of the picture shows. Take a look at The Hamilton Herald of 27 December 1921:


Actors and Actresses at Three Theaters Made One Jolly Party


Managers and Heads of Booking Houses Were Heartily Toasted

   The day when actors and actresses and persons actively connected with the theater were the most neglected people on earth at Christmas time would appear to be past and gone, judging by the festivities indulged in at the Royal Connaught Hotel last night when the annual supper and dance of the management, staffs, orchestras and acts of the Lyric, Loew’s and Pantages was held.

   The feature of the occasion was that it marked a distinct departure from customary Christmas gatherings, in that the three theaters combined and formed one large, happy family, instead of each celebrating alone. It was a strictly informal gathering and a most harmonious, cheerful and enjoyable time was spent. Nearly 150 sat down to supper in the parlors of the hotel at about 11.15 o’clock, which was followed by a delightful dance, for which a special orchestra had been secured.

   At supper the chair was occupied by B. L. Reich, manager of Loew’s, and among those with him at the table of honor were: Judge J. C. Gauld, J. P. Steedman, James A. Wall, George and Mrs. Stroud, Alderman Stamp and Robert Roddick, manager of the Grand. With George V. Dill, leading man of the Grew Players, Manager Roddick conveyed the greetings from the “legitimate” to the vaudeville folks.

   The toast “The King” was proposed by Mr. Reich, while Mr. Wall proposed that to the President of the United States. Being the senior manager present, Mr. Wall was called on to make a few remarks. He referred with pleasure to the fact that it was the first time in the history of the local theaters that they had gathered as one to enjoy a social time on Christmas.

   “On such an occasion we all just love each other — though Barnie Reich and George Stroud and I all cut each other’s throat at other times,” he remarked with a laugh, in which his audience joined.

   “When I first went into the show business,” continued Mr. Wall, “I saw kerosene lamps. When we went into a strange town we floundered around without anyone to look after us. Then came gas and electricity. Three years ago the National Vaudeville Association, the great organization with which most of you are connected, was formed. It is one of the best in the world, and you ought to be very proud of it. It has made all the difference in the world to show people. Our work has been made easier because of it.”

   A toast to Mr. Albe[e] was then proposed and honored with enthusiasm and toasts tot he chiefs of the three vaudeville houses in the city were next honored.

   Judge Gault, when called upon to speak, declared that he felt embarrassed because he was expected to say something of interest to p[e]ople whom he had always counted upon himself for entertainment.

   “It is a great delight to me to be present at a time when the actors of the three theaters are together,” he said. “Very few people can say that they see three shows under the one canvas at once. That’s what P. T. Barnum used to present — and that is what has been done this evening.”

   A picture was taken of the assemblage previous to the supper and the gathering was pronounced by all a great success.

An unidentified clipping dated 23 February 1922 references the plight of Miss Cecile Bartley, and references a callousness and cynicism that were then coming into vogue. That callousness and cynicism are now in full flower in today’s culture:


Governors Saw Demonstration of It in the Wards


All-Round Increase in the New Contract Is Reported

   The action of Ald. Bert MacKay in taking the Hospital Board to task on a charge of laxity in collecting the hospital bill of the young actress who was the unfortunate victim of a shooting affray at the Lyric Theater some time ago was roundly condemned by all members of that board yesterday afternoon when it met, as being unjust and uncalled-for. Discussion on this subject took up the greater part of the time of the meeting.

   Members of the board wanted to know what Ald. MacKay expected the hospital authorities should have done in the case.

May Yet Collect

   “Did he expect that in the case of so serious a case we should demand payment in advance before we admitted the patient to the hospital?” asked W. H. Wardrope, K.C. Dr. W. F. Langrill, superintendent of the hospital, explained that everything was perfectly in order with regard to this matter. Mr. Wall, manager of the theater, which was in no way responsible, had been advised that the Actors’ Association would defray the expenses and as the case was of a serious nature, on the strength of this asurance, the hospital authorities placed the patient in a private ward. Later Mr. Wall intimated that the association had declined to meet these expenses. However, Dr. Langrill stated that he was still endeavoring to collect through representatives in Chicago, and expected to be able to do so....


Then come the stories that I dread to hear. George Rapp, together with his brother Cornelius, were among the most sought-after architects for movie palaces. Their French Baroque work often looked quite pretty, but their acoustics were horrid. For my taste, I prefer the more subdued work of the Lemperts. A remodeling would mean the destruction of all of Lempert’s aesthetics. The Hamilton Spectator, 5 June 1922:


Canadian United Considering Big Program

E. F. Albee, Head of the Keith Exchange, Here

Geo. Rapp, Noted Architect, to Prepare Plans

   The Lyric theater, home of Keith vaudeville in Hamilton, will be entirely remodeled and converted into one of the most palatial amusement centers in the Dominion, according to plans which are now under consideration by directors of the Canadian United Theaters company, with head offices in London, Ont. The alterations, it is understood, will call for an expenditure in the neighborhood of $100,000.

   Significant of the importance attached by the Keith interests to Hamilton as a link in the great chain of theaters, for which it provides attractions from every corner of the globe, was the visit here on Saturday of E. F. Albee, the vaudeville king of America, and head of the Keith Vaudeville Booking exchange. Mr. Albee came for the express purpose of looking over the ground. It is many years since he visited Hamilton, and he was pleasantly surprised with its rapid growth and the possibilities of the future.

   The day was spent conferring with Clarke Brown, of New York, general manager; Messrs. Pringle and Duffield, directors of the Canadian United Theaters, and J. A. Wall, resident manager of the house. Mr. Albee was accompanied by his own architect, George Rapp, of Chicago, who has designed many of the famous Keith amusement palaces. W. J. Whitelock, city building inspector, was also called into consultation, and made familiar with the improvements which are contemplated.

   The interior of the house will be practically torn out, an elaborate new entrance built, as well as a [mo]dern balcony and a beautiful mezzanine floor. The theater will be lavishly decorated and upholstered, the dressing-rooms and offices rearranged, and many other changes made with a view to meeting every demand for the comfort and convenience of the patrons.

The plans went on hold. More than a year later they were still on the front burner, though. Here is a press release that appeared in both The Hamilton Spectator and The Hamilton Herald on 4 September 1923:


Will Be Permanent Home of Keith Vaudeville in Hamilton

   A year ago the Keith people associated with the Canadian United Theaters company, who control the Hamilton theater and the Princess theater in Montreal, were to make important improvements in the Hamilton house. Negotiations which would have housed Keith vaudeville in another theater at that time delayed the improvements for housing Keith vaudeville in the Lyric. These negotiations fell through. Vaudeville was run for part of last season, when Edward Renton secured the house for the summer.

   The Canadian people, in conjunction with the Keith interests, have entered into an agreement to make such improvements in the Lyric as to make it one of the most important vaudeville houses in Canada. On account of the agreement which Mr. Renton has for a term of weeks, and the fact that he is about to make improvements in the Temple theater where he will move as soon as they are completed, Keith vaudeville will then be housed for the balance of the season in the Lyric and in the early spring the theater will be closed for alterations which will add to the seating capacity and the beauty of the house in every respect. The balcony will be entirely changed into a modern construction. All the attributes of a well-furnished and finished Keith theater will be introduced into the new Lyric, which will be the permanent home of Keith vaudeville in Hamilton.

More bad news (The Hamilton Herald, 8 September 1923):

Fans of Leon Lempert and quiet taste were probably hoping that this would never come to be. Besides, by the mid-1920s, vaudeville was on its last legs. It was not expanding, but retreating. Why enlarge its facilities? But alas, “progress” and “improvements” were on their way. The Hamilton Spectator, 17 January 1924:


New Home for Keith Vaudeville in Hamilton

In Meantime, Reduction in Prices Is Announced

   An announcement of considerable interest to local theater patrons was made this morning. The Lyric theater, home of Keith vaudeville in Hamilton, is to be thoroughly remodeled at considerable cost during the coming summer, Cliff A. Schaufele, the manager, stated.

   Mr. Schaufele had several conferences with E. F. Albee, president of the great Keith circuit, in New York last week. The local situation was gone into thoroughly and the decision to go ahead with the work reached. One of the most prominent theatrical architects in America is preparing the plans, which are already well under way. They call for practically a beautiful new theater to replace the old Lyric.

   “Mr. Albee wants the people of Hamilton to know that Keith vaudeville is an asset to this or any other city fortunate enough to possess a Keith house,” said Mr. Schaufele, “and the public can rest assured that nothing will be overlooked in the new building that will contribute to the pleasure and comfort of patrons.”

   Mr. Schaufele sprang another surprise when he announced that commencing Monday the prices at the Lyric will be 25 and 15 cents at the matinees and 50, 35, 25 and 15 cents in the evening.

   “And the shows will be even bigger and better than those that have been playing since last October,” Mr. Schaufele added. “Mr. Albee’s idea in reducing the prices is that all may have an opportunity of seeing Keith vaudeville before the old Lyric is torn down and the new building erected.”

That last statement was a bit of an exaggeration. There were no plans to tear the building down, but only to remodel it completely.

My research did not take me much further than that. I had the opportunity to visit Hamilton only maybe ten times, at a few hours a visit, and so my time at the library was limited. According to local researcher Brian Morton (much of this article is based on his work) the remodeling did indeed begin. The balcony was torn out and the box seats removed, and then work stopped by the spring of 1924 or 1925. Keith vaudeville moved to the Tivoli, and the decimated Lyric sat unused for years. Eventually the Lyric reopened. That was in 1930, but it was not what it had once been. The balcony was not rebuilt. Instead, the second and third stories, formerly offices, were repurposed as residential apartments, the Lyric Chambers. Whether these Lyric Chambers branched out and filled any of the empty space left by the balcony, I do not know. Whether the fourth story consisted of offices, or whether the balcony reached all the way back to the wall over the third story, I do not know. In addition to the Lyric Chambers, other office space was repurposed into the Amity Workshop and Amity Club Rooms. Without the balcony, the stage was unusable, because the sightlines were impossible. Now, to ensure that no live performance of any kind could ever again be presented at the Lyric, the stage was sealed off by a brick wall. It was possibly at this time that a fifth story was added to the front of the building, probably for more apartments or club rooms. The plans were by an architect named W. Bruce Riddell, and they also called for something new, something that would cost little money: A small mini-cinema was then built inside what little was left of the orchestra level. Ten years later this mini-cinema was itself remodeled, by an architectural firm called Kaplan & Sprachman, and it was renamed the Century. Here is a photo from 1944:

And that was the end of a beautiful era. All that remained were the memories, but even they are gone, as probably nobody now alive ever saw the Lyric in its glory days. Let’s go back to Charlie Jarvis’s memories. In 1979 he was 72 and had spent most of his life at the Lyric and the Century. He took journalist David Wesley to places that nobody was ever supposed to see again:

   ...Up the front stairs, past the projection room, back through a narrow door where the old theatre offices used to be.... The old brass floor-standing ash trays are a uniform gray.

   “I never worked here when there was live entertainment, but I came here a lot to see the shows, in the days when Marie Dressler, George Atlas and the Barrymores were in town,” says Charlie....

   Back downstairs and along the aisle of the modern theatre, into the right Exit lobby. Charlie scampers up a large step ladder, reaches through a trap in the ceiling, and pulls himself up. Now, almost in pitch darknes we face a three-storey climb on an old wooden ladder, straight up the back wall of the building.

   And there, at the top, as if passing through the clouds into another world, is The Lyric Theatre. Standing on two-by-fours over The Century’s false ceiling, looking back to the other end, we see the railing that once separated the upper lobby from the top balcony.

   “We used to call it ‘being up with the gods’ on that balcony.” Still grace [WORDS MISSING DUE TO PRINTER’S ERROR] alcoves in the 918-seat theatre. The long, mirrored entrance has been left intact.

   Along the side walls, faded but discernable, are the green patterns and painted borders that once flanked patrons watching the vaudeville shows below. Gone are the original ceiling and brass chandeliers....

   As Charlie takes us back down, behind the movie screen, we stand on the original stage. High up above the planks are the cat walks used to paint the giant back-drops which were lowered behind the performers, using ropes on pulleys still in the ceiling.

   It was on this stage that a young Red Skelton looked nervously out at his audience, where Mel Allen tossed off his one-liners. Now littered with old signs, large iron letters from the original marquee, an ancient hand projector that once flashed backdrop scenes onto the stage of The Strand, the floor still shows the trap door through which magicians disappeared after hiding themselves in a puff of smoke.

   Now we head down damp stone stairs into the alcoves underneath the stage. Past the coal room, its walls still blackened from the fuel, its floor wet from the underground well which once supplied coolant for the gas pipes that lit the gas wall lamps upstairs.

   And into a musky old hall containing five doorways, paint peeling, some door panels missing. Charlie opens each door to a billow of dust, his flashlight searching the recesses, its beam finding treasure in each.

   In one is an old traveling trunk containing 40-year-old Spectators and books. A broken mirror sits in the corner....

   The light catches a moth-eaten pair of pants and herringbone jacket hanging on a wall-hook.

   In another room, littered with glass bulbs, metal, papers and rope, stands a five-foot-high aged slide projector, used during intermission 60 yeras ago. A small box containing grimy slides sticks out of its side.

   Pull one out, dust it off: “Keep the home fires burning” it reads, as it instructed First World War audiences how to sing along. A second slide is “Pack up your troubles”, a third is written in red pencil, “Final Score: 2-0 Kitchener.”

The Century closed in 1989, and nothing has been done to maintain it. There were plans to use the small Century movie theatre as a stage venue for local players, but those players ended up at the Tivoli instead. There were plans to turn the Century into a nightclub, but they fell through. The auditorium of the Century was granted an Ontario Heritage Designation, as was the front façade. The current owners, Zoran Cocov and Dimitar Gorgiev, have applied for permission to convert this building into 62 residential units, and applied for an Ontario Heritage Designation and its accompanying grant to do so, as we can see from the City of Hamilton Planning Department Recommendation by A. H. Gillespie, File PD01116, dated 29 June 2001. The plans have repeatedly been put on hold, revived, and then put on hold again. Cocov and Gorgiev managed to have the Ontario Heritage Designation removed from the Century auditorium, and now claim that even preserving the front façade is unfeasible. Sometime around 2005 a 15-foot section of the roof caved in. For more than 20 years the building has sat unheated, without utilities, falling apart. A local enthusiast who calls himself TheSaltMan has uploaded some photos on the Internet. They are heartbreakers. Here are the photos at his Lyric Theater page:


Some curtains

Mural on wall

The Front Stairs

Rusted projector base

an exit in the basement


From the catwalk behind the new stage, 80 feet up


Stairs from basement to foyer

Auditorium, seen from the screen area

Same door as before

Auditorium seen from the projection booth

Where the balcony used to be

Another view of the balcony
Auditorium seen through the false ceiling

Front wall from the balcony

Painted walls from balcony

And here are TheSaltMan’s photos from his page at The Lyric Theater Projection Room.

Debris on the floor

O G Company Gypsum Block

One of the chairs

Instructions posted by circuit-breaker box

Projection-room staff

Motor-generator set for supplying DC to the carbon-arc lamphouses

Resistance dimmers

A side room

Projector base

The master’s chair

And, finally, here is Matt Meier’s photo of the stage. He is standing on stage-left, which is house-right, looking at stage-right, which is house-left. The auditorium is to the left of the photo as we see it, on the other side of the brick wall. A local, Rich, oriented me regarding this photograph. The red-brick wall on the left does not extend to the ceiling. It is the dividing wall for the speakers of the new Century, the speakers being in an alcove elevated above the stage floor, on the left side of the wall. On the right we can see a catwalk. This could be raised and lowered (with a windlass?) for painting the scenic backdrops.

Above photo copyright © Matt Meier, Used by permission.

Photo copyright © Brian Morton.
Here we see the dressing rooms.
The lighter brick in the centre is where the projection booth once stood.
It was damaged during a fire in a neighboring property and was then demolished. Note how deep the stage housing is.
This is the sort of stage others dream of rescuing and using. This is the sort of stage that developers dream of demolishing.

Photo copyright © Brian Morton.
The stage entrance now.
This is where Harry Grubb shot Cecile Bartley in 1921.

So what do we do? This building is of monumental importance, and not only to Hamilton. Few vaudeville theatres still stand. Few of Leon Lempert’s theatres still stand. And few are interested in preserving this building, because almost nobody knows about this treasure in Hamilton’s downtown. It has become invisible. But a lot of you will be surprised to find out that this building was part of your family history. How is that? Take a look at some of the people who worked there:

1916–1917. Manager: Frederick Cliff Chadwick of Agnes Court Apartments

1917. Manager: Hal H Morgan of 104 Mary Street

1919. Resident Manager: James A Wall of 27 Pasadena Apartments

1923. Urban A O’Neail is listed as having some connection with the Lyric

1924. Manager: Cliff A Schaufele of 127 Catharine North (a theatrical rooming house)

1927. Manager: M G Dunn of 127 Catharine North (a theatrical rooming house)

1929. Live-In Caretaker: James Dashper (husband of Florence Dashper, a clerk at Honey Dew, 209 Hughson North)

1932. Manager: Ross T Stewart of 18 Grant Avenue (the next year he would work as a dentist)

1933–1937. Confectioner: Morris Fisher of 309 Mary Street.

1933–1935. Apprentice projectionist: Ira Knowles (husband of Delia) — he would soon become a full projectionist

1934–1935. Usher: James E Hendry (husband of Evelyn) of 42 Burlington East

1934. Proprietor: John R Stewart (husband of Lillian) of 18 Grant Avenue (the next year they would open a dry-goods and ladies’ ready-to-wear, lingerie and hosiery shop)

1935–1935. Usher: Alfred Du-Four (husband of Kathleen), resident in apartment in former balcony area

1935–1936. Doorman: George Thomson (husband of Margaret), resident in apartment in former balcony area

1936–1940. Projectionist: A Ernest Alderwood (husband of Hazel), resident in apartment in former balcony area

There, that should keep you busy for a little while, dusting off those old family albums.

Do you know more than we do? Do you have relics of this theatre from the 1910s or 1920s? Did your grandparents tell you stories about the Lyric? Do you have photos? If so, please contact me at Many, many thanks!!!

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the Hamilton Public Library for its collection of scrapbooks. The task of researching this little article would have been made infinitely more difficult without those tools.

Original photos copyright © 2007 by TheSaltMan.
Photo of the backstage copyright © Matt Meier. Original writing and research copyright © 2010 by Ranjit Sandhu (with much help from Brian Morton)
Excerpts from David Wesley, “The Ghosts of Hamilton Theatre” copyright © 1979 by the Hamilton Spectator.

The above does not even properly qualify as a first draft of an article. I was just hammering together the record of events, chronologically, as best I could, from what few resources I had. I sent this link to a few interested parties, in the hopes of dredging up more material, and preferably collaboration, for an article proper, which would have served to alert Hamiltonians to the treasure in their backyard, a treasure that needs rescuing and rehabilitating. But before we could make any real progress, what happens? The planned demolition. Though I had never heard of him before, I am now an admirer of Bob Bratina. To explain the significance of that, you must understand that it is not in my nature to have any admiration for politicians. I make an exception here, because he is saying the most sensible things, and he has been trying to do right by history, by legacy, and by Hamilton. That is how this “essay,” improperly and incompletely researched, unfinished, not ready for any sort of publication, has unexpectedly been made public. The city is expected to make a decision regarding demolition on Monday, the 11th of January. If the go-ahead is given, the building will soon be gone. Tragedy is enveloping us all.

P.S.    According to a story in The Hamilton Spectator, 9 January 2010: “Like dominos, the fifth, fourth, third and second floors are collapsed. There is no lateral support for the building, [Hamilton Building Services Director John] Spolnik said. Stability will only deteriorate with snow and winds. The first the city heard of the roof being collapsed was Thursday, he said.” A large section of the roof collapsed over ten years ago, and photos have been on the Internet. The Heritage Designation was granted after the large section of roof collapsed, which means that the city DID know about the collapse. As we can see from TheSaltMan’s photos, there was no “domino” collapse of the fifth, fourth, third and second floors.” It is clear from the photos that the fifth and fourth floors had been removed prior to the roof collapse. The roof now rests on the third floor. As for lateral support, that should not be an issue. Had it been an issue, the building would have collapsed in 1924 when the balcony was removed. Obviously the balcony was not the only lateral support. The various supports were overly redundant, for safety, as they were in all well-built theatres of that size. We can see from the photos that the fourth and fifth stories did not offer lateral support for the main structure of the building. Their primary support came from underneath. We can see the vertical holes where the purlins held the upper floors in place, but they were not the main support for the floors. The front and side walls of the building supported the floors far more than the floors supported the sides and front of the building. According to a letter submitted by a former employee, Rich Parkinson, to The Hamilton Spectator, “Standing in the south side alley near the front and looking up to the open window (the old manager’s office) I can still see walls and ceiling which contradicts what a city employee told me on Thursday night. He stated that the office and the rest of the second floor are gone. I guess my concern is that the collapse (to whatever extent) is getting overhyped to speed up demolition of the complete structure.”

And here we go. This is a recent photo showing the roof collapse.
Note that the fifth-story, fourth-story, third-story and second-story floors did NOT collapse under the weight of the roof.
The fifth and fourth floors had been removed prior to the collapse.
Note also that the third-story floor is holding the weight admirably.
Note finally that the original floors could never have used the side walls as their primary support,
and, more importantly, the front and side walls could never have used the floors as their primary support.
PS   But, as usual, evidence means nothing in a government hearing, just as it means nothing in a court of law.
The building will be demolished beginning Tuesday, 12 January 2010.
That’s the wrong way to start a new year.

NOTE ADDED THURSDAY, 28 NOVEMBER 2013: I abandoned the above article on Sunday, 10 January 2010. But now I’m e-friends with a local who’s excited about this history, and he shared with me some new sites. So I’m picking the thread up again. Here are the sites he pointed out to me:

The Heritage Canada Foundation: Worst Losses Archive

Substreet: Guerilla History, Photography, and Urban Exploration

Flickr Search — this includes photos of all sorts of Lyrics, including our very own. On Wednesday night, 27 November 2013, it included a photo of the windlass, but that priceless image, alas, has now been deleted. Had I known that these photos could vanish, I would have copied that one, since you won’t see too many windlasses anymore.