Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

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Lyric Theatre (opened 1911; presumed closed 1917)

Both the 1911 and 1913 Wilmington city directories list the Lyric Theatre as a black theater. In keeping with practice throughout the South, city directories designated black residents, businesses, schools, and other institutions with an asterisk (*) or with "(c)." The 1915 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows a motion picture theater at 504 Harnett Street, but does not indicate that it is a black theater. Measuring approximately 36 feet x 60 feet, it is the only commercial structure on a residential block.

Bill Reaves's history of the African-American community in Wilmington (Reaves 1998 , pp. 65-66), makes no mention of the Lyric, citing the Queen Theatre as Wilmington's first black theater.

The Lyric was located in Brooklyn, a neighborhood five blocks north of downtown Wilmington and separated from it by the railroad cut through which the main tracks into and out of Wilmington ran. Beverly Tetterton's architectural history of Wilmington (Tetterton 2005, pp. 109-110), notes that by the first decade of the twentieth century, Brooklyn had developed into a significant residential and commercial neighborhood, with many of its residents working for the nearby Seaboard Airline Railroad. Brooklyn was a racially, ethnically, and socially diverse community in North Carolina's most diverse city. Many of its small businesses were run by immigrants: Germans, Scotch-Irish, Jewish, Syrian, Greek, and Chinese, among them. African American businesses operated in Brooklyn as well.

A 1915 newspaper notice announces that the Lyric is owned by M. H. (Morris) Whippler, and is being sold to J.E. Rich. Whippler also managed the Brooklyn Theater in the same neighborhood when it opened in 1914. In 1917 he lived at 410 Harnett Street, one block west of the Lyric.

The Lyric does not appear in the 1917 Wilmington City Directory. In the Street Guide section of the city directory, 504 Harnett is listed as "vacant." The 500 block of Harnett at this time had roughly an equal number of white and black residents.