If you’re new, or newish, to Hamilton, you can be forgiven for not knowing what the Lyric Theatre is.
However, if you’ve travelled down King Street, approaching Locke Street, you’ve likely seen the building- even if you don’t know it. Located at 434 King Street West, the front entrance is blocked by hoarding, and its three-line marquee sign is covered by a banner for the Humblebee Urban Beekeepers.
Originally opening as The Kenmore Theatre in 1924, the theatre’s first purpose was as a movie theatre. As time went on, the name changed and the building evolved to become a location for TV filming for CBC and CHCH, where it hosted local favourites like Tiny Talent Time and The Red Green Show. When CHCH moved their facilities, the building became utilized primarily as a live performance venue, but with minimal upkeep done over the years, continued to deteriorate.
The status of the theatre from a useable space changed quickly in 2013. The Hamilton Fringe had programmed the venue for its Festival that year; however, a roof collapse shortly before the start of the festival meant that the shows programmed in the Lyric Theatre had to make a last-minute venue change to The Staircase. The Lyric Theatre hasn’t been utilized since.
Following this collapse, the owner at the time, Patrick Brennan, explored the possibility of developing the Lyric Theatre as a not-for-profit; however, this did not materialize. Over the following years, the Theatre continued to deteriorate with its future uncertain.
Part of this uncertainty is the inconsistency between what is announced for its future compared to work being done. A Facebook post from April 2016 promises a soft opening by November of that same year. Other posts push the date further into the future. However, the only note of work being completed is of a roof during the summer and fall of 2017 with the promise that the marquee is next to be refurbished. With the current presence of the Humblebee banner, it is clear that this has not yet occurred. The chains holding up the marquee can be seen from the street and are not actually holding up the sign; rather, they are just for support.
It is the marquee sign that brought the Lyric Theatre back into the headlines this week, as bricks from its rooftop fell onto the street on Monday, December 30 as a result of high winds. The marquee sign managed to catch the majority of bricks that fell, keeping them from doing damage to passing cars or pedestrians.
With a new vision and funds needed to bring the Lyric Theatre back to life, Harry White stepped in as a new owner of the building in 2018. Under the name Lyrical Investments Inc., the building is slated for a significant renovation, which proposes street floor retail and theatre space, four floors of residential use and a green roof. With the approval and permit process underway, the tentative opening date would be Fall of 2021.
A LinkedIn profile for Harry White, principal owner of housetheatre.ca, lists himself as an industrial designer and project manager, with experience as a construction manager for HGTV’s Income Property. What is unknown is whether the province’s recent announcement cancelling Hamilton’s LRT will have an impact on the future of this project, particularly since the LRT is noted as one of the reasons “the future is bright for this project.” Although we hope that this project continues to move forward and revitalizes this theatre, another delay in its eventual opening would just be another chapter in this epic landmark’s story.