A neighborhood is much like a person in that it carries both memories of the past and dreams for the future. These memories and dreams center around important landmarks, the people imagining and working for neighborhood restoration, and the stories that bind together those places and people. When given the opportunity, a neighborhood can also find new life and vibrancy as its memories are woven into a new reality.
Last weekend, in Lexington’s East End neighborhood, a culmination of memories and dreams was celebrated with The Grand Re-opening of the Lyric Theatre. Standing as a landmark for over 60 years, it served as an African American theater from 1948 to 1963. During the period of segregation, the Lyric became a “Lyceum of Dreams,” as described by Nikky Finney in her poem dedicated to the re-opening. Bringing performers from across the country, it welcomed to the stage artists ranging from Billie Holiday to B.B. King while welcoming folks from the neighborhood to enjoy the festivities.
Changes in the community, the economy, and the culture led to the closing of the theater’s doors. Not long after that, it transitioned from empty building to broken-down facade. The neighborhood began to wonder if there would be any future at all for the lovely Lyric.
So, as with all important places, the Lyric found itself in need of people to imagine and work for its restoration. The stories of the long struggle to see this vintage theater’s doors reopen are not unlike testimonies of urban-renewal in post-Katrina New Orleans. Many individuals worked together tirelessly to champion the restoration of a building that, at times, seemed destined for demolition. As local activism brought momentum to the project, many continued to question the final outcome of their quest. However, the Lyric’s lights are on again.
Truly an important landmark, the Lyric carries a collection of memories that serve to bind past and present, people and place. As an African American Cultural Heritage Center, it provides a place for individuals to meditate on the struggle for civil rights and join the on-going conversation surrounding race and identity. It brings beauty, art, and inspiration to a place too often overlooked. Welcome, new neighbor!