The Southwest Cultural Development Committee held a Town Hall meeting at the Lyric Theatre June 26 to generate public input regarding the scope and focus of renovations and to document suggestions for potential future uses of the upper and basement levels of the historic structure.
The SCDG hopes the meeting is just the beginning of a process that will generate dynamic public input to guide the conservation and restoration process.
“The reason we’re having the Town Hall meeting is that we realize that anything that we do, we need to be thinking long term,” said president of the SCDG, Gwen Uher, “because we sure don’t want to be taking everybody’s hard-earned money and doing something this year, and then two years down the road having to take that apart and re-do it, so that’s why we want to be thinking about uses for our upstairs and our basement.
“We want people 100 years from now to be thinking, ‘my, those people were forward thinking.’”
On display was a photo of the Lyric in the 1930s and an artist’s rendering by P3A Architects of a restored Lyric Theatre.
Erin Gehl, Executive Director of the Lyric, said, “We want the main floor to flow with the second floor and the basement, because we know that the main floor is going to stay as a black box theatre, so how can we better use the other two floors to maximize the main floor?”
The evening began with the screening of “A Virtual Tour of the Lyric”, a video that shows the existing rooms and historic elements as they are now, and then presents a transformed view suggesting potential uses for each area.
With regard to the front of the building, Uher said the brickwork and cornices on the theatre’s façade will be restored, but the “pigeon roost” awning will be removed and replaced by new archways built to original specifications.
“Inside, upstairs, there is a long corridor and that is very important to maintain,” Uher said of P3A’s heritage architect’s recommendations. The original wooden floors, wainscoting and doorframes in the corridor will be restored, but the smaller rooms on either side can be creatively revisioned, she indicated.
“Skylights on the upper level are very important to the history and need to be restored. Some water damage has to be fixed. That will be one of the first things that has to happen,” said Uher.
The upper level was originally developed as apartments that were rented out for revenue, and some spaces have been further divided over the years.
“One thing that you can see in this picture is that with all of the natural light it really is a wonderful space up there, so that definitely is something that we want to utilize. The biggest room up there … was made into probably a living room and there was a kitchen on the side.”
Moving down to the basement level, the video showed a vast open area with its original pressed tin ceilings and wooden floors that are historically significant.
“We can see the beautiful pressed tin ceilings that we have. The last time that it was used as a public space it was used as a bar, so there’s a very long bar. You can see that it does have some big beams going across the ceiling, and wood floors.”
As part of the revisioning process, Uher also updated the status of the Lyric’s Living Legacy campaign.
“I’m sure you’re all aware back in September we started our Living Legacy campaign with the idea that we wanted to apply for a $500,000 federal grant through Heritage Canada. To be able to even apply, we had to show we were on our way to raising $500,000. We were successful in obtaining that grant.
At this time we are very close to having the $500,000 matching funds. We have $250,000 from the city that they have promised us, and also we have raised probably close to $240,000 from the local community through individuals and businesses, so we are very, very close to having our million dollars.”
The funding will be disbursed over two years.
“Because we do not have all of the funds we need to totally restore the building, we are going to be doing it in different phases,” Uher said.
“The first phase will be saving the building: working on the envelope of the building and doing structural repairs.
“Once we’re done that phase, then we will try to restore the front of the building, the cornices and putting the sign back up. Then we will work on the main floor, upstairs and basement.”
Throughout renovations, the main floor will continue to operate and generate revenue as a black box theatre.
“It is functioning very well as it is,” Uher noted. “Is it perfect? By no means, but we make do. We do have plans to make it more comfortable for our artists and patrons, but right now it’s serving the purpose.”
While the $1 million will cover the cost of preserving the structural integrity and exterior of the theatre, Uher identified an ongoing need for fundraising and grant applications to finance façade and interior restoration.
“Any of you that have ever done any building, and you have a building this size, you know that a million dollars is just going to be a starting point for us,” Uher explained. “We need to be taking a look at the bigger picture and thinking about how to get major dollars.”
Gehl added, “We’d just like everyone to take the opportunity to give us their feedback, so we can make a really good future plan for the building. This is a process, so feel free to e-mail or drop in and discuss your ideas.”
The Lyric’s email address is email@example.com.
Ideas advanced at the meeting included an elevator to make all levels accessible, as well as:
• artist space for studios
• art gallery
• cozy recital/event rental space
• recording studio
• small café
• fancy ballroom/banquet/wedding space
• upscale dance hall/bar
• music/theatre rehearsal space
• overflow from main floor with remote video for large events