Lyric Theatre (Gay Street)

800-804 S. Gay Street,
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Lyric Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

In October 1872 Knoxville’s first opera house, Staub’s Theater, opened on the corner of Gay Street and Cumberland Avenue. Under Peter Staub’s management, the theater became the centerpiece of Knoxville’s cultural development, bringing prominent actors and theatrical companies to East Tennessee.

The Staub Theatre stood directly across from the later Bijou Theatre (q.v.). It featured lacy wrought iron exterior balconies above the side walk much like those seen in New Orleans. Old aerial photos imply an immense stage and stage house; full 1/3rd the size of the auditorium.

Staub’s Theatre ended its life showing movies and was torn down about 1960 to make way for a parking lot. In the mid-1980’s a bland office building was constructed on the site.

Contributed by Will Dunklin

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 20, 2005 at 6:16 pm

Was this theater ever known as the Lyric Theater? An article that I read claims that Staub’s Opera House on Gay St became the Lyric Theater in 1921.

tntim
tntim on April 16, 2005 at 7:50 pm

Yes, lost memory, you are correct, the Staubs was renamed the Lyric in the early 20’s. Lowe’s had taken over the operation of the Staubs in 1920 and remodeled the theatre as their flagship theatre in Knoxville and changed the name to Lowe’s Theatre. Lowe’s also installed a 4 manual 26 rank (?) Moller pipe organ at that time. Lowe’s gave up on the theatre after only two years and the name was changed to the Lyric, this is the name that most Knoxvillians remember it by. In the 1940’s the theatre was used mostly for wrestling matches. The stage was large enough, (some accounts say 50 feet deep) that ringside seating was on stage. The theatre was torn down with the organ still in the chambers in 1956 to make way for a department store that was never built.

As a side note, when the Tennessee Theatre opened in 1928, “Wings” was playing at the Lyric.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on April 16, 2005 at 8:18 pm

Thanks for the additional history on this theater tntim. I did a little research into this theater and never got around to posting it. In addition to the great info that you gave, I read that Peter Staub was the United States Consul to Switzerland. He died in 1904. At some point the Staub’s Opera House became the Staub’s Theater before changing its name to the Lyric Theater. When Staub’s Opera House first opened, the seating capacity is listed at 1000 seats. This theater should have an aka Staub’s theater and Lyric theater added to the name above.

tntim
tntim on July 31, 2010 at 10:29 am

A picture of the Lyric with audience can be found here:
View link
Lobby:
View link
Exterior:
View link

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 31, 2010 at 11:02 am

As Staub’s Theatre this house is listed under Knoxville in the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide. It was managed by Fritz Staub and had 1,150 seats. There was gas illumination, and the theater was on the ground floor. The proscenium opening was 30 feet square, and the stage was 38 feet deep. There were 7 in the house orchestra. On the same page in the Guide there are ads for the Hotel Imperial in Knoxville and the Knoxville Transfer Company which handled theatrical scenary and baggage. Newspapers were the Tribune, Journal, and Sentinel, and hotels for show folk were the Flanders, Imperial, Palace, and the McMillon. Railroad was the Southern. The 1897 population of Knoxville was 45,000.

SeeingI
SeeingI on January 11, 2011 at 6:26 am

@ TNTIM: Oh, it kills me to see those! Such a beautiful venue to be demolished in favor of a glass-slab office!

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