1050 Main Street,
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(Wayne Independent) – Lyric Theater fire recalled
The 1961 Lyric Theater blaze was one of the costliest fires to hit Honesdale’s business district.
By Kevin Zwick
Mar. 31, 2011 @ 1:14 am
On March 25, 1961, eight-year-old Gerry Dunne and his buddies made their way to the Lyric Theatre to see the screening of the British monster flick “Gorgo,” a U.K.-based film similar to Godzilla. But Dunne and his friends never saw the film that day. Instead, they witnessed a monstrous blaze tear through the theatre, one of the costliest fires to hit Honesdale’s business district.
The fire, which began around 6 p.m. near the theatre’s candy counter, set the entire building ablaze. The building was home to the theatre, Jack Martin’s Pharmacy, the Wayne County Democratic Committee office, and also housed a tax consulting business owned by Gerry’s grandmother, Isabel Dunne. At the time Gerry didn’t know that his grandmother and her associate Robert Adams were trapped on the second floor of the burning building. Apparently, neither did the fire fighters.
According to a report by The Scranton Times, Isabel and Robert were working in the second floor office when they discovered the fire. As Isabel started into the hallway, she became overcome by the dense smoke. Finally, they climbed out of their second floor office window, and jumped five feet onto the building marquee. Neither had the strength to climb to the rim to signal or call for help, but Robert was able to throw his jacket to the ground to try to signal fire fighters. Then-Fire Chief Vincent Martone scaled a ladder to place a hose in the second floor window and spotted the two on the marquee and called for help to remove them. Isabel, who was unconscious, was given artificial respiration by off-duty state trooper William Bluff, who was a volunteer with the Honesdale Fire Company.
Gerry said he remembered crews pushing onlookers “further and further away” from the blaze because Willard Matthews’ Sunoco Service station, which was located near the north side of the Lyric building, had massive gas tanks which could have caught fire.
Isabel was transported to Wayne Memorial Hospital, treated for smoke inhalation and shock, and was released a few days later.
The Lyric building, located on 1050 Main Street, is now occupied by the Turkey Hill gas station. “We all loved that theatre,” Jerry said. He noted the spectacular interior of the theater, which included a balcony, as well as box seats on each side of the theater.
According to the Wayne Independent report, the total damage estimates were not available, but Jack Martin said he lost nearly $25,000 on stock of drugs, furniture and fixtures. Luckily, the brunt of his loss was mostly covered by insurance. Nearby buildings included a loss of about $2,500 to $3,000 from a smoke and water estimate to Paul Matter’s garage on the building’s southern side. Minor damage was suffered by Willard Matthews’ Sunoco Service station on the north side of the building.
The Ritz Theatre in Hawley opened its doors seven nights a week to compensate for the loss of the Lyric immediately after the blaze.
The Lyric Theater first opened in 1907, with a showing of the stage play “The Lion and the Mouse.” Tickets for that show were $2.25. At the time of the blaze, The Wayne Independent interviewed older borough residents who said that before the building was built in early 1900s, an enclosed pony lot was located on the plot of land.
First responders were Honesdale, Seelyville, White Mills, Hawley, Pleasant Mount, Narrowsburg, Crystal Fire of Jermyn and Carbondale. The Civil Defense and Civil Air Patrol handled traffic during the fire, and Honesdale Police Chief Nicholas Stapleton ordered all patrolmen on duty once the fire started.
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