293-295 Madison Avenue,
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Architects: John Gaisford
Previous Names: Jefferson Theatre, Lyric Theatre
Opened as the Jefferson Theatre on November 16, 1908. It was programmed primarily with drama, opera and music. It was named after theatrical personage Joseph Jefferson. Renamed Lyric Theatre from 1911, it had a period of vaudeville in the teens and competed with the Lyceum Theatre and the Orpheum Theatre. Sarah Bernhardt appeared at the Lyric Theatre, and in the 1920’s it began screening movies.
After the big movie palaces opened in the 1920’s, the Lyric Theatre fell on hard times partly because of its location far from Main Street. It was much plainer and far less luxurious than the new, cooler movie palaces. It, however, was the site of the first opera broadcasts in Memphis from WMC Radio in January 1923. The most famous incident happened in 1929 when “King of Kings” (released in 1927) ran into trouble with local censors because of scenes not included in the Gospels. The censors won in a court battle and the movie was banned in Memphis.
The Mazda name (1930) is from the Mazda Grotto, a fraternal organization. Its aim was to organize a recreational center, which failed, and the Junior Order of Mechanics too over in 1932. Some boxing matches were held in the building. The city owned the building (in receivership) when it burned on January 23, 1941, probably a victim of a lightening bolt. The city hadn’t even insured the building and it had been virtually abandoned.
Located where today the Madison overpass crosses Danny Thomas, there is new construction and parking at this address in 2013.
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