Find out how you can help the Alabama + Lyric Theatres [Photos + Video]

The gorgeous, irreplaceable interior of Birmingham’s very own Alabama Theatre. Photo courtesy of Birmingham Landmarks

After surviving more than a century in downtown Birmingham, the COVID-19 pandemic has jeopardized the future of the Alabama Theatre and Lyric Theatre. In the interest of public health, both theatres have been forced to cancel or postpone all events for the near future. Help these Birmingham Landmarks survive by donating online.

Two of Birmingham’s Oldest Landmarks

The Alabama and Lyric lit up on a Thursday night in 1959. Photo via Birmingham Public Library Archives and Manuscripts

In the years before personal televisions, the Birmingham Theater District was the center of downtown nightlife. Moviegoers from around the state traveled to Birmingham to see a night’s worth of entertainment, drawn in by the spectacle of the sparkling marquees.

Over the years, 27 theaters dotted the Birmingham downtown—now, only three remain. Located on opposite sides of 3rd Avenue North, the Alabama and Lyric Theatres are relics of a bygone era. And without your help, they might be history.

The Alabama Theatre

The Alabama Theatre opened Christmas Day, 1927 for an opening preview for invited guests, while the first feature, The Spotlight, starring Esther Rawlson and Neil Hamilton, was screened the following day.

For 55 years, the Alabama Theatre stood as one of Birmingham’s premiere entertainment centers. Although it was originally meant to show silent films, the Alabama Theatre broadened its horizons to include “talkies” (movies with sound) and live performances.

After years of declining attendance, the Alabama Theatre filed for bankruptcy in 1986. In an effort to save the one-of-a-kind organ, the Alabama Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society began a fund-raising effort to buy the building. Luckily, they were successful.

“Big Bertha”, the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ of the Alabama Theatre. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

The centerpiece of the Alabama Theatre is its unique, irreplaceable Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. The organ is one of only 17 of its kind ever built—and only three remain in their original locations. To call it an organ is an understatement—the Mighty Wurlitzer can replicate the sound of an entire orchestra with its intricate system of relays, pipes and more. The Mighty Wurlitzer provided sound effects during the silent film era, such as whistles, car horns, drums and even bird calls.

Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated organ crew, the Mighty Wurlitzer is still in operation today.

The Lyric Theatre

The Lyric Theatre in 1930. Photo via Birmingham Public Library Archives and Manuscripts

The Lyric Theatre opened January 14, 1914 as one of Birmingham’s premiere vaudeville theatre’s. During its heyday, the Lyric hosted world-famous performers such as The Marx Brothers, Mae West, Milton Berle and even the renowned stuntman/actor Buster Keaton. Although the Lyric ran into some trouble during the Great Depression, it came back stronger than ever, hosting movies, concerts, worship services and more.

But by the 1980s, declining attendance caused the Lyric to close down for good. Essentially abandoned, the Lyric fell into a state of extreme deterioration. Then, in 1993, Birmingham Landmarks, Inc. purchased the Lyric for the low-low price of ten dollars.

In the mid 2010s, Birmingham Landmarks launched the Light Up The Lyric campaign to raise funds for a renovation. The Lyric officially re-opened on January 14, 2016—exactly 102 years after its original opening.

How can I support these Birmingham Landmarks?

Alabama Theatre’s one-of-a-kind Mighty Wurlitzer. Photo courtesy of Birmingham Landmarks

The Alabama and the Lyric need Birmingham’s help now more than ever. Due to COVID-19, the Alabama alone has had to cancel or postpone more than 90 movies, school field trips, concerts, dance competitions, comedy shows, worship services, proms, graduations, weddings and more.

The best way to support the Alabama and the Lyric is to send an immediate cash donation on their website. Whether it’s one dollar or a hundred, any donation helps.

Stay tuned—the Alabama and Lyric are offering virtual, live concerts. In fact, The Lyric is hosting a live concert from the Birmingham Music Club this Sunday, July 26 at 3:00PM on Facebook Live.

What is the best show you’ve seen at the Alabama or the Lyric? Tag us @bhamnow and let us know!

  • Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.