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The Jewel of Overtown: Lyric Theater to reopen

Highly anticipated debut in the works

Carla St.Louis | 2/6/2014, 9 a.m.

When it comes to the Lyric Theater, Timothy Barber can spend hours on end discussing it’s glory days as Little Broadway, the Black community’s only source for entertainment and arts.

“In its original heyday, it was a source of revenue for Overtown,” said Barber, the executive director of the Black Archives History & Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. “It stands to inspire the community of Overtown because its a standing example of the zeal of a Black community built from the ground up by a Black business man. If it once was, it could be again.”

A brief history of the Lyric Theater

Originally referred to as Colored Town, Overtown was a flourishing, self-sufficient community of Blacks due to segregation laws known as Black Codes.

Opened in 1913 by Geder Walker, the Lyric Theater was the nexus of the community, a special place for entertainment that attracted both Black and white patrons who enjoyed authentic Black music and local flavor. The steady stream of business brought by visitors helped stabilize Overtown’s economy which in turn promoted pride in the community.

“The Lyric is a performing arts and motion picture theater,” said Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Field, historian and founder of the Black Archives. “It is a locally and nationally designated historic site, and it’s one of six buildings in the Historic Overtown Village listed on the U. S. Secretary of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.”

The venue drew a litany of Black legends like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Marian Anderson, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Louie Armstrong and Aretha Franklin just to name a few.

Acquired by the Black Archives in the 1980s, the facility underwent three phases of development including restoration in 1999, expansion of the lobby in 2005 and an expansion of the stage and administration building in 2014. Of their stalled rehabilitation, Barber referred to it as “a set back” saying “we had to assess how funds were being spent at the construction site and made administrative changes which delayed it for two years. Once resolved in 2011, we began construction in 2013. At this point we’re moving forward.”

The Lyric Theater’s new deal

Barber’s vision for the theater is a multi-layered plan that will contribute culturally, historically and economically to the community of Overtown but requires the community at-large to play an active role.

“It’s important to bring economic development to the community,” he said. “We hope people support what we are doing. We are trying to empower the people through employment, education, cultural arts and strengthening economic growth of this neighborhood. We can’t do this without the help of the community--and I’m referring to citizens of Miami-Dade County as a whole.”

“It doesn’t matter what color you are, all of us in Miami-Dade County should be proud of the Lyric Theater,” said Black Archives board member Ruth Clyne. “I really want people in MDC to know that we have something to be very proud, and they should want to become apart of it.”