126 Main - Lyric Theater

Ellendale - Tour of the Core City

126 Main - Lyric Theater

Ellendale, North Dakota 58436, United States

Created By: Coleman Memorial Museum


126 Main - Lyric Theater

The Lyric Theater was the brainchild of Claude C. Baker of Minneapolis, who in 1909 purchased the Bodle Building, a frame structure across the street from the present location. Baker “entirely remodeled and handsomely decorated with electric lights throughout and with red lights to indicate exits.”

A steady supply of electricity was essential for a theater. But municipal electric service would not begin until 1914, when the power plant was constructed at the west end of town. The new Dickey Hotel, however, did have its own electric generating plant. Baker rigged an electrical line through the alley to his new theater, and this served the initial needs of the operation. The Lyric presented its first movie on April 5, 1909.

The early films were projected from a hand-cranked machine called a motiograph. They typically lasted for about an hour, and came on ten-minute reels. The frequent intermissions, gave opportunity for live piano music and vocal accompanists, who also often performed during the films.

In less than a year, Baker sold the Lyric to C.G. Boom and J.B. DuRand for $1,300. The new partners constructed a building in the present location, opening to the public in October 1914, boasting luxurious accommodations and a new motorized projector. Less than two years later—on May 9, 1916—a massive fire destroyed the new theater—and most of the business district. The Lyric operated temporarily in the Opera House until the present structure was opened in September 1916.

The early 1930s were another time of transition. In January 1930, the Lyric introduced its first “talkie,” employing its new Eastern Electric sound system to show "The Innocents of Paris" with Maurice Chevalier. The rolling back of blue laws also affected the theater. Sunday movies were prohibited until the election of November 1934. The first Sunday mnovie was presented in Ellendale on December 9, 1934.

Boom and DuRand operated the Lyric successfully for five decades, finally closing it in 1959 due to declining attendance. But new life was soon breathed into the Lyric, as insurance agent J.D. Crabtree and Warren Merrick, owner of the Ben Franklin store, purchased the building to keep it in operation. Erv Raymond became sole owner in 1963, but the business struggled for the next ten years, perhaps because of widening access to broadcast TV. In 1973 the building was sold, and housed various businesses until 1980, when Mark Anderson of Edgeley restored and redecorated the building, supplying it with new equipment and fixtures. Anderson opened the Lyric again in January 1980, with one show every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The Lyric continued to struggle, business-wise, and now sits empty. Residents who nurture a vision for community restoration would love to see it revived. For now, the lettering on the signboard reads simply, “pray.”

This point of interest is part of the tour: Ellendale - Tour of the Core City


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