ST. PAUL — The COVID-19 pandemic has put many Southwest Virginia ceremonies and celebrations on hold, but St. Paul has dressed up a local landmark in style.
The Lyric Theater overhaul recently saw the delivery and installation of a new marquee and sign to restore the 70-year-old building to its role as a center of downtown activity.
“We were going to have a big ceremony, but the pandemic stopped that,” Kathy Stewart, the Main Street manager for town revitalization group St. Paul Tomorrow, said on Wednesday.
However, the pandemic didn’t stop Kinsey Neon and Sign from rolling into town a week ago with the new marquee. After a few days of adjustment to the sign and to the building mounts, the Lyric regained part of its identity as a theater.
The Lyric was open from 1950 to 1987 under various managers, including H.B. “Fats” and Ina “Ma” Whitenack, who ran the theater and the adjacent Lyric Shoppe restaurant from 1963 into the mid-1970s.
While preparations are being made to put the approximately $2 million Phase Two of the Lyric project out to bid, Stewart said the sign marks the end of the first phase.
Phase Two could start by early winter, Stewart said, and will include HVAC, electrical and plumbing work, restrooms, structural completion of the interior walls and ceilings, installation of seats, refinishing the stage, completion of the lobby and handicapped access through one entrance. That work could be completed by early next summer.
“The work is taking longer than normal because the state Department of Historical Resources has to approve each step,” Stewart said.
Phase Three — for which St. Paul Tomorrow is already starting work to raise the estimated $1 million needed — will include replacing the original theater balcony and wall fabric along with adding new conference rooms, Stewart said. The Phase Two work will allow the theater to be used for fundraising functions, she added.
The Clinch River mural leading to the Fourth Street railroad underpass, another part of St. Paul Tomorrow’s downtown revitalization effort, was also finished in January by Dublin, Virginia, artist Andrew Williams.
The COVID-19 pandemic stopped plans for a grand unveiling of the artwork, Stewart said, but visitors can still see a vision of the town’s connection to the river and railroad history.
As for the Lyric, the sign soon will start living up to “Light Up the Lyric” posted in red letters on the marquee.
“We’re letting businesses and individuals pay to post messages on the marquee for up to a week,” Stewart said. “We already have our first customer, but I can’t say what it will be because it’s going to be a surprise. The lights will be on for the time the message is up there.”
St. Paul Tomorrow is setting up the 2020 Club for people, organizations and businesses to help raise funds through the message service.
Those interested can call Stewart at (276) 395-0685 or email email@example.com for more information.
In an interview in November 2019, Stewart called the Lyric a “box with a marquee, and the marquee was fabulous.”
“It is fabulous,” Stewart said on Wednesday. “Come see it. Our goal is to light up the Lyric inside and out.”