Virginia Tech University Libraries, Special Collections
in collboration with
the Department of Housing, Interior Design, and Resource Management

The Lyric Theatre: A Look Back at the Beginnings

History and Early Homes of the Lyric

Lyric Theatre, 1909-


The original Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg was opened September 7, 1909, by S. R. Minter, former head of the electric service department at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and R. R. Moyer, a student at V. P. I. The theatre was at that time in the building opposite the old military laboratory on a site later occupied first by a boarding house and resturant and then by G. W. Hills & Store on Main Street.

Lyric Theatre 1910-

1922 The Lyric was bought in January, 1910 by R. A. Payne, and moved to the building later occupied by the G. C. Department store. This building was eventually brick-veneered. In June, 910, Mr. Payne sold the theatre to C. E. Vawter, a member of the V. P. I. faculty. Mr. Vawter sold the theatre to Argabrite Brothers in 1913; they in turn sold it to J. A. Karnes and J. B. Fogleman, former treasurer of the college, in 1915.

Lyric Theatre 1922-

1929 In February, 1919, the Lyric was purchased from Messrs. Karnes and Fogleman by R. Floyd Plank, president of the National Bank of Blacksburg, and Vane E. Kelsey, former manager of the V. P. I. Tailoring Shop. From 1922 to 1930 the Lyric occupied space in the bulding where the Little Theatre later was housed. This is the present site of the Corner Drug Store. In 1929 Plank and Kelsey reorganized and formed the Commonwealth Theatre Corporation. The officers of the new organization were R. Floyd Plank, president; Vane E. Kelsey, vice president; and R. C. Whitsett, secrtary and treasurer.

Lyric Theatre 1930 Built for $150,000 the Lyric moved into its new home on April 17, 1930. The new Lyric was one of three theatres in Virginia built especially for sound pictures. It was said to be the best theatre in the South in a town the size of Blacksburg.

By 1957 the Commonwealth Theatre Corporation consisted of Mrs. Vane E. Kelsey, Floyd R. Plank, and Don Kelsey, who was manager-secretary-treasurer. The Lyric went dark in June 1989 after the Kelsey family, which had operated the movie house for nearly 60 years, sold the building to HCMF Real Estate. Virginia Tech leased the Lyric theatre from HCMF to serve as a lecture hall from September 1989 to August 1991. During this period over 2,000 students a week met for classes in the Lyric Theatre, and the Virginia Tech Union screened as many as four movies a weekend to audiences of 20 to 500 students. Tech's lease ended in 1991, and Squires Student Center, which was being renovated at the time, reopened in September 1991.

Sources: V.P.I. Skipper, April 1930, p. 16-17. "Lyric Theater Could Close after Tech's Lease Expires," Roanoke Times and World News, 8 February 1991. "Original Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg Was Opened in 1909" Montgomery News Mesenger, 13 June 1957.

Cinema Trivia
Publicity stunts started early in the history of movies. Kalem's 1911 Irish melodrama The Colleen Bawn was one of the first pictures to be made overseas in the authentic location, and the producers knew their audience. They had several tons of earth shipped fom Killarney to New York and made up into four-foot-square sods for distribution to theaters exhibiting the film. For the price of a tickey, Irish immigrnts could once again savor the pleasure of standing on Ireland's soil.
From The Book of Lists: The 90s Edition by David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1993).
Have you heard


"The Lyric is the only fireproof, AAA-rated building in the town of Blackburg?"

from the V.P.I. Skipper, April 1930

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Last updated: July 25, 1997