The Lyric Theater Fire, Thanksgiving Day, 1975

On Thanksgiving Day 1975, I was on Probation with the Charleston Fire Dept, having a total of two months on the job.  The Lyric Theater was a porno house in it's last days, and I don't remember a great deal about the fire, other than I remember seeing about 30 inches of water backed-up behind the glass door of a business, possibly a couple of doors down... or maybe even within the Lyric building itself.  Anyway,   I pointed this out and was told to break the glass with an ax and relieve the pressure and allow the water to escape. When I did,  all sorts of things that cannot be mentioned on this website started flowing out the door, across the sidewalk and down the gutter. You see, there was a shop (I cant remember what it was) that had storage in the back and sold all sorts of "marital aids".  These "marital aids" were pretty dangerous looking to be quite honest, and the firefighters all had a good laugh over them.  I'll end this part of the story here and now...  but there was more to the story that would last right up until around 1981 with the opening of the "Firehouse Number 4 Restaurant" on East Washington Street. 

The Fire

The blaze began just before 3 a.m. Thanksgiving Day in an old three-story brick structure housing the Chicago Meat Market at 142 Summers St. and spread to the Lyric Theater on one side and a building housing Curly's Men's Shop on the other. John Allessio was owner of the Chicago Meat Market, and the Butts estate  owned the property that housed the Chuck Wagon Restaurant and the Gun Store.   Spyro Stanley owned the Lyric, which was then torn down (as were others) and made into a parking lot. The Lyric showed X Rated films, and the business was moved to West Washington Street.

The Winos did it?

Charleston Gazette, Dec 4th, 1975


To people my age and older, there were just two words for bums on the street:  WINO was the most used, and BUM was second.  There were no "homeless" or "disadvantaged".  If they lived on the street, they were WINOS.  As I look back, our Winos were a much better class of people than what we have today.  Winos usually drank the cheapest wine $1.39 would buy... like "Night Train", "Thunderbird",  "MD 20/20" or "Maddog". 



They also loved "Sterno", and I'd find empty cans of it everywhere in the alleys.  In case you're too young, Sterno was a gelled alcohol... napalm in a can, that you use to heat food with in camp stoves or a buffet. Invented around 1900, Sterno is made from Ethanol.  Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. It is a psychoactive drug, best known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages and in modern thermometers. Sterno was so cheap and potent that the manufacturer had to put a chemical in it (Methanol-wood alcohol) in order to dissuade the Winos from drinking it.  I personally think this came about because the government couldn't tax that type of alcohol.  Whatever the reason,  huge signs were posted in every store that sold Sterno to warn people that it was no longer safe to drink. (not that it ever really was) Many Winos disregarded this warning and as a result, died over time.  Our Winos seldom ever bothered anybody.  They usually kept to the back sides of town and you'd NEVER see them downtown Capitol Street, because the cops didn't allow it.  They'd get their monthly checks, buy their booze and maybe a little food. When that ran out, they'd sometimes show up at a back door looking for a handout of food. NOT money... but FOOD. They didn't stand for hours at an intersection holding a sign begging for money like the Bums of today.  We all knew most of the Winos and "sort of" looked out for them.  They were rarely a threat of any kind... unlike today.


Lyric Theater

These kids are standing in front of the Lyric in the early 50s.

Brenda Wantlin Young Photo




Some real doozies were playing...


Notice the "Adults Only".... and this was 1938!


In that same year of 1938, this movie was showing.  It says" See the creation of baby and 3 different births of the baby.  Not terribly erotic. Soon, the new owners took  over and remodeled the Lyric.

The Lyric was purchased then by "Bramwell Theaters". Yes, from Bramwell WV in the heart of the coal fields where at one time were more millionaires per capita than anywhere in America


In 1940, there was a bit of a issue with this movie...

Lyric Charleston WV



Also in 1940, the following article appeared.  The plan was to build a huge theater right across the street from the Library. That would place it where Stone & Thomas Dept Store later went in.  So what happened?  Was it the war?  Who knows?  We know that it never got built,  and stayed on Summers Street right up until it burned down in the 70s.



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