(Wiseguys Comedy Club)
271 East 25th Street
Ogden, Utah 84401
The original Lyceum Theater, Ogden's “pioneer 10 and 20-cent show house,” was so successful since its opening in 1903 that the David Maule estate announced plans on 19 May 1910 to tear down the small frame structure and build a new show house on the same site. Manager Charles W. Lippencott was credited with making the new theater possible by building up the Lyceum's patronage through his good business management. The old Lyceum closed at the end of the vaudeville season on 17 July 1910, with the management planning to continue its policy of “high class vaudeville at popular prices” at the new theater at the beginning of the next season.[1, 2, 3, 9, 19]
The decision to rebuild the theater came at time of heavy construction in downtown Ogden. David Maule was also building a new business block on Twenty-fifth Street near Lincoln Avenue. All the buildings along Hudson Avenue (now Kiesel) were razed to the ground, providing “a plain view of the entire width of the avenue between Twenty-four and Twenty-fifth streets.” The Standard Examiner marveled that there were “no delays on account of a shortage of workmen or building materials.”
Work on the new Lyceum began 18 July 1910, the day after the old theater closed. Excavation commenced on 24 July 1910 and continued through at least 2 August 1910.[3, 4, 7] S. M. Meld and L. W. Mead were contractors on the project. The architect was Heber Piers.[4, 14]
Proprietor J. R. Nuckles, who held a long-time lease on the new playhouse, closely monitored the construction progress, saying, “I am going to expend about $5,000 in furnishing the interior of the building and, naturally, I want to see that the architectural plans are carried out to the letter. I am going to call the new theater the Lyceum, under which name the old one was known, but I want to assure the good people of Ogden that it will be quite a different playhouse.”
On 2 August 1920, a workman told Wah Sing Lung, proprietor of the Oriental tea store next to the Lyceum, that the theater excavation would go down twenty feet. The Chinaman made anxious inquiries of contractor W. C. Gale, eventually revealing the existence of an underground passageway leading to a dark, unventilated chamber 36 feet long by 18 feet wide. After learning that the workman had been joking about the depth of the excavation, Lung appeared much chagrined and refused to discuss the matter further. Speculation was that the underground room was used as an opium den and hiding place. A year earlier, police traced a criminal to the tea store but failed to locate him after surrounding the building and making a vigorous search.
The Standard Examiner observed on 28 August 1910 that the Lyceum Theatre had “been built so rapidly during the week that the changes from day to day have been very marked. The brick walls have been completed and the large girders for the roof have been placed in position and the carpenters are moving along rapidly in the construction of the floors of the balcony and the auditorium.
The projected opening date of 15 September 1910 was delayed until 1 November 1910, when “the first vaudeville bill of the season played two performances to a capacity house.”[5, 14]
The new brick showhouse measured 40 by 100 feet, with 500 seats on the lower floor and 250 in the balcony. Built of brick, the new theater measured 40 by 100 feet. The “thoroughly up-to-date” and “commodious” stage made possible “vaudeville attractions which could not be accommodated on the stage of the old theater.” Scenery was painted by “an eastern house of well-known reputation.” The dressing rooms below the stage were “commodious” and “well ventilated.”[2, 3, 9, 13, 14] In accordance with newly adopted city ordinances, electrical wiring in the Lyceum ran through conduits, a practice said to “eliminate every possibility of a fire from electrical wires.”[10, 11]
The new Lyceum was described as “the prettiest” or “the handsomest” in the city, “one of the handsome vaudeville houses of the state,” and “among the top-notch vaudeville houses of the west.” The “thoroughly up-to-date show house” was “equipped with all of the modern conveniences of the smaller playhouses,” “modernly equipped with the latest appliances found in the larger play houses,” and possessed “all of the modern equipment of the higher class theaters.” The “entire house is a model of good sanitation and beautiful architecture.”[3, 4, 9,13, 14]
On “change night” at the Lyceum Theatre, a member of the departing vaudeville company likely dropped a lighted matched, cigar, or cigarette in a store room under the stage. The company removed their paraphernalia from the theater to the train depot about 1 AM on 2 October 1911. Fire was discovered in the Lyceum at 4 AM. The theater interior might have been gutted by the flames, if not for the prompt response by the fire department and the falling of the asbestos curtain. After the ropes holding the curtain burned off, the curtain fell to the floor, preventing the fire from reaching the front part of the building.
The stage floor was “practically” destroyed by the fire, which also “burned up” a $500 piano. Also lost were some of the flies, electrical wiring under the stage, and a few chairs and tables in the store room. The chairs and ceiling of the auditorium were so blistered they needed to be retinted and repainted. The loss was estimated at $1,500 to $2,000, which was fully insured. The new vaudeville company had not yet moved into the theater, so their loss was only in canceling their engagement.[15, 16]
The Lyceum reopened on 23 October 1911 with a program of “vaudeville and pictures,” reclaiming its place as “one of the most up-to-date and modern 10c and 20c theaters in the west.” The theater had been “beautifully decorated inside and out,” with “all new fixtures, electrical apparatus, draperies, scenery, and stage equipment.”
Fred Hayter and Jesse Fudge
As a possible side effect of the fire, J. R. Nuckles sold “all his interests in the business” to Fred Hayter and Jesse Fudge, “two well known theatrical men who come to our city highly recommended.” Hayter was “an old showman” who “owned and managed a circuit of family theaters in the middle west up to opening of last season, when he became interested in road attractions.” The new management intended to give “the best entertainments possible at all times, paying particular attention to the care of the ladies and children.” Songs were to be performed by Robert Churchill, who possessed a rich baritone voice and was arriving from the east in time for the October 23 reopening.
After a few weeks of vaudeville, the new management of the Lyceum decided to try stock attractions. H. B. Carpenter, “probably the best known stock company leader in Utah, was secured to take charge of the production and appear in the leading roles.” Many members of the company had been with Carpenter for several months on a successful tour of the southwest. Their first production at the Lyceum was “My Boy Jack” on 16 November 1911. “Popular prices” prevailed during the their engagement at the theater.
A second fire damaged the Lyceum Theatre less than a year after the first. Employees, who had been busy on the stage, left the building about 3 PM on 10 September 1912. Twenty minutes later fire was discovered. “Heated electric wires” were thought to be the cause. “When the fire became hot the ropes holding the asbestos curtain dropped, confining the fire to the stage until the heat became so great that the curtain was destroyed.” Firemen arrived quickly, “having less than a block to go.” Flammable materials on the stage gave the fire a good start, but three streams of water from different angles extinguished the blaze within twenty minutes of the alarm being raised.
The fire destroyed the stage and fly loft. “All stage properties and scenery, together with the furniture and piano in the auditorium, are either destroyed or badly damaged.” The loss was estimated at $2,000. A benefit performance for the Lyceum Stock Company, who “suffered by the theater fire,” was held at the Ogden Theatre on 13 September 1912. By 24 September 1912, David Maule began repairs to the Lyceum, costing “something over $1,000 to place the playhouse in as good condition as it was before the fire.” The interior was redecorated and new scenery and furniture purchased. Fred Hayter engaged Sedly Roach and his Empire stock company for an indefinite run, beginning 7 October 1912.
Stanley B. Steck
In 1913 the Lyceum Theatre came under the management of Stanley B. Steck, who took a “long-time” lease and made “numerous changes and betterments.” The 600-seat playhouse was described as “modern in detail,” with “sanitation and ventilation” as its leading features and acoustics “among the best in the city.” The stage could accommodate vaudeville, drama, and moving picture shows. For movies, the Lyceum was “a five-cent house altogether,” open from “11 o'clock in the day to that time at night.” Moving picture performances were “all of standard class,” some of the best “in any section of the country.” Steck was a “popular” and “well liked” manager, “always affable,” and endeavored “at all times to please the theater-goers.” He conducted the theater in a manner “pleasing to all who patronize the place.”[26, 27]
A 13-year-old boy, Louis Hall, fell asleep in the Lyceum Theatre on 11 July 1914 and was locked in by the proprietor who closed up about 11:15 PM. The boy woke an hour later when he “got his hand in the seat hinge.” Finding himself alone in the building with the door locked, he yelled and hammered on the door until he was heard by someone at the Grill cafe. Police called in the proprietor, who released the badly frightened boy.
In 1920, S. B. Steck installed a pair of “the latest model Powers 6B motion picture machines” at the Lyceum Theatre, along with Worman's automatic re-wind machines. The same equipment was installed in his two other cinemas, the Rex Theatre and the Cozy Theatre.
Steck sold the Cozy Theatre to the Ogden Theatre company in 1923, saying he would devote his time to his two remaining theaters, the Lyceum and the Rex.
Increased business at the Lyceum prompted Manager Steck in 1927 to enlarge the seating capacity of the auditorium through remodeling. “Changing of the offices and rest rooms, together with the entrance and lobby, where the chief improvements made.” The entrance and lobby were “provided with architecture and decoration of the latest type.” Art Shreeve served as architect for the project.
In 1929, Steck announced that the Lyceum Theatre would be used exclusively for talking pictures. His other theater, the Rex, was remodeled and reopened as the Cozy Theatre, showing only silent pictures.
Stanley B. Steck retired in 1934, leasing the Lyceum Theatre to the Paramor Company on 15 April 1934. Steck kept his residence in Ogden, but planned to visit Los Angeles occasionally to inspect his theater interests there. The Lyceum became “Ogden’s deluxe second-run house, the little brother to the Orpheum and Paramount theatres.” The acquisition allowed Paramor to return the Orpheum to exclusive first-run pictures. The Paramount Theatre continued its policy of showing double features.
“Every effort will be made by the new proprietors of the Lyceum to make it Ogden’s best second run home. The pick of the features shown at the Orpheum and Paramount will be brought back second-run to the Lyceum and for the quality of product the most reasonable price policy in Utah is assured, any seat any time 10 cents.”
Wiseguys Comedy Club
Over the years, facade and interior of the Lyceum Theatre went through repeated remodelings as the two-story, 6,000-square-foot building was used as a cafe, bar, tailoring mill, state liquor store, and printing center. From 1992 to 2003, the building sat vacant while other historic buildings on 25th Street were renovated. In September 2003, Farah Construction began a $200,000 restoration of the Lyceum building. Rehabilitation of the facade included redoing brickwork, glasswork, and stucco. Windows and doors were refurbished and replaced. The remodel of the interior included tearing out old lath and plaster.[33, 34]
Wiseguys Comedy Club, featuring live stand-up comedians, became the first major tenant of the refurbished Lyceum, opening on the first floor of the building in November 2003. Wiseguys closed a nearby location in June 2003 because it was too small. The new venue accommodates 200.[33, 34]
1. "Theatrical Moves in Junction City", Deseret News, 29 April 1909
2. "New Theater for Ogden", Salt Lake Tribune, 19 May 1910, page 1
3. "Lyceum Theatre Goes", Ogden Standard Examiner, 13 July 1910, page 6
4. "Work on New Theater", Salt Lake Tribune, 24 July 1910, page 17
5. "Excavating for the New Theater", Ogden Standard Examiner, 24 July 1910, page 4
6. "Start New Theatre", Ogden Standard Examiner, 25 July 1910, page 6
7. "Passageway Found Under the Ground", Salt Lake Tribune, 02 August 1910, page 11
8. "Busy Week in Building Circles", Ogden Standard Examiner, 28 August 1910, page 8
9. "[Lyceum Work Being Pushed Forward]", Unknown, 01 September 1910
10. "Defective Wiring is Now Conspicuous for Absence", Salt Lake Tribune, 18 September 1910, page 26
11. "Ogden Has the Best Wiring", Ogden Standard Examiner, 18 September 1910, page 6
12. "Random References", Ogden Standard Examiner, 25 September 1910, page 5
13. "Now Theater Ready for Opening", Salt Lake Tribune, 22 October 1910, page 11
14. "Fine, Modern Theater Gives Its First Bill", Salt Lake Tribune, 01 November 1910, page 12
15. "Fire in the Lyceum Theatre", Ogden Standard Examiner, 02 October 1911, page 6
16. "Building in Winter is Good", Ogden Standard Examiner, 14 October 1911, page 6
17. "Lyceum Theatre to Reopen", Ogden Standard Examiner, 21 October 1911, page 6
18. "Ogden to Have Stock Company", Ogden Standard Examiner, 11 November 1911, page 5
19. "Chas. Lippincott Made Manager", Ogden Standard Examiner, 02 May 1912, page 7
20. "Lyceum Fire Does Much Damage", Ogden Standard Examiner, 11 September 1912, page 6
21. "Big Benefit at the Ogden Theater", Ogden Standard Examiner, 13 September 1912, page 5
22. "Building in the City is Good", Ogden Standard Examiner, 24 September 1912, page 10
23. "Random References", Ogden Standard Examiner, 02 October 1912, page 7
24. "Theaters", Ogden Standard Examiner, 03 October 1912, page 6
25. "Boy Locked in the Lyceum Theater", Ogden Standard Examiner, 13 July 1914, page 12
26. "Theaters Under Steck Control", Ogden Standard Examiner, 25 January 1915, page 4
27. "Lyceum Theatre Excellent Playhouse", Ogden Standard Examiner, 20 July 1916, page 30
28. "Latest Equipment in Cozy, Rex and Lyceum", Ogden Standard Examiner, 24 October 1920, page 13
29. "Steck Sells Cozy Theatre", Ogden Standard Examiner, 18 May 1923, page 10
30. "Lyceum Seating Space Enlarged", Ogden Standard Examiner, 12 June 1927, page 9
31. "Cozy Theatre to be Reopened", Ogden Standard Examiner, 29 September 1929, page 16
32. "Lyceum Theatre Joins Orpheum and Paramount", Ogden Standard Examiner, 15 April 1934, page 9
33. "Business Briefs", Salt Lake Tribune, 16 September 2003
34. "Curtain to rise again in old Lyceum", Deseret News, 16 September 2003