22. The Wesley Lake Section, Part 13
The Lyric Theater
The Lyric, which opened in 1912, was on Cookman Avenue right next to the Palace Amusements and just half a block east of the Saint James. From the outside, the Lyric did not appear to be a movie palace; rather, it looked like some kind of exotic lodge: narrow windows, notched upper facade suggesting a crenellated parapet, and high double canopy of Chinese green tiles.
Image 1.22.1. "Lyric Theater." The above photo shows what was left of the Lyric in 1988 (and up to February 2005).
Inside, the Lyric was a precious little gemstone; its appearance was quite different from its serious-looking exterior. It was not as "weighty" in furnishings as were the Mayfair and the Saint James. I recall a lot of delicate pink and white, many mirrors and small chandeliers. The relatively compact, well-lighted (and well-reflected) lobby ran north to south. The candy counter was at left and the entrance to the auditorium was at the far (south) end.
Behind your left shoulder, as you entered the lobby, a staircase led to the mezzanine, parlor and balcony. I seem to recall the plump brass handrail and some lacy gilt effects beneath it. You felt you were in an embassy or in a refined Parisian restaurant that serves only caviar and champagne. You got the feeling that a lady wearing a spangled gown and lot of fluff would come out and introduce you to the Marquis d'Asbury or the Comptesse de Cookman. Well, maybe it was more like the house of Gigi's grandmother.
When you arrived at the south end of the lobby, at the entrance to the auditorium, you could make a turn to the right and walk down a passage that skirted the rear of the auditorium. After you made that turn, a wall prevented you from you from seeing the lobby (and kept the lights of the lobby from interfering with the movie). Except where there were aisles, a parapet with pillars separated the seats from the passage. I seem to recall that the parapet was whitish, perhaps flecked with black, and of granite or marble.
Back near the entrance to the lobby, we now climb the staircase up to the mezzanine. The Lyric's mezzanine was small compared to that of the other theaters. When you reached the top of the stairs, you were at a point where you could turn either left or right. Turning right would take you into a kind of dimly lighted parlor (beyond which were the restrooms). You could no longer see the lobby below. Turn left and you would be on the mezzanine proper, a narrow passage over whose railing you could look down at the lobby. This passage ended with a little curve to the right just at the entrance to the balcony. A few dainty settees were placed here and there. I recall that the curving wall of the passage was decorated with a jumble of drawings reminiscent of the work found in an artist's sketchbook.
The auditorium of the Lyric was compact, compared to that of the Mayfair, the saint James and the Paramount. I recall that it was fairly elegant, perhaps a little lighter in coloration. It is difficult to be precise about certain theaters, especially since it is always so dark and the screen is what commandeers the eyes and mind. Somehow or other, impressions do come through - the character of a wall, a certain color, a certain molding, the general feeling.
Image 1.22.2. An advertisement from 1912 announcing the opening of the Lyric.
I believe it was in the Lyric that I first went to a movie all by myself. The year was 1963; I was eleven years old; the movie was The Nutty Professor, starring Jerry Lewis. (It's a modern "Jekyll and Hyde" take-off about a nerdy scientist who transforms himself into "Buddy Love," an insufferably suave and very obnoxious "swinger".) I really liked the movie and saw it several times. Years later, in the 1980s, an extremely curious and wonderful thing happened to me involving The Nutty Professor and Asbury Park.
While I was browsing in a videotape rental store, a copy of the movie caught my eye. Normally, it's not the kind of movie I would watch today, but out of nostalgic curiosity I rented it. The movie brought back some fond memories (in usual "fond memory" fashion); but when I got to a certain part, all heaven broke loose! It's the part in which Jerry Lewis, as Buddy Love, sings That Old Back Magic. I must tell you, reader, that during that song I experienced one of the strongest "recapturings" of lost time I had ever undergone. The part that really launched me is when the music rises suspendedly for a moment and Lewis sings "...in a spin - lovin' that spin that I'm in..." and Stella Stevens (who plays his girfriend) tilts her head dreamily...
I do not lie when I tell you that for at least two days afterward a significant slice of my being was released from ordinary time. Whatever the tone of life and mind was for me in '63, it now infused yours truly like a magical narcotic. I felt as light as air and seemed to be floating in a trouble-free miniature eternity. Whatever the tone, characater and structure of life and town was for me in the year the movie was released, that age of life "pictured" itself through me, working on my soul like an impossibly wonderful vapor from an Arabian Nights lamp. I "saw" the city in some cohesive way; it was living and breathing, existing solidly. It was then, for example, that I really understood the "place" of the lost Monterey Hotel in the structure of north Asbury. The missing puzzle piece. Yes, yes - this is what Asbury Park was! This is what it tasted like through all the senses. My every pore breathed the town's existence and the whole age of my life in which it thrived.
Anyway, here's what was left of the Lyric in February 2005:
Image 1.22.2. They're playing a movie called "Ocean Grove."
The next two chapters will be a brief "round up" of other sights found near Asbury's beachfront. My lyrical summary of personal impressions will follow. The alchemy of remembrance - the workings of the "Inner Asbury World" - is the best of what is left to me. I hope to offer you a sip of my potion.