100th anniversary good time to remember Lyceum
April 8, 2020
Clovis has been home to movie theaters and/or vaudeville entertainment since Clovis began.
The earliest theaters were less impressive than most living room entertainment centers today — small spaces, sometimes located in the second story of a commercial building, consisting of a screen, projector, wood benches or seats and a ticket booth. That’s according to the National Park Service and its National Register of Historic Places.
Then in 1911, when Clovis was 4 years old, the industry began to thrive. The city’s first Lyceum Theater opened that year on Main Street, one block south of where the Lyceum is located today.
“Its owner, a Mr. Nimitz, sought to induce children to attend the movies by tossing nickels onto Main Street with those retrieving them admitted for free,” the historic register reports.
“Seeking to attract a higher-minded clientele than those who often attended nickelodeons, Nimitz named his new theater the Lyceum, derived from the Greek word denoting a hall or temple in which lectures were given. He also printed assurances in the Clovis Weekly Journal that his theater would show only ‘Motion Pictures that passed the Board of Censorship’ and that ‘there will be no entertainment that would offend the most refined.’”
Then along came Eugene Hardwick and his sons, Russell and Charles. They acquired interest in the Lyceum and by 1919 determined Clovis — population 5,000 by then — was big enough for two theaters.
In 1920, the second Lyceum Theater opened at its current location, 409 Main St.
The Hardwicks wanted a place that could accommodate both live performances and movies. They wanted it to feature the “finest stage west of Kansas City,” according to the national register.
While that distinction may have been debatable, it became the “centerpiece of Clovis’ entertainment facilities, a position it held until the State Theater opened in 1940.”
The Lyceum’s success was partly due to its amenities — an air-cooling system, a nursery for parents to escape their children, and even coffee and sandwiches.
But mostly it thrived because of the quality of entertainment it brought to town. John Phillip Sousa and his band, Tom Mix, Will Rogers and Gene Autry all performed live at the Lyceum. Paramount Pictures provided the movies, along with the promotional handbills and posters that appeared in window displays all along the city’s downtown shopping district.
The Hardwicks, in the Clovis City Directory, advertised themselves as “builders and boosters of Clovis” and urged residents to “take short vacations often at the Lyceum.”
In 1940, the Hardwicks, invested in a more modern theater, the State, and by the 1960s the Lyceum began to lose its audience.
Television was the Lyceum’s biggest downfall.
In 1969, Commonwealth Theaters purchased the Lyceum with an eye toward returning it to its glory days, where even a child could escape into a world of make believe.
A Clovis newspaper ad published 50 years ago today — on April 8, 1970 — announced the Lyceum would show nothing but G-rated pictures on Saturday afternoons. And there would be no previews featuring R- or X-rated films during that time either. The theater owners promised their lobby would not advertise anything that would be “offensive to our children of Clovis.”
Admission was only 50 cents, or 60 cents if it happened to be a Walt Disney production.
The effort did not pay off. The second Lyceum closed in 1974. It sat vacant for eight years before a series of efforts to restore it also mostly failed.
But a 100th anniversary seems a good time to remember its “period of significance,” which was 1920 to 1956, according to the historic register.
The place had room for 600 people including 120 in its balcony. A line of small office spaces and private rooms with windows faced Main Street and were available to visiting celebrities.
If you stand on the commemorative bricks on the sidewalk outside, and if you listen closely, you can probably still hear Will Rogers telling stories, and Gene Autry singing about tumbling tumbleweeds.
David Stevens writes about regional history for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:
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