On July 4, 1916, Julius Steinberg opened the Lyric Theatre to compliment his Grand Opera House immediately west of the property on Front Street. The Lyric opened with the silent film “The Iron Strain” starring Dustin Farnum. Ticket prices were 15 cents for adults and 5 cents for children.
On January 17, 1923, the Lyric was destroyed in a fire and subsequently reopened on December 20, 1923, with the movie “Hearts Aflame” based on the story “Timber” by local author Harold Titus. The Lyric showed silent films and also hosted weddings and other events.
In September 1927, Butterfield Theatres took over management of Lyric from the Fitzpatrick-McElroy chain. Con Foster, who worked for Fitzpatrick-McElroy, is retained as local manager for Butterfield, a position he holds until his death on April 3, 1940.
At midnight on March 29, 1929, the Lyric showed the first “talkie” film in Traverse City, the movie “Lucky Boy” starring George Jessel. At this special showing, a short clip of Herbert Hoover’s inauguration speech was also shown. The Lyric was the first theater in Northern Michigan to operate Vitaphone-Movietone equipment.
The theater was destroyed by fire once again on January 3, 1948. It was subsequently rebuilt and reopened on June, 30, 1949 with a new name, the State Theatre. The first film at the State was “It Happens Every Spring” with Ray Milland and Jean Peters. Ticket prices were 35 cents for adults and 12 cents for children.
On September 10, 1978 the State Theatre was closed for remodeling — the new owners split the single theater into a twin with two small screens. The last movie shown in the 1948 single auditorium State Theatre was “The End” with Burt Reynolds. The theater was operated as a twin by GKC for several years before it closed again.
Several groups then kept the theater safe from weather and time while various plans were made for its reopening. In 1996, Barry Cole and the State Theatre Group purchased the theater from GKC and announced plans to convert the theater into a performing arts complex. Then, in 2003, the State Theatre Group and Interlochen Center for the Arts announced a partnership to renovate the theater. The building wound up in the hands of Rotary Charities, who generously donated the State Theatre to the Traverse City Film Festival in May of 2007.
Following a complete renovation, the Traverse City Film Festival officially re-opened the State Theatre on Saturday, November 17, 2007 with the northern Michigan premiere of “The Kite Runner.”