A Legacies Case Study: Lyric Hall

In 2000 the Historic Trust received the donation of Lyric Hall, a former church and theater in the community of Rocky Hill in Somerset County. The Trust arranged for the site to be marketed for resale and protected by a preservation easement, which then became part of the permanent chain of title of the property. The easement requires that identified historic features of the property remain intact and that the property be maintained.

The Trust sold the donated property to an architectural firm, which purchased the building with the preservation easement. The firm restored the structure's exterior to its historic appearance and rehabilitated the interior for its offices. The historic integrity was enhanced and preserved, the building has returned to use, and the proceeds from the sale benefited the Trust's preservation programs.

Its History
Originally constructed as the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1870, the building seated 270 people, and cost $4000 to construct in a simple vernacular Greek Revival style.  The structure featured two-story arched windows, corner pilasters and a pedimented roof with full cornice returns.

By the early twentieth century, the pews were removed, and the property was sold. The name was changed to Lyric Hall or Lyric Theater, and the building hosted plays, concerts, dances, lectures, basketball games, silent movies, community cultural and recreational events, and educational programs. Residents played the organ, piano, and ran the projection booth for the films, cared for the building, and even acted in locally produced plays. At this time, a proscenium arch with decorative plaster was created by local resident Irving Robbins.

By the 1940s the building was significantly altered. A second floor was added, windows were changed, and an apartment added to the back of the theater. Frank and Agnes O'Malley owned the theater in the 1950s and added the upstairs rear apartment. It is believed that a clothing-finishing factory operated in the building for a short time in the 1950s after the theater closed. June Bliss lived in the second-floor apartment from 1971 until her death, during which time the old Lyric Hall was used as a warehouse.

Its Legacy
On December 13, 2000 Frederica Rice, the daughter of June Bliss, donated the property to the New Jersey Historic Trust through the New Jersey Legacies Program. The Bliss estate benefited from its appraised $180,000 charitable donation to the Trust.

By January 18, 2002, the Trust sold Lyric Hall to Outerbridge and Morgan, a New Jersey architecture firm. The property, also located in the borough's historic district, is now protected by a perpetual historic preservation easement, which ensures that the exterior will be restored, maintained and that the remaining site will not be developed.

Its Future
Outerbridge and Morgan rehabilitated the main section of the building, what is referred to as Lyric Hall, for its offices. Almost the entire hall is open, which required a significant amount of structural work to jack the entire building up and make it level. The wooden proscenium arch with decorative plaster rosette and two-story tall windows are fully restored. Additional office space occupies a second-floor loft area at the rear. The firm restored some of the original (ca. 1870) light fixtures, and commissioned reproductions of the lighting and hardware to replace those that are missing.  

On the exterior, asbestos shingles were removed, and original wood siding and wood trim, restored. A new three-bedroom apartment replaces the ca. 1920 rear addition.