Miller Symphony Hall
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|Former names||Lyric Theatre, Allentown Symphony Hall|
|Location||23 North 6th St.
|Owner||Allentown Symphony Orchestra|
Throughout its history, Symphony Hall has been host to a wide variety of musical and theatrical performances, including Plácido Domingo, Phyllis Curtin, Rudolf Serkin, John Corigliano, Carol Channing, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Sarah Bernhardt, John Barrymore, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman and the Marx Brothers.
The building that is today Symphony Hall was built around 1896 as Central Market Hall, a farmer's market. In 1899, the structure was converted to a theatre by the firm of J.B. McElfatrick, and renamed the Lyric Theatre. The theatre's grand opening was held on October 11, 1899. The Lyric offered vaudeville, operas, plays, dramatic skits, minstrel shows, films and concerts, and also became one of the leading burlesque halls in the United States. On December 1, 1910, French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt made a one-night appearance at the Lyric. In 1912, it was the site of speeches by Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Booker T. Washington. The Marx Brothers debuted the musical revue I'll Say She Is at the Lyric in 1923. The show would go on for a long run in Philadelphia, and became a hit on Broadway. In 1959, the building was purchased by the Allentown Symphony for use as their permanent home, and was renamed "Symphony Hall."
Symphony Hall maintains a full production schedule of non-orchestral performances, including the new Symphony Hall Pops Series, Jazz Cabaret Series, Backstage Chamber Series, Musical Treasure Chest series for small children and their families, and a variety of Special Events.
In addition to the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Hall also serves as home to the Pennsylvania Sinfonia, Community Concerts of Allentown, the Allentown Band, the Community Music School of the Lehigh Valley and the annual Nutcracker performance of Repertory Dance Theatre.
In 2006, a $10 million, 15-year renovation project was completed that repaired the exterior and roof, upgraded patron seating and lobby areas, created rehearsal, office and reception spaces, and added an entire wing with new lobby, teaching and dressing room spaces. In addition, the renovation project completed an upgrade of the Symphony Hall stage and constructed a new acoustical shell.
Donald and Sam Miller were visionaries. In 1959 when the Lyric Theatre (performing home of the Allentown Symphony as well as burlesque) was about to be demolished, they put together a plan to purchase the hall for the Symphony. They brought a proposal to the board on June 2, 1959 to purchase the Lyric Theatre for $110,000. They had already lined up pledges for $84,000 from 19 founders. Two weeks later, the board procured a mortgage for the rest. This is only one story, among many, of the philanthropy of the Miller’s in the Lehigh Valley which has continuously passed from one generation to the next over the past 53 years.
It is this spirit of “Quiet Philanthropy” which motivated the Allentown Symphony Association Board, some fifty years later to memorialize the contributions of the Miller family which, began with Sam and Don Miller, previous owners of the Morning Call, and has continued to the next generation with Pete and Lois, Joan Miller Moran, and Alice Anne Miller; as well as Sarah Miller, the widow of Donald Miller.
It was here in the archives of Allentown Symphony Hall that the minutes were discovered from the June 2, 1959 and June 16, 1959 from the Allentown Symphony Association board meetings. On June 2, 1959, the Allentown Symphony Board meeting, which was held at the home of Samuel Miller, Donald Miller made the presentation to the board regarding the status of the Lyric Theatre, whereby he says unless the Symphony purchases the building it would be demolished. The Allentown Symphony Association approved the purchase of the Lyric Theatre for $110,000 which with today’s inflation it is estimated to be about $875,000. At the board meeting on June 16, 1959 at the home of Paul Anewalts, loans were secured and approved with the First National Bank of Allentown for the purchase. Two committees were appointed, and a chairman for each was named: Building Committee, Mr. Donald Miller, and Operating Committee, Mr. Walter Strothman. The Lyric Theatre was purchased from I. Hirst Enterprises, Inc. on July 14, 1959. Later, the building was renamed Allentown Symphony Hall.
The Mission of the Allentown Symphony Association is "to provide a first-class symphony orchestra and Hall, quality performing arts, and cultural education in partnership with the community." In recognition and appreciation for the Miller family, November 10, 2012, the Board of the Allentown Symphony Association is proud to announce the new name of Miller Symphony Hall.
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