OGDEN — Back in Greece's heyday, Aristotle held forth on natural history, philosophy and science outside of Athens in his "lyceum" school, named in honor of Apollo Lyceus, the god of shepherds.
Two millennia later, in 1903, the Lyceum Theater on Ogden's notorious 25th Street opened its doors for somewhat humbler but perhaps no less valuable purposes: performances of vaudeville, live theater and other acts.
Alas, unlike Aristotle's original, the reputation of Ogden's Lyceum has suffered somewhat in the interim. Over the years it metamorphosed from theater to cafe to bar to tailoring mill to state liquor store to printing center, its facade and interior undergoing repeated remodelings, most of them not for the better.
In 1992 the two-story, 6,000-square-foot building underwent a final conversion — into a vacant hulk. While historic 25th Street buildings were renovated, spiffed up and reopened all around it, the Lyceum sat empty, housing dust and spiders, the echoes of laughter and applause having long ago died away.
"It stayed this way for years," said Ogden project coordinator Dak Maxfield. "It's one of the last spaces (to undergo renovation) around here."
Finally, though, it's the Lyceum's turn. Construction workers are now busily tearing out the old interior lath and plaster and redoing the exterior brickwork, glasswork and stucco to bring back the Lyceum's glory days, one of the final renovation projects on 25th Street's east end.
"We're bringing that old theater theme back," said Ogden business development project manager Kevin Ireland. "From a historical standpoint, that's what 25th Street was all about."
The newly refurbished building's major tenant will be Wiseguys Comedy Club, featuring live stand-up comedians. Wiseguys closed a nearby location last June because it was too small.
"This is going to be great," Wiseguys owner Keith Stubbs said of the Lyceum's $200,000 face lift. "It is bigger and better and will accommodate more people (up to 200)."
25th Street is one of Ogden's success stories in its attempt to redefine its downtown, long reviled as rundown and moribund. The renovated Crowne Plaza Hotel next to the Eccles Conference Center is now unnamed, the owners looking for a familiar hotel chain to take it over and make a success of it; the former Ogden City Mall is a vacant lot, waiting for development; the city's ambitious riverfront proposals remain just that. But city officials proudly point to 25th Street, along with other projects like the baseball stadium and Internal Revenue Service center, as evidence of progress downtown.
"This street has no equal in the state," said Mayor Matthew Godfrey.
The renovated Lyceum's first comedian is set to take the mike within two months.