On Sunday, April 19, 1891, famed freethought orator Robert Green Ingersoll delivered his popular lecture "Shakespeare" at Rochester’s Lyceum Theatre. Ingersoll made four subsequent appearances: on Sunday, March 10, 1895, when he presented his controversial religious lecture "About the Holy Bible"; on Sunday, February 23, 1896, when he gave his controversial lecture "The Foundations of Faith"; on Sunday, January 31, 1897, when he delivered his controversial lecture "Why I Am an Agnostic"; and on Wednesday, January 5, 1898, when he spoke on an unknown subject.
The Building and Site. The Lyceum was built in 1888, financed by leading Rochester business figures, and operated by owner Abe E. Wollf and his family. The ornate 2,000-seat theatre quickly dominated fast-growing Rochester’s artistic scene, hosting performances by noted talent including Edwin Thomas Booth, Sarah Bernhardt, a young Helen Hayes, and the Barrymores ... and, of course, Ingersoll, who routinely lectured in the finest theatre of any city in which he appeared.
With the 1920s, the development of new movie houses along East Main Street eroded the Lyceum’s prestige. The grand old opera house deteriorated and closed permanently in 1934. It was soon destroyed and replaced by a series of parking lots. In the 2010s, the site was redeveloped as Midtown Commons, an attractively designed urban park.
Across South Clinton Avenue from Midtown Commons stands The Metropolitan, a mixed-use skyscraper previously known as Chase Tower which occupies the former site of the Whitcomb House Hotel (built 1872, demolished 1947).