803 S. Gay Street,
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The Bijou Theatre is a charming venue built for vaudeville and later adapted for cinema. It opened on March 8, 1909 as part of the Well’s chain of theatres and contained 1,503 seats. The 1909 auditorium was built behind the Lamar House Hotel (c.1840) using the center of the old hotel as the theatre’s lobby. The theatre was designed by an architect named Oakley.
The Bijou Theatre has two separate balconies: the upper dating from the regrettable era of segregation was accessable only from a side street. At this time, though large, the upper balcony is only used for technical equipment as emergency egress is quite limited.
The lower balcony is attained from stairs at the ends of the standee area. There is no grand stair.
The auditorium features three tiers of boxes on each side of the procenium, with the orchestra boxes still in place. The upper boxes have their own stairways and do not connect with the balconies. The boxes are flanked by large corinthian columns supporting cherubs leaning on broken pediments.
The ceiling is mostly flat with restrained moldings at the walls. The hall has a brick exterior, but the interior is completely wood and plaster. Even the grid in the fly tower is wood.
The natural acoustics are splendid. The Knoxville Chamber Orchestra performs regularly in the intimate hall.
The Bijou Theatre never had a theatre organ. Old photos suggest a pit-organ or photo-player was used to accompany pictures in the silent era.
Motion picture projection equipment no longer exists at the Bijou Theatre, though the projection booth which was wedged in between the two balconies still exists and is used as a follow spot location.
Over the years, the Bijou Theatre lost its small vertical sign and marquee and the tiny boxoffice is long gone. It went over to adult films on April 17, 1965 and was renamed Bijou Art Theatre on September 8, 1966. It operated as an adult theatre until 1975. The theatre was then threatened with demolition. Today the Bijou Theatre is largely intact and is a popular venue for small stage shows, acoustic concerts and small bands.
The Bijou Theatre went through a major renovation began in 2005.
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