Bijou Theatre

803 South Gay Street,
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Bijou Knoxville Tennessee Interior from stage

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 in the 1960’s. Otherwise 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 about 2000.

Contributed by William Dunklin

Recent comments (view all 40 comments)

michaelkaplan
michaelkaplan on July 31, 2009 at 11:43 am

As Will mentioned above, the Bijou recently received a new marquee and vertical sign. Both are poor designs. The marquee looks like three commercial retail signs bolted together at the corners. A view of that beautiful entry arch (in the image above) has been obliterated. It’s doubtful any architect was involved, and astonishing that this design made it through what is usually a very demanding downtown historic preservation process. As an architect, I’m sure a fine design could have been produced within the budget, but, alas, it seems like no one tried ..

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Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on April 26, 2010 at 10:45 am

Playing on Friday night Nov.10 {no year given} LASH LaRue in “GHOST TOWN RENEGADES” Admission at the BIJOU was 15 and 25 cents. They were starting a new serial. and always “FRESH POPCORN”

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on April 26, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Chuck 1231.I don’t know how you do it. thanks.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on July 21, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Now Showing Oct 20 1964 at the BIJOU is a double feature.Jim Hutton and Connie Frances in"LOOKIN' FOR LOVE" and Paul Newman in “THE PRIZE”

fergusmacivor
fergusmacivor on November 24, 2010 at 11:57 am

As schoolboys in the early 1950s a close pal and I often walked across Gay Street Bridge to see movies at the Bijou. Our all-time favorite was Lure of the Wilderness (1952), starring the always beautiful Jeffrey Hunter (we went back for this one a second time). The Bijou regularly held over films after their initial runs at the majestic Tennessee just up the street. Admissions here were cheaper, and for watching movies we appreciated the Bijou’s comfortable elegance over the Tennessee’s oppressive grandeur. I’ll always remember the sight of that forlorn dark brown stairway climbing up the exterior of the north side to a second balcony reserved for blacks. It was, though, probably the only place in the city where blacks could gain access to Hollywood studio product.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on November 24, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Nice story,Micivor.

SeeingI
SeeingI on January 11, 2011 at 5:55 am

It bears mentioning that during the late 90s / early 2000s there was a resident theatre company operating out of the Bijou, which performed such shows as Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Ain’t Misbehavin', etc. It was a thrill to perform on this historic stage which has seen luminaries such as the Marx Brothers, Lily Pons, JP Sousa, Will Rodgers and more!

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on January 17, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Will Rogers,Seeingl I am told I am a very very distant relative.

Matthew Prigge
Matthew Prigge on November 19, 2012 at 12:11 pm

If anyone has any stories about going to/ working at this threatre in its adult days, I would love to hear them. I am chronicling the histories of adult theatres in the US. Please contact me at Thanks!

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on October 7, 2013 at 4:11 pm

MATT just added a picture, ad.

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