Bijou Theatre

545 Washington Street,
Boston, MA 02124

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The Bijou Theatre opened on December 11, 1882 as a “Parlor Opera House” featuring Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe”.

It was located on the second floor of an annex to the next-door Adams House hotel. It replaced an earlier theatre in the same building that at various times was called the Lion, the Mechanics Institute, the Melodeon Varieties, the New Melodeon, and the Gaiety.

B.F. Keith took over the Bijou in 1886 and began to stage vaudeville shows there. Later he converted it to show movies and renamed it the Bijou Dream. At one point it was also called the Intown.

The Bijou continued operating into the 1940s, but after the horrific Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire of 1942, Boston enacted stricter fire laws that doomed the Bijou. Its exits led not to the street but rather to two neighboring theatres, the old BF Keith Theatre (later called the Normandie and the Laffmovie) and the newer Keith Memorial (much later called the Savoy and the Opera House).

Eventually the Bijou was razed to the orchestra and stage floors, which became the roof of the stores below.

Until a few years ago, the former Bijou entrance was a storefront containing a pinball and video amusements arcade.

Most of what remained of the Bijou building was demolished in 2008, leaving only its front facade standing. Emerson College is redeveloping the Bijou property, along with the adjoining Paramount Theatre, into a new theatre and dormitory complex.

(The above information comes from Donald C. King’s “A Historical Survey of the Theatres of Boston”, published in the Third Quarter 1974 issue of Marquee, the journal of the Theatre Historical Society.)

Contributed by Ron Newman

Recent comments (view all 33 comments)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 20, 2009 at 2:16 pm

In his lengthy article “Saga of the Movie Industry in Boston”, which I estimate was written about 1950, Boston film pioneer Joe Cifre says that when B.F. Keith renovated his Bijou and renamed it the Bijou Dream, there was a tiny projecton booth which had a unique turntable on which were mounted 2 projectors back to back. He says “When one machine was in operation facing the screen, the other, which was facing in the opposite direction, would be readied for use; at the end of the reel the turntable would be given a half-turn and the second projector would come into play.”

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on August 26, 2010 at 5:03 pm

A restaurant called Bijou will open this fall at 51 Stuart Street. Stuff Magazine and Zagat both report that the name was inspired by the former Bijou Theatre a few blocks away, because it was “the first in the country to be equipped with an electrical lighting system”.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on September 3, 2010 at 2:21 pm

The Boston Herald today quotes the operator of the new Bijou restaurant and night club opening in Oct on Stuart Street as saying “I wanted to hit on something that really had a history in Boston. ‘Bijou’ really stuck out because it was the first theater in the country to have electricity, and nightclubs are all about lighting, sound and electricity.” The Bijou’s electrical system was installed by Thomas Edison himself and was touted at the time as the first 100% electric theater operation in the USA. I don’t how valid that claim is. Certainly it was one of the very first.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on September 24, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Emerson College’s newly opened Paramount Center contains a Black Box Theatre and a Bright Family Screening Room (for movies), both built within the footprint of the old Bijou. The Paramount’s lobby areas contain wall exhibits that pay extensive tribute to the Bijou.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on September 27, 2010 at 1:38 pm

In the balcony foyer of Emerson’s new Paramount there is a huge color rendering of the interior of the Bijou Theatre on opening night in 1882 with G&S' “Iolanthe” on stage. The original print is in the Harvard Theatre Collection and possibly in other libraries as well. The pespective is from the rear of the Bijou balcony looking toward the stage with a full house present.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 8, 2010 at 3:24 pm

The Bijou is listed as the Bijou Dream Theatre in the 1927 Film Daily Yearbook. Shown as having 800 seats.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 11, 2011 at 1:53 pm

The 1918 Boston street directory lists the Bijou Dream Theatre at 545 Washington St., Keith’s Theatre at 547 Washington, and the Boston Theatre at 539 Washington St.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 30, 2011 at 8:57 am

This theatre is mapped on the wrong Washington Street (in Dorchester, instead of downtown Boston), far away from where it belongs.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 22, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Another downtown Boston venue which was closed due to the new 1943 fire regulations was the Steinert Hall, a concert hall on Boylston Street just a short walk south of the Colonial Theatre entrance. Unlike the Bijou it was not demolished and is still there, intact. A short while ago the local TV news on either Channel 5 or Channel 7 featured a brief visit to the Hall. The camera panned around inside (all intact, somewhat shabby, seats removed)and made the point that it could reopen if suitable fire exits are created. Someone Who Was There was inside it recently and said that with the construction of the new State Transportation Building, the lay of the land at the rear of the Hall is now different and perhaps suitable fire exits could be created there.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 28, 2014 at 3:18 pm

The July, 1911, issue of a magazine called New Boston featured a brief article with an encomium for B. F. Keith’s Bijou Theatre:

“During the month of June hundreds of visiting social workers, interested in the dangers and possibilities of the moving picture show, will be in Boston attending the various meetings of a half dozen or more charities conferences. In order to show these visitors the possibilities in the development of a moving picture theater, Mrs. Josephine Clement, the manager of B. F. Keith’s Bijou Theater, has arranged a program of special interest for the week of June 7-14. The two and one-half hour entertainment will consist of motion pictures, musical numbers, and the one act play or opera that are parts of the regular program, and will include also specially arranged illustrated talks on topics of social and civic interest, prepared by a local conference committee. A visit to the Bijou will illustrate how the liberality and broad-mindedness of Mr. Keith have raised the ordinary moving picture show to the level of refined entertainment without sacrificing life and sparkle to ‘uplift.’

“The Bijou Theater is not an educational institution in any sense of the word; its sole purpose is to amuse. The management believes, however, that a motion picture entertainment may be made both interesting and diverting without depicting the antics of hoodlums or the tawdry sentiment of the dime novel. During the past three years, the entire program at the Bijou has been developed from material supplied directly to the management, no agents having been employed.

“The regular program of motion pictures — always with one educational film — is varied by ten minute, illustrated, camera chats, one act dramas presented by the Bijou players, stereopticon views of subjects of contemporary interest, and high grade vocal and instrumental music. As a sample of the best development of the motion picture theater, visitors to Boston should not neglect the Bijou.”

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