Bijou Theatre

368 Westminster Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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Not to be confused with an earlier Bijou Theatre, near the Arcade. That one closed in 1925.

This one was located further up Westminster Street. It had originally been called the Westminster Theatre, an early burlesque house. In a 1996 Providence Journal article on old Providence theatres, writer Michael Janusonis wrote that “…the hoity toities referred to it as ‘the sinkhole of depravity’” but that customers shorted that term to “The Sink”. This was up near Snow Street.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca

Recent comments (view all 21 comments)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on September 17, 2005 at 3:27 am

This theatre as the EMPIRE, twice:
About five weeks after the Empire Theatre a few blocks away at 260 Westminster Street shut down on February 29, 1948 to be soon demolished, a “New Empire Theatre” opened at 368 Westminster Street, according to newspaper ads. The address was given in the ads for the opening program on April 4, 1948. Now, 368 Westminster was the address of this theatre, which seemed to be given the name Empire once more. (It had previously been called the Empire from about 1915-1924.) This “New” Empire would itself shut down a year later on June 18, 1949, to be demolished in the winter of that year. In his book on Providence theatres, Temples of Illusion, Roger Brett does not mention this final renaming of the Westminster/Empire/Bijou, but Providence Journal newspaper ads, with addresses, give the evidence.

The first program for the “New” Empire on April 4, 1948 was Black Friday with Lugosi and Karloff and The Black Cat with Basil Rathbone and Alan Ladd. HERE IS THE AD for that opening day of the Bijou as the “New” Empire. The last advertised program for this theatre, on June 18, 1949, was Karloff and Lugosi in The Raven and Bela Lugosi in Murders in the Rue Morgue. This theatre and the previous Empire should have been named the Karloff Theatre or Lugosi Theatre. They constantly showed many of those films, which were even then oldies. Roger Brett wrote that in the last years of these two theatres, they were mostly frequented by a handful of people, often old derelicts, whose only interest was to escape the cold or to sleep. There was no real “culture of old films” then as there is more of today, though film-buff Brett expressed gratitude at all the cinema history he was able to see there. These films were booked because they were cheap and filled up the screen time. But it was no longer possible for run-down theatres like these, despite their characterful classic beauty, to survive.

History of “Empire” as a theatre name in Providence:
1) 410 Westminster Street (1899-1915) = Empire
2) 260 Westminster Street (1936-1948) = Low’s-Keith’s-Victory-Empire
3) 368 Westminster Street (1915-1924) = Westminster-Empire-Bijou-Empire (this theatre)
4) 368 Westminster Street (1948-1949) = Westminster-Empire-Bijou-Empire (this theatre again)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on September 17, 2005 at 10:12 am

As I wrote earlier, the Bijou Theatre closed as the Bijou on August 16, 1947. It then reopened as the “New” Empire on April 4, 1948. So the place was dark for about eight months in between. I don’t have any information as to whether the staff from the Empire at 260 Westminster moved over to the “New” Empire at 368.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on October 6, 2005 at 1:37 am

The film program for the last day of this theatre as the Bijou on August 16, 1947 was the The Beast With Five Fingers and That Way With Women. As I noted above, it reopened on April 4, 1948 as the “New” Empire. In 1949 it closed for good and was demolished.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 12, 2006 at 2:19 am

This FIRST PHOTO shows the Bijou around the year 1906 as the Westminster Theatre, a vaudeville-burlesque house commonly called “The Sink."
ThisSECOND PHOTO shows the Bijou, after being named the Empire for the second time, in preparations for demolition in 1950. The fire curtain carries promotions for local businesses including the renowned Harry’s Lunch/Deli.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on November 24, 2007 at 7:08 am

A newspaper ad for April 24, 1949 shows that the Empire (New Empire, formerly Bijou) was showing a double bill of Shoe Shine and About Face. Shoe Shine, the Italian neorealist tragedy by Vittorio De Sica, was hardly a typical film for this flea-pit theatre. Its pairing with About Face, a 1942 B-film with William Tracy and Joe Sawyer, was certainly very weird. Two months later, in June of 1949, the theatre would have its last programs (see above) and then be closed and soon demolished.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 11, 2010 at 4:41 am

Report on demolition of Empire Theatre (long known as the Bijou). Boxoffice Magazine, January 7, 1950:


“PROVIDENCE[/b] -The oldest theatre in this city started falling under tha hammers and crowbars of a wrecker, as the Empire, long a landmark, passed into memory. Abe Spitz, who took over operation of the house in 1900, could not furnish the exact date in 1870 when the house opened, but he mentioned that it and the old Providence Opera House, which long since passed into oblivion, were at one time the only two theatres in the city.

“Opened originally as the Westminster, it featured old-time burlesque and ‘traveling musicals, minstrels and the like.’ When Spitz took over at the turn of the century, he named the house the Bijou.

“‘Cheri’ was one of the last musical revues to play the Bijou. That was in March 1930.

“Shortly after that Spitz converted it into a second-run house and changed the name to the Empire. It was under this title that the theatre operated until about six months ago when it was shuttered for good.

“Advertising recently appeared in local newspapers offering ‘over 1000 seats,’ from which generations of theatregoers had watched melodramas, burlesque, and films. The seats were snapped up by local sports arenas and the Salvation Army.”

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 22, 2010 at 3:15 am

Preference shown to Bijou over Metropolitan in in distributor bookings.
“Testimony on Providence Metropolitan is Taken"
Boxoffice magazine on June 10, 1939 ran this long piece on the Metropolitan Theatre, dealing with an anti-trust suit in film bookings, and preference shown to the nearby Bijou in the supplying of films by distributors.
View link

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Updated link on this last entry.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 24, 2011 at 6:37 am

A typical live Burlesque program at the Empire (a.k.a. Bijou, Westminster) in 1929:
NEWSPAPER AD from February 16, 1929.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 24, 2015 at 5:58 am

Here is a photo of the Bijou Theatre taken in 1950 after it had closed. From 1948 to 1949 it was renamed the Empire or “New Empire” after the earlier Empire (Keith’s, Victory) closed in 1948. BIJOU RENAMED EMPIRE, 1950 PHOTO

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