Bijou Theatre

423 4th Avenue North,
Nashville, TN 37219

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Bijou Theatre

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Built on the site of the former Adelphi/Grand Opera House, the Bijou Theatre was the Nashville flagship of the Bijou Amusement Company, one of the first African American theatre chains in the south. It was opened September 14, 1904. For close to forty years, the theatre featured both live performance and film until it was razed in 1957 for construction of the new Municipal Auditorium.

Contributed by Jack Coursey

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 1, 2010 at 4:46 am

An article headed Final Days of Old Nashville Bijou appeared in Boxoffice of August 10, 1957. It has a brief history of the theater, and some information about the Bijou Amusement Company.

The Bijou circuit served African-American audiences, but was not African-American owned. It was founded by Milton Starr, and various members of the Starr family were involved with its management for several decades. The circuit was quite extensive, operating theaters from the Carolinas all across the south and into Texas and Oklahoma. At its peak there were more than fifty houses in the chain. The headquarters was in Nashville.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on July 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Thanks Joe,no wonder I do not remember it as I was born just a month before it closed.Thanks again for the info.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on August 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm

According to the Nahville Tennesean the Adelphi/Grand Opera House was built in 1850 and burned down in 1902 as stated above.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on August 4, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Thanks Joe and Tlsloews.

DavePrice
DavePrice on September 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I have been in the Bijou building twice: once unsuccessfully to see a stage show and once after the theater was closed and awaiting demolition. My father and I went to see the show with friend who knew Alfred Starr and we thought we could get in but after awhile one of the employees came and told us we had to leave as they had been unable to reach Mr Starr and their orders had been to admit no whites without his okay. Of course the theater was darkened on this occasion and we couldn’t seee very much of the interior, but when I went back into the closed building I could see what was left of a box seat up near the stage. I also went up to the office where the files had been emptied and there were many papers on the floor which I now wish I had looked through.

DavePrice
DavePrice on January 16, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I just happened to run across a 1916 trade mag with mention of Nashville’s Bijou (recently opened) and Elite (I assume the one on Fifth Ave.

Try this link: http://books.google.com/books?id=1qEbAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA489&lpg=PA489&dq=%22miniature+circus%22+nashville&source=bl&ots=q9nG4E5FpY&sig=RZCwnLFsLaeuOj_UEzjcK1zIcWY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=wWIUT9y1AcSstgem2fmNAg&sqi=2&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=%22miniature%20circus%22%20nashville&f=false

seywhut
seywhut on December 27, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Bessie Smith played here in 1927. There’s a great story of her chasing Eggie Pitts down the street in a mammy costume.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 27, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Linkrot repair: The 1957 Boxoffice article about the closing of the Bijou can now be found at this link.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 7, 2015 at 4:04 pm

The Nashville Bijou was originally built for Jake Wells' Richmond, Virginia, chain the Bijou Theatre Company. Beginning in the mid-1910s, Wells gradually retrenched to his Virginia holdings, selling off houses throughout the south to other firms. The Nashville Bijou was one of several theaters that were picked up by the Starr Family’s Bijou Amusement Company.

The September 15, 1904, issue of the Richmond Times Dispatch ran this item about the opening of the Nashville house the previous night:

“ANOTHER WELLS SUCCESS

“Opening of the Nashville Bijou Theatre Last Night.

“Manager McKee, of the Bijou Theatre, received a message from Manager Jake Wells, at Nashville, Tenn., last night, in reference to the opening of the new Bijou Theatre at that place. The message stated that the opening was entirely satisfactory, and that the house was crowded with an enthusiastic audience to see Walter Edwards and his fine company in a revised edition of the ‘Sign of the Four.’ Mr. Allan Jenkins, formerly of this city, and well known here as a newspaper and theatrical man, is the local manager of the Nashville house. The new Birmingham theatre, of the Wells circuit, was opened most successfully on Monday night, with the ‘Midnight Marriage Company.’ Mr. Mortie Seamon, of this city, is the local manager of this theatre for Manager Wells. The new theatre here will be ready for the opening Thanksgiving week. The attraction has not yet been settled upon, but Manager McKee said last night that one of the best of attractions would be offered. Manager Wells will be back in Richmond about Saturday.”

During this period when Jake Wells was rapidly expanding his chain, the new theaters being built for the Bijou Theatre Company, including the Nashville Bijou, were designed by architect Fuller Claflin of the New York firm the Amalgamated Theatre Building Association.

JudithStarrWolff
JudithStarrWolff on July 23, 2015 at 12:37 pm

I am doing research about my grandfather Milton Starr. He owned this theater for a long time. The comments above are very interesting. I’d like more information if anyone cares to comment further. Thanks !

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