Birmingham Theater

1700 3rd Avenue N,
Birmingham, AL 35203

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Birmingham Theater

The theater that closed and was demolished in 1950 as the Birmingham Theater had a rich and varied history both as a cinema and as a vaudeville house dating back to the building’s opening around 1890 as the Birmingham Auditorium, a general civic facility located on 3rd Avenue N. between 17th Street N and 18th Street N, about a block way from where the still-surviving Alabama Theatre was later built. In 1898, it became the Bijou Theatre and became a venue for prominent touring vaudeville companies and major performers of that era, including George M. Cohan.

In 1915, the theater closed for two years, reopening as the Birmingham outpost of the Loew’s vaudeville circuit, and now known as Loew’s Bijou Theatre, with a large electric sign on the roof proclaiming Loew’s Vaudeville. In that era, Loew’s even brought circus and animal acts to the theater as well as film.

In 1927, Loew’s moved its operations over to a nearby former Masonic Hall that had been converted to a theater, proclaiming it now Loew’s Temple Theatre. The Bijou Theatre then became the Birmingham home for the Pantages circuit; that company gutted out the theater and remodeled it, giving an entirely new facade. In succeeding years (certainly by 1941), newspaper advertisements referred to it also as the Pantage Theatre and there is at least one photo showing the “s” at the end painted over, suggesting that at some point it ceased to be a Pantages operation.

Paramount eventually assumed control of the theatre and operated through its subsidiary, Wilby-Kincey, until about 1946, when it became an independent operation. At that point it became known as the Birmingham Theater and served a predominantly African-American audience. It was razed in 1950; the site then became a parking lot.

Contributed by Christopher Walczak

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

CSWalczak on September 29, 2012 at 10:06 am

This webpage includes pictures of the Birmingham Theater under its various names (as well as some of other Birmingham, Alabama theaters). A picture of the theater, with the “s' in the Pantages vertical blacked out can be seen here, and here is a picture of the theater as the Birmingham. Note how the theater went from having an infamous “colored balcony” to a theater “exclusively” for African Americans.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 29, 2015 at 2:16 am

A master list of buildings designed by Birmingham architect D. O. Whilldin, compiled by Thomas M. Shelby, lists the Pantages Theatre as one of his projects from 1927. However, as B. Marcus Priteca pretty much had a lock on theater designs for Pantages, it’s most likely that he designed the 1927 remodeling and that Whilldin acted as supervising architect.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 12, 2018 at 9:13 am

The March 24, 1917 issue of The Moving Picture World had this item about plans for the extensive remodeling of the Bijou for Loew’s:

“To Remodel Bijou for Loew Chain.

“Birmingham, Ala.– — E. A. Schiller, of the Schiller amusement company, and Marcus Loew, of the Loew vaudeville circuit, will in the near future let contracts to remodel the Bijou theater, which will include the changing of the theater front, a new addition, remodeled lobby, additional fire escapes, rest rooms on each floor for ladies, lounging and reading rooms, etc. The house will be redecorated throughout, a new ventilating system and additional seats installed, and additional stage equipment provided, with a screen of modern design for moving pictures. ”

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