Garden Theatre

124-26 East First Street,
Flint, MI

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Garden Theatre

The Bijou was Flint’s first vaudeville house and was developed by Col. Walter S. Butterfield. Col. Butterfield converted two storefronts in 1905 into a theater. It was remodeled and/or renovated in 1909, 1910 and 1913. A 1915 remodeling also gave it a new name, the Garden Theatre, which added motion pictures to the program.

Its seating capacity was expanded to 1,080 in 1917 and was converted to talkies with both Vitaphone and Movietone in 1929. The first talkie shown at the Garden Theatre was “The Wild Party” starring Clara Bow. It was torn down in 1939 to make way for the new Garden Theatre.

Contributed by Charles Van Bibber

Recent comments (view all 2 comments)

William Dakota
William Dakota on July 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I worked at the Garden theater when I returned to Flint from Hollywood, where I worked at Grauman’s Chinese theater. The Capitol was being renovated and was closed. The Garden was showing their films. I remember that “THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER” with Bob Mitchum and “MARTY,” the Oscar winner played there. The Garden was a small theater 950 seats. It was the only Art Deco decorated theater I had ever seen. And there was a small balcony. I had tried to get a job there when I was 15. But, I lasted a week until they found out my age. I worked for the showing of “CAN CAN,” a controversial picture for those days.

I used to go to the Garden quite often. They had teenage themed family films and Superman chapter plays. Earl Berry, was the manager. He used to have a box in the lobby with quizzes on movies. The winners would get a free pass to the theater. I won several times, and I never cheated. Earl used to park his car three or four blocks away on a side street, near where I lived. When I would see him we would walk to the theater. Of course he often let me in free. He would later work at the Capitol and become city manager for Butterfield theaters. And I would be his assistant after being usher, doorman, and the his assistant and then relief manager for all the Butterfield theaters. He started his career the same way. Although he loved movies, I just learned, or actually I knew, he never watched a movie he played, all the way through. His daughter at his Flint Memorial Service mentioned that to me. She couldn’t believe it either. I miss the old Flint. The best town to grow up in. I have written about it too. It is called THE GOSSIP COLUMNIST. I mention the Flint theaters.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 29, 2014 at 11:13 am

The July 14, 1917, issue of Motography had this item about the first Garden Theatre:

“Colonel W. S. Butterfield of Battle Creek has closed all contracts for the remodeling of the Garden Theater at Flint. Plans have been made by Architect John Eberson of Chicago.”

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