368 Westminster Street,
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Previous Names: Westminster Theatre, Bijou Theatre
Not to be confused with the Empire Theatre at 410 Westminster Street or 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 when it opened around 1870. It became an early burlesque house. On August 26, 1915 it was renamed Empire Theatre. It was later renamed Bijou Theatre. In 1948-1949 it was renamed Empire Theatre again and was soon closed.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Report on demolition of Empire Theatre (long known as the Bijou). Boxoffice Magazine, January 7, 1950:
[b]WRECKING CREW TEARS DOWN EMPIRE AT PROVIDENCE
“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.”
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.
Updated link on this last entry.
A typical live Burlesque program at the Empire (a.k.a. Bijou, Westminster) in 1929:
NEWSPAPER AD from February 16, 1929.
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
The Westminster became the Empire on August 26, 1915. Later it would become the Bijou, before reverting in its last months, 1948-1949, to Empire once again.