Bijou Theatre

803 S. Gay Street,
Knoxville, TN 37902

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tntim on March 15, 2023 at 7:21 pm

Joe Vogel, yes, I got ahead of myself and typed the k and l backwards in Edward Okel’s name, not only once but twice. My apologies to Mr. Okel.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on March 12, 2023 at 10:20 am

Regarding the Knoxville Bijou’s architect, refer to the photo of the Grand Theatre, Montgomery Alabama which lists the architectural firm as Okel and Cooper. That firm operated in Montgomery at least into the 1930s. An article in the Montgomery Advertiser, Sunday, December 11, 1910, page 22 includes this information: “Recent theatres erected from their plans and under their supervision, are The Lyric, at Atlanta; The Bijou, at Knoxville, Tenn.; The Bijou, at Nashville; The Moble, (sic!, should read Noble, q.v.) Anniston, Ala.; The Liberty, Savannah; and the Grand, Montgomery.”

As an aside, in the same article, Okel and Cooper are also credited with designing the Akin Hotel, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 11, 2023 at 3:36 pm

Now we’ve got three versions of the architect’s name, two of which must be wrong. Our page for the Enzor has it as Edward Okel, which I’m sure is right. Googling Edward Oakley brings up mostly references to an early 19th Century British architect, and Edward Olek doesn’t bring up any architects at all. Googling Edward Okel brings quite a few period references from reliable sources. Okel designed at least two other houses for Jake Wells' Bijou Amusement Co., in Atlanta and Mobile, in 1908, so it’s not surprising that he’d have designed the Knoxville house too.

tntim on March 11, 2023 at 11:11 am

I found an article from the March 12, 1908, edition of the Knoxville Sentinel which reported that the architect was Edward Olek of Montgomery, AL. Olek also designed the Enzor Theatre in Troy, AL. and the Grand Opera House in Montgomery, AL.

tntim on September 7, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Two “businessmen” from Jacksonville, FL leased the Bijou in March of 1965 and reopened the theatre on April 17,1965. This was the beginning of the porno days of the Bijou which lasted until 1975. the name was changed overnight on September 8,1966 to the Bijou Art Theater with no fanfare or mention of any change in operation. I have posted the ad on 4-14-65 in the photo section.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 5, 2018 at 2:31 pm

This PDF is a masters thesis, dated 1976, by Robert A. Ellis of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. It is titled “The Bijou Theatre: 1909-1949” and has quite a bit of detail about the Bijou and its history.

Ellis gives the name of the Bijou’s architect only as Oakly of Montgomery Alabama. The only other reference to this architect I can find on the Internet is an item from the July 4, 1909 issue of The American Architect which again refers to him only as “Architect Oakley, Montgomery.” Perhaps he went by only the one name professionally, like Liberace.

Interestingly enough, the 1909 item said that Oakley had prepared plans for the renovation of the Noble Street Theatre in Anniston, Alabama, as a ground-floor house.

rivest266 on September 4, 2018 at 4:25 am

Reopened as an adult cinema called Bijou Art from September 9th, 1966-1975.

DavidZornig on April 30, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Circa 1950 photo added courtesy of the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound Facebook page. Lyric Theatre marquee behind the bus.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on October 7, 2013 at 7:11 pm

MATT just added a picture, ad.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on January 17, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Will Rogers,Seeingl I am told I am a very very distant relative.

SeeingI on January 11, 2011 at 8:55 am

It bears mentioning that during the late 90s / early 2000s there was a resident theatre company operating out of the Bijou, which performed such shows as Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Ain’t Misbehavin', etc. It was a thrill to perform on this historic stage which has seen luminaries such as the Marx Brothers, Lily Pons, JP Sousa, Will Rodgers and more!

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on November 24, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Nice story,Micivor.

fergusmacivor on November 24, 2010 at 2:57 pm

As schoolboys in the early 1950s a close pal and I often walked across Gay Street Bridge to see movies at the Bijou. Our all-time favorite was Lure of the Wilderness (1952), starring the always beautiful Jeffrey Hunter (we went back for this one a second time). The Bijou regularly held over films after their initial runs at the majestic Tennessee just up the street. Admissions here were cheaper, and for watching movies we appreciated the Bijou’s comfortable elegance over the Tennessee’s oppressive grandeur. I’ll always remember the sight of that forlorn dark brown stairway climbing up the exterior of the north side to a second balcony reserved for blacks. It was, though, probably the only place in the city where blacks could gain access to Hollywood studio product.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on July 21, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Now Showing Oct 20 1964 at the BIJOU is a double feature.Jim Hutton and Connie Frances in"LOOKIN' FOR LOVE" and Paul Newman in “THE PRIZE”

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on April 26, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Chuck 1231.I don’t know how you do it. thanks.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on April 26, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Playing on Friday night Nov.10 {no year given} LASH LaRue in “GHOST TOWN RENEGADES” Admission at the BIJOU was 15 and 25 cents. They were starting a new serial. and always “FRESH POPCORN”

michaelkaplan on July 31, 2009 at 2:43 pm

As Will mentioned above, the Bijou recently received a new marquee and vertical sign. Both are poor designs. The marquee looks like three commercial retail signs bolted together at the corners. A view of that beautiful entry arch (in the image above) has been obliterated. It’s doubtful any architect was involved, and astonishing that this design made it through what is usually a very demanding downtown historic preservation process. As an architect, I’m sure a fine design could have been produced within the budget, but, alas, it seems like no one tried ..

View link

LilianTuckerFan on February 21, 2009 at 5:44 am

I found reference to an additional owner for the Bijou (a tabloid musical comedy house), as well as the Gay (a motion picture house) and the Grand (a vaudeville house), on whose name I did not see mentioned on CinemaTreasures. A paragraph in The New York Clipper (oldest American theatrical newspaper) said that Fritz Staub and Jake Wells had sold their Bijou Theatre to Frank Rogers and associates of Knoxville around 1913-1914. Local Knoxville newspapers probably carry more details about this transaction as well as what other theatres this businessman may have owned or controlled. Anyone know more about this Knoxville businessman?

I stumbled across this man, as well as several other references to “Frank Rogers (mgr)”, in NY Clipper while helping someone to find an actor named “Frank Rogers” who was born 1880 as Francis Rudolphus in San Francisco (to Anglo-Irish parents). Most of the other Frank Rogers references I found in NY Clipper were to a “Negro ventriloquist” in vaudeville.

michaelkaplan on February 19, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Here are comments about the Bijou I recently wrote for the (now defunct) Knoxville Voice:

While the restored Tennessee Theatre, our grand movie palace, has hosted the bigger events, the honor of being the house of choice for music lovers goes to the Bijou. The theater opened its doors in 1909 and, over the years, served as a vaudeville hall, an opera house and movie theater. Its classical interior design was typical of the period, copying the elegant “legitimate” theaters on and near Broadway that were venues for vaudeville as well as dramatic plays and musical productions.

Attending a performance in this 700-seat gem is a visual and aural treat. Sightlines are near-perfect – wherever you sit, you never feel too far off to the side or distant from the stage. At the Tennessee Shines show, I sat in the last row of the balcony, just in front of the gallery seats, and was astonished when, at the prompting of ON THE AIR and APPLAUSE signs, the curtain lifted upward to reveal the stage. It seemed like I was very close to the performers. Because of its size and configuration (it’s practically a cube), the acoustic quality of the place is superb. String quartet or string band, Sweeney Todd or a rock group, everything sounds right, not too loud or soft. By design, the room itself is a fine musical instrument.

What I like most about the Bijou, though, is its mustiness, its not having been over-restored, just modestly renovated (by local architects Brewer Ingram Fuller between 1998 and 2005) to be functional, clean and comfortable. A new roof, fresh paint, clean carpet and upholstery can do wonders. A building whose age and quality is seen and felt, the skill and craftsmanship of its builders and thoughtful good taste and expertise of its unknown architects are embedded in every surface and space.

shoeshoe14 on February 10, 2009 at 10:58 pm

This theatre was mentioned in today’s New York Times, Arts Section in relation to the Big Ears Festival. This theater it says, has 700 seats and is managed and operated by Mr. Capps’s company, AC Entertainment as well as the nearby Tennessee Theatre. The author says the Bijou is one of the best sounding rooms he’s experienced in the country. Apparently, he hasn’t been elsewhere.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on February 2, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Well, I’ll be interested in hearing thoughts/reviews from others interested in the Bijou. The new vertical sign is an approximation of one of the Bijou’s previous signs. The new marquee is, (sigh) also, very much an “approximation” of one of the old theater’s previous signs. It is nice to have real theatrical signage on the front of the building. Really it is. And signs are expensive. Good looking signs are VERY expensive. It’s a step in the right direction. Keep in mind that Knoxville is extremely fortunate to have retained two grand theatres. Both the Bijou and the Tennessee are looking better than they have in decades.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on January 27, 2009 at 11:59 am

The Bijou just got its new vertical sign and marquee. Looking good!

kencmcintyre on January 21, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Here is an undated photo of the Bijou:

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 19, 2008 at 10:50 pm

Lost Memory’s link above apparently supersedes the link I put up on February 19, 2006. Although the old link still works, LM’s new link contains all the same information, plus more, and larger versions of the old link’s photos to boot.

Also, the new link presents what is purported to be photographic evidence of a ghost at a urinal. How cool is that?!

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 22, 2007 at 8:03 am

An August 2006 photograph of the Bijou Theatre: