Bijou Theatre

164 Westminster Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 4, 2011 at 7:23 am

The first three full-time downtown Providence movie theatres were these: Nickel, Scenic Temple, Bijou. There are others that did show films previously but they were sporadic showings, or in the case of the Lyric, short-lived. Movies were the main policy, though the Scenic Temple did include vaudeville acts. This ad from August 1, 1908 makes clear the growing trend: moving pictures are here to stay! They are not a mere innovation.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Here is a newspaper ad announcing the grand opening of the Bijou on March 28, 1908:

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm

In September 1922 this theatre was part of Rhode Island’s Paramount Week. Click to see the ad in Providence News, September 1, 1922, which contains a list of all participating theatres as well as the films shown that week.


Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 17, 2011 at 7:24 pm

In September 1920, this theatre was part of the celebration of the 3rd annual Paramount Week. CLICK HERE for all participating RI area theatres and the titles of the films shown.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 17, 2011 at 7:04 am

This theatre was part of the September 1923 6th Paramount Week. In this advertisement from the (Providence) Evening Tribune, September 1, 1923, we see a fascinating list of Rhode Island area theatres, many long-gone and long-forgoten, or even unheard of, as well as what they were showing during that week. Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand was one of the offerings here. CLICK HERE and move image to see all theatres.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 16, 2010 at 8:44 am

Item in Boxoffice magazine, August 22, 1953.

“Peter R. Nelson, one of the best-known and well-loved showmen in the state, recently died at the age of 76. Nelson was at various times owner of the old Auburn Theatre and the Park in Cranston. At one time he also was associated in the operation of the old Bijou in Providence and the Royal in Olneyville. Entering the theatre business in 1920, he operated the Auburn for three years before selling his interests to the Park Theatre Corp., of which he remained a partner until 1936 During the period from 1933 to 1936 he operated the Park. For more than 30 years he also operated a store in the Park Theatre building, retiring in 1951 because of his health.”

Marialivia on May 26, 2006 at 4:05 am

Good Morning! Yes, the “replacement” Howard Bldg. is still there. I retired from my job in Prov. in Oct. of 2003, but I seem to remember the “old days” much more clearly! I loved the OLD Arcade (before it was “spruced up” and miss the nice restaurants and tearooms). Thanks so much for the link — can’t wait to look at it! ML

Partymonster on May 25, 2006 at 8:01 pm

Hey Marialiva, The Howard bldg. is still in use today!
Perhaps a little off topic, but found some unbelieveable images of old RI postcards and photos here, including a nice one of Weyboseatt/Lowe’s State. Numerous other images and some theatres.

Marialivia on May 25, 2006 at 3:12 pm

Ah, success!! (It’s actually 6:08pm, not 3:08, however.) First, the postcards are wonderful! The later one, with Union Trust on the right side, is across from the Howard Building, where I worked for 4 years from 1950-54 — the building was irreparably damaged by one of the hurricanes (Hurricane Carol maybe?) Also, we hung out in Gibson’s (later McGarry’s) at street level. I was in error in a previous posting when I referred to the Prov. Gas Company being located at Westminster and Orange. Actually, it is at the corner of Weybosset and Orange, a block away. This Bijou was before my time — it’s the other one I remember, the one further west on Westminster. (The Howard Bldg. was at 171 Westminster and the Union Trust at 170. I believe these are still the addresses.) SO the Bijou would have been close to them at 164. Marialivia

Marialivia on May 25, 2006 at 3:08 pm

Gerald, I’ve been trying to respond ever since you posted your recent postcard! I finally resorted to contacting the site managers and was told to log out and then log on again. When I submit, nothing happens! This is a test — if it goes through, I’ll return and make my comments. Thank you again! Marialivia

Partymonster on May 25, 2006 at 9:49 am

Oh, I was faulting the postcard. It has that caption! It is oddly phrased.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 25, 2006 at 7:43 am

No, I intended from to mean not “taken from the Union Trust Building,” but “showing Westminster Street from the Union Trust Building” on. Perhaps badly phrased.

Partymonster on May 25, 2006 at 6:29 am

Gerald, re: “Here is a postcard from the 1920s”, that is indeed a great picture. However, I think it’s mislabeled. Since the Union Trust (now Federal reserve) is in the photo, it must be taken from another building.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 18, 2006 at 5:06 am

This old postcard of Westminster Street shows the Bijou Theatre on the right with a trolley in front.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on August 21, 2005 at 3:18 am

From The Providence Journal, June 20, 1925, in an article announcing the imminent closing of the 17-year-old Bijou:

“Since it was built in March, 1908, the Bijou seldom failed to yield a profit to its owners. Summers, always dull periods for theatres, failed for a number of years to affect the profit and loss column of the Bijou. But the last two summers have witnessed a falling off in patronage. This decline, according to Frank E. Page, for a number of years the manager of the Bijou and one of its builders, was caused by daylight saving, automobiles and stronger competition from the larger theatres which for some seats brought their price range within that of the Bijou.”

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 27, 2005 at 2:48 pm

Finally, I found the actual street address of the Bijou. It was 164 Westminster Street.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 26, 2005 at 6:50 am

Roger Brett wrote in Temples of Illusion about Spitz and Nathanson’s Bijou Theatre:

“With its unveiling on March 28, 1908, Abe and Max became the city’s first showmen to operate three theatres at once. This was the original Bijou at the corner of Westminster and Orange Streets, nestled against the big Union Trust Building. A rarity among Providence Theaters, it had only one name and policy, movies, from its inception until its closing in July of 1925.

“Like the short-lived Lyric, it was a converted store and took up the entire ground floor of a high-ceilinged wood framed building dating from the early 1800’s. It was razed in 1925 and the present [1976] concrete building, for many years occupied by a Waldorf Restaurant, immediately replaced it. (…) When it became a theater a huge false front was erected and the roof appeared to be flat when viewed from Westminster Street.

“In style, this façade can best be described as ‘High Coney Island.’ It was elaborate in the extreme, painted white, and contained 2000 light bulbs. These were not in a sign but were actually mounted on the woodwork and traced the curves, arches, and parapets in brilliant relief for the benefit of evening crowds. Grime, generated by the city’s traffic and chimneys in the early 1920s, forced the management to abandon white paint in favor of green and the Bijou lost some of its amusement park glamour towards the end.

“The Bijou sat 407, all on one level. From the beginning the theater was very popular and consequently very sucessful. Although the term was not in use at the time, the Bijou, along with the Nickel, were Providence’s first-run movie houses. Abe Spitz, improving upon Charlie Lovenberg’s initial booking arrangements, had the necessary contacts with the right people to insure getting the very best films for his theaters. The policy here, as at the Nickel, was always movies and illustrated songs, but no vaudeville.”

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 18, 2005 at 9:16 am

From “The Board of Trade Journal” of April, 1915:
“Too many theatres? Nothing of the sort! The Emery is turning away people at every performance. The "Hip,” with its very large auditorium, is packed to the doors. The Bijou and Nickel can’t accomodate those seeking to see “the movies,” neither can the Gaiety, the Scenic, the Union or the Casino. Out in OLneyville Spitz & Nathanson’s new theatre has all it can attend to."

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 18, 2005 at 2:36 am

A book called "Temples of Illusion,” by Roger Brett, was published in 1976. It is Mr. Brett’s detailed history of all the old downtown area theatres of Providence from 1871 to 1950. It includes numerous rare photos, a list of theatres with name changes, and a map to show exactly where they all were. The book is an invaluable resource and is owned by many libraries in the R.I. CLAN system. I found a copy for sale online and will use it as a reference for future postings.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 18, 2005 at 2:18 am

Here is a nice old postcard of the Bijou that appears on the Providence Public Library “Images of R.I.” site.

Marialivia on June 17, 2005 at 5:12 pm

I believe that the Providence Gas Company now occupies one corner of Westminster and Orange, and when I last worked downtown there was an office furniture dealer on the other. (Orange Street does not cross Westminster, the Arcade is across the street.) As i’ve mentioned before, I never knew there was a theater at this location. But then I wasn’t around back then! I did see the final days of the other Bijou though, just up the street from this one.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 17, 2005 at 1:13 pm

Construction of the Bijou as reported in “Board of Trade Journal,” March, 1908:
“The two story wooden building located at the corner of Westminster and Orange Streets is being remodelled for the Archie L. Sheppard Amusement Company, and when finished will be known as the ‘Bijou Theatre.’ Plans have been prepared by William R. Walker & Son and provide for a new iron front to be finished in white and gold. A stage will be erected and the second floor removed, the roof being supported by trusses.”

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 13, 2005 at 3:30 pm

The seating capacity for this Bijou was 407, according to the 1925 Providence Journal Almanac.

Marialivia on April 12, 2005 at 3:46 pm

As I look at the photo I’m hard-pressed to remember what’s in that spot now. I retired only 15 months ago and spent nearly every day of my adult life in downtown Providence, and I’m already forgetting what was where. The theater looks very ornate and would be so interesting to see now.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 12, 2005 at 10:27 am

Childs was there in my day too and I ate there several times. I believe their pancakes were legendary. I have another (low-quality) photo of the first Bijou, published in the Providence Journal in 1996. Here it is:
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