Bijou Theatre (Boston)

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Bijou Theatre
Bijou Opera House, Bijou Dream Theatre, B.F. Keith's Bijou Theatre, RKO Bijou Theatre, Intown Theatre
BijouTheatre Boston.jpg
Bijou interior, 19th century
Address 545 Washington Street
Boston, Massachusetts
United States
Operator Emerson College
Opened December 11, 1882 (1882-12-11)
Closed 1943
Years active 1882-1943
Architect Bradlee, Winslow & Wetherell

The Bijou Theatre (1882–1943) in Boston, Massachusetts, occupied the second floor of no. 545 Washington Street near today's Theatre District.[1][2] Architect George Wetherell designed the space, described by a contemporary reviewer as "dainty."[3][4] Proprietors included Edward Hastings, George Tyler, and B.F. Keith.[5][6] Around the 1900s, it featured a "staircase of heavy glass under which flowed an illuminated waterfall."[7] The Bijou "closed 31 December 1943 and was razed in 1951."[8] The building's facade still exists.[9]


The building was constructed in 1836 as The Lion Theatre, and in 1839 was renamed The Melodeon. In 1878, the name was changed to The Gaiety. It was also named The Mechanics Institute, Melodeon Varieties, and the New Melodeon. The Gaiety was purchased by George H. Tyler (who also ran The Park Theatre) and by Frederick Vokes, who had renovated the Gaiety, and wanted to rename it the Bijou Theatre. Vokes would relinquish his share, and Tyler would replace him with E.H. and T.N. Hastings. The Bijou officially opened on December 18, 1882.[10]

The Bijou[edit]

Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe at the Bijou, 1884

The new theatre opened on December 18, 1882 with the Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert (Gilbert and Sullivan) comic opera Iolanthe. By September 27, 1886, the theatre became owned by B.F. Keith and George R. Batcheller.[10] On March 24, 1894, Keith opened a theatre next the Bijou named "B.F. Keith’s Theatre". In 1901, it was renamed the "Bijou Opera House". The Bijou would later be named "Bijou Dream" when it became a movie house in 1927, and also became known as Intown sometime after that.[11]

The Bijou was a distinct theatre for a couple of reasons. The Bijou was the first theatre in the United States to be elementarily lighted by electricity, which Thomas Edison personally installed and supervised.[10][12] It also was unique for the fact that it did not have a traditional exit to the outside. Since it was on the second floor, the exits led to the lobbies of the two surrounding theatres, the B.F. Keith Theatre (later the Normandie and Laffmovie) and the newer Keith Memorial (later known as the Savoy and is now the Boston Opera House). After the tragic 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire (492 deaths), Boston heavily enforced new fire laws, and since the Bijou did not have adequate exits, it was forced to close.[11]

The Bijou was razed to the orchestra and stage floors, which became the roof of the stores below. Most of what remained of the Bijou building was demolished in 2008, but Emerson College bought the property and plans to make the Bijou and Paramount Theatre into theatres and dormitories.[11]


Variant names[edit]

  • Bijou Opera House[13]
  • Bijou Dream Theatre[14]
  • B.F. Keith's Bijou Theatre[8]
  • RKO Bijou Theatre[8][15]
  • Intown Theatre[8]


  1. ^ Boston Almanac and Business Directory. 1887, 1891, 1894
  2. ^ Charles Baxton (1884), Boston and the Back Bay, Boston, Mass: Reed & Lincoln 
  3. ^ Richard Herndon (1892), Boston of To-Day, Boston: Post Pub. Co., OCLC 4430662 
  4. ^ U.S. Dept. of the Interior. National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form: [ Boston Theatre Multiple Resource Area]. 1979. Retrieved 2012-03-16
  5. ^ Historical review of the Boston Bijou Theatre: with the original casts of all the operas that have been produced at the Bijou, Boston: Edward O. Skelton, 1884 
  6. ^ "A High-Class Motion Picture House." Photo-Era v.27, no.2, August 1911
  7. ^ Boston Opera House. The Boston Opera House Site. Retrieved 2012-03-16
  8. ^ a b c d Frank Cullen. Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America. NY: Routledge, 2004
  9. ^ Adams House Annex, no.543-547 Washington Street, Boston, USA. "Facade built 1858-1850; interior completely remodeled 1881-82." Boston Redevelopment Authority. (1987), Midtown cultural district plan: historic building survey 
  10. ^ a b c
  11. ^ a b c
  12. ^
  13. ^ Wilson's annual reference book ... Greater Boston, [Boston?], 1904 
  14. ^ Clark's Boston Blue Book, 1909
  15. ^ Life, Jan. 10, 1938

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°21′15.52″N 71°3′44.26″W / 42.3543111°N 71.0622944°W / 42.3543111; -71.0622944