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Who Remembers…The Bijou Theater?

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Here is another installment in our Who Remembers? series. You can browse previous articles by using the search bar on the right. These articles are strolls down memory lane. In some cases the buildings, but new businesses have replaced them. In other instances, the buildings or even the properties have been razed. Instead of a building, it may be a TV show, personality, or commercial that no one longer exists. Either way, it can’t stop us from taking the Memory Lane stroll!

As always we would rather this be a discussion. No one knows this area better than those who grew up here! Please, leave constructive criticism, feedback, and corrections. We’d love to hear your anecdotes. Please share!


350 Main Street; 1922: The American Building
I saw many a flick at the Bijou Theater on 350 Main Street, Fairhaven, during its almost decade and a half lifespan. I recall there being quite a buzz and the word-of-mouth was that you didn’t have to drive to Dartmouth – Cinema 140 and AMC at the Mall – and pay outrageous prices for movie tickets and concessions, but you could stay in Fairhaven and pay “retro-prices.” Tickets were $2.00 and all items from the concession stand were $1.50.

Madness.

Common local theater interior circa 1915 (Spinner Publications)

While most people today remember the venue as the Bijou Theater, the building’s history stretches back to 1922 when the building was erected and dubbed the “American” building.”

The following year on January 12, the American Theater opened taking on the building’s name. The proprietor then was one E.D. Davenport who would also run the Rialto Theater on Weld Street when it opened in 1927. The theater’s opening night selections were three silent movies “Fun From the Press,” “Golf,” and “the drama “Sonny.”

The timeline grows a bit dark at this point. It’s difficult to tell if the theater fell into disrepair or just wasn’t popular enough to keep doing what it was doing. The next blip on the historical radar is when Harold J. Shore renovates the venue and re-opens in May of 1934 as the “New American Theater.”

Second Fire, Catholic Legion of Decency list, and the Oxford Theater
It is short lived however, and ends up under new ownership and re-opens again on October 11, 1935 as the Keith Theater. Keith’s was a popular spot for years to come showcasing a double feature with a cartoon intermission for the price of admission: a whopping 25 cents. Popcorn and candy? Are you sitting? 5 cents. I think I feel lightheaded.

Get a load of these prices at a typical movie theater in the 1950s! (Spinner Publications)

On November 13, 1946 a 2-alarm fire caused by faulty wiring causes damage to not only Keith’s Theater, but many of the other tenants, which history lists as Keith’s Spa, the American Bowling Alleys, Martin’s Market, Pacheco’s Package Store, Melvin Press, and Pimental’s Pool Parlor. After repair, the theater opens as the “New Keith.”

In 1959, the Catholic Church had heavy influence in the area. Some of you dinosaurs may recall, the archaic Blue Laws, like the one that didn’t allow businesses to be open on Sunday.

Well, the church at this time had what was called Catholic Legion of Decency list. They knew what was best for you and banned those movies that they though would make little Johnny grow hairy palms. Curiously, some Disney Movies made the list, like “The Hound Who Thought He Was a Racoon.” “Porgy and Bess,” a 1959 musical based on a George Gershwin opera was another that made the list and was banned from being featured at the Bijou. People complained and the banned was lifted.

A second fire, suspected to be arson, occurs two decades later in 1965 forcing to the theater to close. We have a musical chairs theme…but with businesses! The theater would not return to showing films until 1972 when it re-opened as the Oxford Cinema under Weber Torres. In 1980 it was sold to Bijou Realty.

The Bijou Theater as we remember it!
The Bijou as most of us remember it, was opened after Dan Shea bought it in 1984. When Shea first opened he focused on independent and foreign films, as well as a few plays. Inside, there were hand-painted murals on a leatherette background featuring morning glories and stage walls had red velour – pretty posh!

Bijou Entrance

Shea got out of the theater business in 1990 when Evie Baum and an unknown partner took over.

They showcased, cherry-picked popular movies like Repo Man, Ghost, Silence of the Lambs, Wedding Singer, Under the Stairs, and even a few plays. A particular favorite of “townies” was the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

While the theater was an old-fashioned venue, the 20 speaker Dolby Digital Surround Sound System reminded you that it was certainly updated. They had genuine ambitions to make the Bijou a success story and a premier entertainment destination – which it was for almost 15 years.

Sadly, on May 9, 2004, the doors closed and stayed closed up to today. An inability for one screen to generate enough was cited as the reason for closing.

The last time I heard anything about the Bijou was when it was listed as “For Sale” in 2009: $375,000 would get you the theater, 3 store fronts abutting Main Street and the 15 studio apartments.

R.I.P. Bijou Theater (1984-2004)


About Joe Silvia

When Joe isn't writing, he's coaching people to punch each other in the face. He enjoys ancient cultures, dead and living languages, cooking, benching 999#s, and saving the elderly, babies and puppies from burning buildings. While he enjoys long walks on the beach, he will not be your alarm clock, because he's no ding-a-ling.

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13 comments

  1. My buddy Alan Andre and I worked part time for Weber back in 70 or 71 taking all the charred seats and such out of the theater as he was gutting the place and rebuilding. Talk about coming home a sooty mess! Alan ended up taking one of the new apartments.

  2. i lived on beach st right behind rolands tire as a kid and i could walk to the Bijou and watch a movie for cheap with my friends. i hope in the future someone can take that space and use it again for its intention, music venue like house of blues style, another movie theater, play theater, or just clean it up and use it for a, inexpensive nostalgic movie theater that just plays classic movies for older crowds to relive their younger days. either way you loook at it, its just sitting there doing nothing and i think it will be a valuble asset to the area if it was operated correctly and to the demand of the market for entertainment.

  3. I think there is a lesson here… that a small independent business cannot compete on price alone. Offer a unique product and service and price it in such a way that allows for the business to succeed with a moderate but definite profit for its investors. Otherwise, the race to the bottom leads only to the graveyard.

  4. They had a special movie and costume party the year of the Tylenol murders (?80-81?), when Halloween was pretty much cancelled. My little sister and I went and watched The Phantom Tollbooth, and our picture was in the S-T, all dressed up. I also saw some great movies there, including Dances with Wolves. What a great spot!

  5. Saw many a movie there in the 1990’s, my favorite of which was Dumb and Dumber.

  6. Dan Shea owned it during the ’90s when they were showing the second run $1.00 movies we remember going to see when we were teenagers, Joe.

  7. I remember when it was the Keith’s theater. You would go through a side door into the variety store next door to by you candy at intermission.

  8. I remember when it was the Keith’s theater. You would go through a side door into the variety store next door to buy your candy at intermission.

  9. Always wished I could by the place and turn into a dinner theatre. Based the Daily menu on whatever was playing that day. It’s to bad when things like this go under especially when there are so many memories attached to it.

  10. always looked forward to visiting my Voo Voo Frank Silvia on 19 Windsor St. with my Aunts. Use to cut through a lot going to see a movie. Go by just to reminise and there is a house on that lot now but I still see it empty lot and walking through with my Aunt who was my age. going to the show

  11. I would love to buy it.

    • The Shea’s opened the Bijou in 1990 and it ran under the Shea’s ownership until 2004 . The opening movie was Ghost and the lines typically wrapped around the building every weekend. One screen, seating capacity of 550 people, sold out just about each weekend on a Friday and Saturday night.

  12. I always went to the Capitol theater on Acushnet Ave. every weekend in the later 40’s, paid a dime for 2 full features, news,cartoons & coming attractions. AND– you could stay & watch them all over again, if you wanted too, and your Mom didn’t come and drag you out because you didn”t come home on time!!hehe!!
    also loved going to Baylies Square to watch the vaudeville shows!! The gent who played the organ there
    also played in my Dad”s orchestra once in a while back in the 30’s & 40’s!! I think his name was Pat Neely.

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