Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bijou Redux

The historic Bijou Theatre has just finished a renovation, and the last touch has been added this week: a replica of the original marqee was hung over the entrance. The theater is celebrating it's 100 Year Jubilee this month. Knoxville is lucky to have two historic theaters downtown.

This building has a long and colorful history. The structure has not changed much on the outside since its completion in 1817 as the Lamar House hotel and tavern. It became a hospital for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Union Brigadier William P. Sanders died of his wounds in one of the hotel rooms.

The building was transformed into the Bijou Theatre in 1909. George M. Cohen was the featured actor in the first performance of "Little Johnny Jones". Many famous performers graced the stage in subsequent years, including the Marx Brothers and jazz great Dizzy Gillespie.

For years after that the Bijou showed second-run movies, but then its lease expired. The building went into freefall in the 70s when it became an "adult movie" venue. There was talk of tearing it down - probably to build another parking lot, but it was saved at the last minute by the forrunner of our present Knox Heritage organization.

Of course, like every good theater, the Bijou is reported to be haunted. The East Tennessee Paranormal Society's report has photos, sound files, and a video of some suspicious activity.

The renovation of the Bijou has been another wonderful bonus for Knoxville.

5 comments:

Tanya said...

It's beautiful and timeless in black and white.

Hilda said...

What a grand history! I'm so glad for you all that it wasn't torn down. And I agree with Tanya!

K said...

I can remember seeing shows there growing up. I'll have to see one sometime when I'm home now that the restoration is finished. I like the B&W!

Bob Crowe said...

Bravo for Knoxville. I would have loved to attend some of those shows - the Marx Brothers, live! Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How it got into my pajamas I'll never know.

Babooshka said...

How come so many of these become "adult movie" fodder. Superbly angled and of course mono for the classic touch