James W. Smith

James Smith

James W. Smith opened one of the first box-houses in Seattle, the Bijou Theatre, on 3rd Avenue between Mill and Washington Streets, on July 1st of 1882. Though Smith's venue was a box-house, he was well-liked and known as one of the first theatre managers to maintain a house and entertainment which was suitable for women and families. In addition to his adherence to orderly professionalism, Smith also introduced a new kind of pricing in the Bijou. As of August 9th, Smith announced that tickets to Bijou performances would be free; income from food and drink sales alone were enough to finance performances (Elliot 12). For a time the Bijou was the finest theatre house in Seattle, and Smith prospered, building a new Bijou Theatre. At the same time as Smith's rise, another theatre manager, Sven Miller, found himself in great debt shortly after opening his own theatre, the Alhambra. Another theatre manager new to the city, J. P. Howe, bought the Alhambra, renovated it, and renamed it the Standard. Howe used the Standard as a temporary stop-gap for his own theatre business while he awaited completion of Frye's Grand Opera House. When Howe moved into the new Grand Opera, he sold the Standard to Smith, who shrewdly booked it solely with lecturers and traveling troupes, and thus kept it from competing with the new Bijou. Smith even obtained some of the acts left over from the bankruptcy of the Alhambra, booking Bobby Gaylor and his wife at the Bijou until September 12th. In February of 1887, Smith began to see some business competition when the Standard gained two new managers, Jack Connor and Fred Mackley. In April of that year, Smith sold the Bijou to Mr. Ritchie and H. Gordon of Chicago, though he stayed on as a manager of the theatre. Adding to Smith's success was the Inter-State Commerce Law, passed by Congress in 1887, which made it more difficult for troupes to travel from the east coast to the west, and dealt a considerable blow to east coast vaudeville syndicates' ability to operate on the west coast. In the same year, however, soon-to-be theatre magnate John Cort arrived in Seattle and began building his empire. Cort was able to book more acts than Smith, and his theatres promised more variety for their patrons. Cort even managed to prohibit Smith from posting advertisements on phone poles by affiliating himself with the Seattle Bill Posting Company. The Bijou began to struggle financially and was sold to Moore, Hunt and Company, who briefly kept on Smith as a manager before closing the Bijou Theatre for good on December 3rd of 1888 (Elliot 20).

Alternate Name: 
Performing Art Group Affiliations: 
Elliot, Eugene C. A History of Variety-Vaudeville in Seattle from the Beginning. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1944. Print.