Bijou Theatre

Primary Name: 
Alternate Name: 
Place Type: 
3rd Avenue and Washington Street
Postal Code: 
98 104

One of the first box-houses in Seattle, was the Bijou Theatre, opened by James W. Smith on 3rd Avenue between Mill and Washington Streets, on July 1st of 1882. Though the Bijou was a box-house, the quality of entertainment to be found there was improved from other similar venues in town, and the crowd there was mostly orderly. Jake Willis acted as both stage manager and performer at the Bijou, and was supported by a three-man orchestra on piano, violin, and cornet. Musical acts such as cornet of Charles Nicholson and the singing of Grace Willis and Miss Nita Earle were interspersed with dancing from cloggers John and Lou Cook, acrobatics from Richard and Evans, and comedic sketches from Harry Elmore. In addition to his adherence to orderly professionalism, Smith also introduced a new kind of pricing in the Bijou theatre. 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). By December Smith brought in a new troupe on steamship from San Francisco and announced a new programme each week. For a time the Bijou was the finest theatre house in Seattle, and Smith prospered, building a new Bijou Theatre and rennovating the saloon into a beer parlour, the boxes into apartments, and the stage into an ice rink (Elliot 15).

In April of 1887 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, which passed through Congress in 1887, 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 so his theatres promised more variety for their patrons. Cort even managed to prohibit Smith from posting advertisements on phone polls 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).

Open Date: 
July 1 1882
Close Date: 
December 3 1888
Performing Art Groups: 
Elliot, Eugene C. A History of Variety-Vaudeville in Seattle from the Beginning. Seattle : University of Washington Press, 1944. Print.