Bijou Theatre

5 Prichard Street,
Fitchburg, MA 01420

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 8, 2018 at 1:15 am

Issues of the Fitchburg Sentinel from late 1906 carry ads for the Bijou Theatre with the notation “Formerly Whitney Opera House” indicating the period of the name change. Thus the now-vanished “Old Theatres of Fitchburg” web site was mistaken in saying the name change took place in 1904. The site was also wrong about the Whitney opening in 1880. The 1882 New York Clipper Annual gave October 20, 1881 as the date the Whitney Opera House was dedicated.

The original entrance to the Whitney Opera House was on Main Street, but in 1909 the Bijou’s entrance was moved to Prichard Street. Plans were noted in the December 7, 1908, issue of the Sentinel:

“The rear of the store now occupied by Mr. Batchelder will be used in providing a new stairway and entrance to the Bijou theater, which will be 10 feet in width and connect with the end of the main lobby of the house. Upon the completion of the improvements the main entrance of the house will be on Prichard street.”
It’s likely that the old entrance at old address 208 Main Street (the modern address would be in the 400 block) was retained as an emergency exit. The Whitney had been temporarily condemned for theatrical use at some point in 1905, and didn’t reopen until January, 1906, after fire code violations had been corrected.

spectrum on September 2, 2009 at 4:59 pm

From the aerial google view, there is part of the building which looks like it may be a former auditorium – when you look at the facade from the street, it is the left storefront space that leads to it – currently that section is vacant, the middle one has a store and the right hand section has a recessed entrance which appears to just go to a lobby to the upper floors. From the air, it definitely looks like the auditorium still exists, you can see the outline for the stagehouse. According to a link above, the actual street address is 208 main street. The facade was extensively remodeled from the old pictures of the 1800’s. The photo from the 1961 newspaper article shows a narrow building with an old civic hall style arched proscenium opening and a pressed tin ceiling. for a “deserted ruin” it looks in fairly good shape – certainly some theatres that have been rescured were in worse shape. Would be interested in seeing what the space was used for since 1961, and iif it is still available for rent.

MrDJDude on April 20, 2009 at 6:01 am

Looking at Google today, there is now a street view. It appears the former entrance might still exist, but the auditorium does not appear to be there anymore, but there is no view of anything in the back.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 12, 2008 at 6:30 pm

The Whitney Opera House in Fitchburg is listed in the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide. Unfortunately, there are no street addresses in this Guide. The seating capacity was 1000; John Oldfield was the Mgr. The theater had both gas and electic illumination. The proscenium opening was 26' X 26', and the stage was 28 feet deep. It says that the theater was on the second floor. Newspapers were the Sentinel and the Mail. Hotels for show folk were the Fitchburg, American House, Balmoral, and Temperance. Railroads were the Fitchburg RR and the New Haven RR. The 1897 population of Fitchburg was 28,000 with an area draw of 40,000.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 12, 2008 at 6:10 am

According to the Old Theatres of Fitchburg website, this theatre opened as Whitney’s Opera House in 1880. In 1904 it became the second home of the Bijou, a vaudeville house which also showed some movies before closing in 1916.

This page features a small (unreadable, alas) scan of a 1961 newspaper article about the Bijou, headlined “Old Opera House at Fitchburg is Deserted Ruin”, including an interior photo that appears to date from that time. The place had apparently sat empty for 45 years.

Currently, the block on which the Bijou’s entrance was located (on Prichard Street just north of Main Street) has one and two digit street numbers. Searching on Google Maps, the address 5 Prichard Street will fetch that corner. From the satellite view, it looks like the building still stands. There’s no Google street view, unfortunately.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 4, 2005 at 6:44 pm

The entrance seems to have been on Prichard Street. So perhaps “Prichard Street” that can be added as the address. Anyone know the exact address?

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 4, 2005 at 6:40 pm

Thanks, lostmemory. Here’s another old postcard view with the actual entrance visible.