Dear Mr. History Person,
Have you ever written an article on the old Bijou Theater building in North Fairhaven? I’m interested in its history and what’s going on with it now. —Eric B.
Since I have not written about it at length, Eric, I’ll run through a brief history now.
The American Building was built on Main Street, "at the end of the Oxford car line,"in 1922 and the American Theatre opened on Friday, January 12, 1923. According to the Fairhaven Star, the spaceous auditorium was well arranged to accommodate patrons in the best possible manner. The report also noted, "The lighting fixtures and screen are artistically arranged and everything will be done to furnish the best possible settings for the pictures." The theater was managed by E.D. Davenport, who also ran the Weld Square Rialto in New Bedford.
On opening night, three silent films were shown: the drama "Sonny" starring Richard Barthelmess, "Golf" a comedy short with Larry Semon and "Fun From the Press."
The theater changed hands frequently through its entire life. Sound films seem to have first appeared in 1932 when Frank Dean of Brockton managed the theater and installed RCA Victor Photophone equipment. A 1934 announcement reported the renovated and redecorated "New American Theatre" was reopened in May by Harold J. Shore of the Shore Amusement Service.
The American Theatre became Keith’s Theatre on October 11, 1935. This is where a couple of generations of Fairhaven folks went to the movies.
There was more going on in the American Building than the movie theater, though. In November of 1946 when a two alarm fire gutted the building, the newspaper named some of the other occupants of the building: American Bowling Alleys, Keith’s Spa, Martin’s Market, Pacheco’s Package Store, Pimental’s Pool Parlor and the Melvin Press. A second fire in 1965 closed the theater until 1972 when Weber Torres started showing movies again in the renamed "Oxford Cinema."
After twelve years of second-run movies at discount prices, the first incarnation of the Bijou Theater opened in 1984. At first the focus was on art house fare, foreign and independent films. After yet another change of ownership in 1990, the theater returned to mainstream fare at discounted prices. The Bijou closed in May 2004 and most of the furnishings were removed from the auditorium.
The building at 350 Main Street has been listed for sale for some time now. In addition to the theater, it has three store fronts and fifteen apartments.