Bijou Theater
by Pete Zizka


Last week’s picture showed the Kimbel Block which was also the home of Willimantic’s first moving picture theater in 1904. By 1908 there were three theaters competing with each other and so John Gray, the proprietor of the theater in the Kimbel Block, realizing that its small seating capacity was not producing enough revenue,  bought a wooden building on Main Street and converted it to a theater. Gray named it “The Bijou Theater”. The building on the right side of the Bijou had been built in 1870 by a “Mr. Hamlin” . It contained four small stores. In 1887 it was purchased by Marshall Tilden who, in in 1894, added a story and a half and completely remodeled it. Upon completion of the remodeling it was called, “the most ornamental four story block in the city”. The “Tilden Block” was then purchased by the Jordan brothers in 1906 and became “the Jordan Block”. It was completely destroyed in 1916 in  one of the city’s most spectacular fires. In the early morning hours, all four of the city’s fire companies poured water on the fire as it progressed through the building. In terms of financial loss, it was the worst fire in the history of the city. The Jordans said their loss would be well over $150,000.  Henry Fryer’s tailoring establishment on the second floor was wiped out. The Natchaug Lodge and the Thread City Cyclers also rented rooms in the building and suffered great losses. Two days after the fire, the east and west walls of the building collapsed. Upon investigation, it was found that the fire had started in the adjacent Bijou Theater and entered through the Jordan Block’s east wall. On the day of the fire, the Jordan brothers were already saying that the block would be rebuilt and their new building was completed in October, 1917. That building still exists at 676 Main Street. The Bijou Theater, this week’s picture of the week, never reopened. For questions or comments about this  week’s photo, please e-mail us at “”.

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