The Bijou Theatre (later the Charles Theatre) opened in the fall of 1926. Architect Eugene DeRosa was commissioned by the Delancey-Clinton Realty Company to build the Bijou at 12th Street and Avenue B in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The theater had 600 seats, 502 on the main floor and 98 in the balcony.
By 1937 the Bijou had been sold to the Bell Theater Company. The same year, the Motion Picture Operators Union started a strike for higher wages from the Bell Theater Company; during the strike, two operators locked themselves in the projection booth in protest. Their demands were met 12 hours later and wages were increased to $27.00 a week.
The theater was managed by Charles Steiner until his death on June 29,1946. In 1949, the Bijou was renamed the Charles Theatre in his memory. The Charles was run by Audubon Films in the 1960s, showing foreign and American films. Jonas Mekas, an experimental filmmaker, was hired to hold screenings of amateur films once a month. Many New York City filmmakers showed their early works at the Charles, including Vernon Zimmerman, Ron Rice, and Andy Warhol.
The amateur film screenings were very popular, inspiring audience members to make their own films. Because more amateur filmmakers were showing their work than were watching it, it was difficult for the management to decide who to charge. This lead to a decline in ticket sales and the Charles’ closure in 1975. The building was purchased converted by the Elim Pentecostal Church. In October 2006, a fire damaged the building and the church was forced to relocate. The Charles Theatre is currently being demolished so a new church and apartment housing can be built on the site.