The Charles (Bijou) Theatre

The Charles Theatre

View of the auditorium from the projector room

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.

Plaster work on the balcony level of the Charles Theatre

A close up of some of the plaster work on the side of 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 projectors have been removed from the charles theatre

The projector room of the Charles Theatre.

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.

Main level Charles Theatre NYC

The seats have been removed in preparation for demolition.

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.

The balcony level of the Charles Theatre.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

Plaster work, Charles Theatre

The remains of the decorated ceiling under the balcony.

Proscenium arch Charles Theatre

The Charles Theatre’s proscenium arch.

plaster decor Charles Theatre NYC

A close up of some plaster work on the balcony level.

auditorium, charles theatre, New York City

View of the Charles Theatre from the stage area.

Former office space Charles Theatre NYC

When the Charles Theatre was a church, the former office spaces were used as sunday school classrooms.


13 thoughts on “The Charles (Bijou) Theatre

  1. Pingback: Destructoporn: Curtain Call for Avenue B Theater; Development in Wings | Text or Call : 917-557-6066

  2. is it all demolished now? 😦 I wish I could find some cool buildings around here (xenia ohio) but so far I’ve have very little luck

  3. All of us at Britain’s OLD THEATRES magazine are delighted to find your site as you mirror what we are doing in the UK. Do take a look at us on our web pages

    Each year we publish details and pictures of Britain’s theatres ‘At Risk’ and include pictures of them, and others which have been demolished. Comments are also received from Britain’s entertainers who trod their boards.

    We will always be pleased to hear from you and to exchange information.

  4. In March 1961 Dan Talbot of The New Yorker Theater opened the Charles Theater with a program similar to the policy at the New Yorker. I was the house manager. The New Yorker closed their operation onJuly 17, 1961.

    On October 1, 1961 Edwin Stein Jr and Walter Langsford re-opened as the Charles Theatre. We closed in Nov.1962. We were the first to show Independent or experimental film on a regular basis. We showed Vernon Zimmerman’s film. Our program policy was unique and has not been equaled since.

    The complete records of that operation exist and I am shipping them to MoMa tomorrow. Walter Langsford

  5. Pingback: Demolition starts tomorrow at former counterculture theater on Avenue B « NYC Real Estate News

  6. Pingback: Watch the Demolition of a Historic Movie Theater Turned Church - The Local East Village Blog -

  7. Pingback: Jonas Mekas: In Conversation

  8. Pingback: Jonas Mekas: In Conversation – open mind news

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