The Bijou Theatre, Knoxville’s oldest and most infamous entertainment venue, paid off its longstanding mortgage note, at last closing the book on the theater’s in-the-red status.
“It’s been a long road to ‘Save the Bijou,’” said Courtney Bergmeier, director of development for the Bijou Theatre, referring to the 1970s campaign that kept the Bijou Theatre and Lamar House from being demolished. “But after several victories and setbacks along the way, we can say with confidence that the Bijou has been saved.”
The Bijou Theatre, which is now governed by an active board of directors and managed and operated by AC Entertainment, inherited the $900,000 debt from a mortgage loan dated Sept. 4, 1998. The theater’s previous operator mortgaged the theater to meet expenses and keep the doors open, a plan that failed in May 2004 when the Bijou was forced to close.
In March 2005, then-Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam announced a strategy to ensure that the historic Bijou Theatre remained a community treasure for future generations and helped establish federal support for the theater’s restoration and preservation.
In 2006, several prominent Knoxvillians agreed to serve as guarantors on the debt in order to help reopen the Bijou Theatre as a viable arts center. Without their help, the theater may not have been able to reopen and achieve this level of financial stability and success 20 years after taking on the $900,000 loan.
After a 2006 grand-reopening, Bijou Theatre leadership in many forms has worked to make the venue financially stable while paying off the debt.
“Thanks to the consistent, steadfast support of donors and community members, as well as the leadership of past and current board members, the Bijou is now in the black and will continue to host art, music and entertainment,” Bergmeier said. “It’s a momentous achievement for the Bijou and our community.”
With a healthy board, effective management, stable operations and generous community-wide support, the Bijou Theatre has flourished. The venue marked its 100th birthday in 2009 with a celebration that has evolved into an annual event called the Bijou Jubilee. In 2017, the theater completed nearly $60,000 in renovations to the iconic marquee sign and blade, the atrium and chandelier of the Lamar House and decorative arches in the auditorium. The Lamar House, which comprises the façade and atrium of the Bijou, is the city’s third-oldest building, and the theater was built as an addition to the structure in 1909.
“With this debt-free position, we look forward to being able to invest more funds directly in the building to continue to preserve and restore the theater and the Lamar House,” Bergmeier said. “Each donation and membership makes a forward-looking impact on maintaining the Bijou as a beloved Knoxville icon and a favorite destination for live entertainment and cultural experiences.”
Referred to as “one of the best sounding rooms in the country” by The New York Times, the Bijou Theatre is managed by Knoxville-based AC Entertainment. In the coming weeks, the theatre will welcome such acts and events as The Beatles vs. Elvis (Aug. 14); Cat & Nat (Sept. 24); Edwin McCain (Oct. 6); and Gaelic Storm (Oct. 19).
On Aug. 18, the theatre will celebrate Bijou Jubilee 2018 featuring The SteelDrivers. A $150 VIP ticket includes a premium ticket to the 8 p.m. show, as well as a pre-show party at 5:30 p.m. with barbecue and food from Sweet P’s, a rare bourbon tasting with Four Roses, wine from Ashe’s Wines & Spirits and the launch of the new Jubilee brew by Blackhorse Brewery. The Bijou Jubilee also will celebrate the mortgage payoff with a special toast. Regular tickets for the show are $38.
In addition to support from individual donors and corporate sponsors, the Friends of the Bijou membership program invites annual donors to help preserve the Historic Bijou Theatre and its 109-year legacy of hosting world-class entertainment. Friends of the Bijou enjoy benefits such as early ticket buying privileges and meet-and-greet opportunities with performers.
To become a Friend of the Bijou, learn more about the theater or purchase tickets, visit knoxbijou.org.