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Going to the Show

Wilmington's First Movie Theater: The Bijou in 1906/07

Bijou Theater, Wilmington, N.C., in Dr. Robert M. Fales Collection, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C. Note: Although the caption for this newspaper photo identifies the Bijou as "the first moving picture house in North Carolina," research undertaken for Going to the Show reveals that this distinction probably goes to the Odeon in Charlotte, which was in operation by early November, 1906. The first movie theater in Wilmington was The Bijou, located at 205 North Front Street in the heart of the city's busy downtown.

The first movie theater in Wilmington was The Bijou, located at 205 North Front Street in the heart of the city's busy downtown.

The theater opened on December 22, 1906, the time of year when the downtown streets were packed from morning to evening with holiday shoppers from miles around the city.

The Bijou's proprietors, Percy Wells and James Howard, had professional circus and carnival experience. Percy Wells (1880-1953) was an aerialist (a tightrope walker) who performed as "The Great Percino" in traveling shows around the country.

James "Foxy" Howard (1867-1938) also spent his early years traveling with various carnivals. Stories differ as to how and when they met. Wells had been based in Wilmington for several years, spending winters there when traveling shows were not active. In February 1905, he organized a performance of films and illustrated songs at Pythian Hall for the Jeff Davis Council of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, one of Wilmington's many fraternal organizations. His wife, Alice Fisher, providing vocal musical accompaniment. This suggests that Wells had access to a motion picture projector and some experience in putting on movie shows nearly two years before he and Howard opened the Bijou in December 1906.