For more than 100 years the Bijou building has been a staple along the west side of South Main Street in Tuscumbia. Its storied history doesn’t reflect the intentions of its beginnings, as it only lasted about a year as a theater. But a volunteer group hopes to purchase the building, restore it as much as possible to its original design, and use it as a community theater.
As always with such restoration projects, the roadblock is funding. Tuscumbian Art Properties, a 501 © (3) nonprofit, has raised about half of the $40,000 it needs to purchase the building. But the effort is a race against time. Some private investors also have shown an interest in the property.
Howard Hopwood is hopeful the nonprofit can win the race, and save one of the city’s architectural gems.
The volunteers involved in Tuscumbian Art Properties have some big plans for the Bijou. Converting the building into a community theater would be a great cultural benefit to Tuscumbia, he said.
“While Florence has the Shoals and Sheffield has the Ritz, without the Bijou, Tuscumbia would have nothing,” Hopwood points out. “With such an opportunity right there for the taking, what a tragedy it will be to let it slip by unclaimed.”
Ninon Parker, president of the Colbert County Historical Landmarks Foundation, agrees. The Bijou, she said, is one of the oldest silent movie theaters in the state of Alabama, and it worth preserving.
The preservation effort won’t be easy, acknowledges Hopwood, but the non-profit’s volunteers have established a four-phase plan they believe is workable. Money, of course, is the key ingredient. Preliminary figures the group has put together indicate it will cost more than half a million dollars to purchase and renovate the building in the first three phases. Additional funds would be needed to open and operate the theater for the first two years.
The impact on Tuscumbia’s arts and culture community would be significant, Hopwood said. Besides being a venue for community plays and movies, the Bijou could be used for ticketed events such as concerts, private rentals such as weddings or family reunions.”
“Fully restored, it can provide a beautiful venue for whatever use is established,” said Parker. “It would be a real asset to our downtown.”
Hopefully, all the legwork that has gone into the formation of the Tuscumbian Art Properties will pave the way for the non-profit to finalize the purchase of the Bijou so work can start anew to restore this architectural treasure.