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When Movies First Came to Battle Creek

At the turn of the last century, entertainment in Battle Creek was mainly in the form of traveling shows that were often presented live at the Hamlin Opera House (at 17 West Michigan Avenue) or Post Theater (19 McCamly Street).

August marks the beginning and end of Battle Creek’s first cinema, the Bijou.    By the 1950’s and 60’s, downtown Battle Creek had about a dozen movie theaters.  But all are long gone.  Now we have Netflix!  Col. Walter Scott Butterfield opened the Bijou in 1905, the first of a chain of 107 theaters in Michigan.  Here are some newspaper accounts of Butterfield‘s first venture in the the movie business.

August 12, 1905.  (The Battle Creek Daily Moon) Walter S Butterfield of New York City, former manager of the “Buster Brown” vaudeville stage show, leased the Hamblin Opera House.  After extensive renovations, it opened September 4th, 1905 as the Bijou Theater, with vaudeville acts booked for the season.  The Hamblin Opera House was built in 1869 and was the primary live theater in Battle Creek until the Post Theater was built in 1902.

August 17, 1905 (The Morning Enquirer) The word “Bijou” means cozy, comfortable and attractive, and this is what Manager Butterfield promises on Labor Day, when he opens his theatre for modern vaudeville.  High class acts, appealing especially to ladies and children will be offered.

August 20, 1905 (The Morning Enquirer) Just think, three times a week there will be the popular ladies and children’s matinee for 10 cents to any seat in the house at the Bijou TheaterManager Butterfield intends to establish these matinees in such a way that ladies can bring the children down to the theater and leave them in safety while they do their usual shopping.

August 23, 1905.  (The Battle Creek Daily Moon and The Morning Enquirer) Manager Butterfield of the Bijou Theater spent Monday in Chicago looking after bookings and several of the important improvements of his theater.  He has purchased one of Edison’s latest projecting kinetoscopes and has made arrangements with Eugene Cline to be furnished with 1,500 feet of the very latest films.   He has engaged Prof. Fred Otterbeck to manipulate the pictures.  For the opening bill, he has selected to very clever comedy pictures entitled “How Jones Lost His Roll” and “The Wedding.”  The electricians, carpenters and scenic artists are working very rapidly on the house, and by the opening date we will see many changes which will insure all the comforts possible to the patrons of this theater.

Butterfield built a new Bijou Theater four years later, up the street to 45 West Michigan were the Riverwalk Center parking lot is today.  The Bijou Theatre, Battle Creek’s last downtown, first-run movie theater, closed after the final showing of the movie “Deadly Blessing” on Aug. 20, 1981.