Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

Who Were the Bijou's Neighbors When It Opened in December, 1906?

The Cape Fear Club- 1912, Wilmington, N.C. in The Dr. Robert M. Fales Collection, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C.

On the southwest corner of the 200 block of North Front Street, just south of the Bijou site, was the Cape Fear Club, one of Wilmington's most prestigious social institutions and one of the oldest men's social clubs in the South. The large (60 feet by 80 feet) structure itself was the former residence of the Dawson family. The Cape Fear Club bought the property in 1888 when the last member of the family living in Wilmington, Mrs. Missouri Dawson, died.

Next to the Bijou on its north side was a new two-story commercial building that housed the office of the telegraph company.

At 211-213 North Front was the three-story, stone-faced Elks Building. Stone was an expensive architectural finish in a city hundreds of miles from any source of building stone. It was erected in 1902 and featured an arcaded shop entrance on the ground floor and two floors of meeting rooms for the popular fraternal order above. The Wilmington Messenger noted that the decision to build the Elks Building in the 200 block of North Front Street was a further sign that "business seems to have its trend northward on Front Street," and was situated "right in the midst of all the new business community."

Wilmington, N.C. about 1900, in The Dr. Robert M. Fales Collection, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C.

This photo, taken around 1900, shows the west side of North Front Street from the intersection of Grace Street. The building on the right was the Bear Wholesale Dry Goods Company. The Elks Building is the third building from the right.

On the other side of the street from the Bijou at the south east corner of Front and Chestnut was the Murchison Bank Building. Banks frequently sought out prominent positions on downtown corner lots. The three-story white brick building had been completed in 1902 and was called by the Wilmington Messenger "the handsomest banking establishment in North Carolina." As was the case with many bank buildings, a significant portion of the Murchison building was leased to other tenants. The Christian Science Church leased space on the first floor. Offices on the second floor were taken by doctors and dentists. The entire third floor was prepared especially for the local chapter of the Knights of Pythias, the first fraternal organization to receive a charter from the U.S. Congress.

In December 1906, the new three-story brick building beside the bank was nearly ready for its owner/occupier: Peterson and Rulfs Shoe Store.

At 204 North Front Street was a commercial building erected in 1905 by property developer I. Shrier. The Wilmington Star called it one of the most attractive buildings in the city.

One of its two storefronts was leased by the Singer Sewing Machine Company, and its upper floors were home to another of Wilmington's many social and fraternal organizations, the Fraternal Order of Eagles. This photo (right), probably taken during an Independence Day parade shows the Peterson and Rulfs shoe store and the commercial buildings beside it along the east side of North Front Street.

1928 Parade on N. Front St., Wilmington, N.C. in The Dr. Robert M. Fales Collection, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C.

Directly across the street from the Bijou was Wilmington's first department store, Gaylord's Big Racket Store ("racket" was a termed used at the turn of the century for a what we would now call a department store or five-and-dime store), which was housed in a three-story building built by George Gaylord in 1902. Gaylord had been a merchant in Wilmington since 1889, and had taken space in the 200 block of North Front Street in 1900. When it opened in October 1900, Gaylord's employed twenty-five "salesmen and salesladies" and claimed to offer $40,000 worth of merchandise spread out over the 18,000 square feet of floor space in the three-story building. The layout of the store was typical for early department stores: dry goods, notions, men's clothes, and shoes on the first floor; women's clothes on the second floor; and carpets and home furnishings on the third floor. Like a number of merchants on Front Street, Gaylord's was both a retail and a wholesale establishment. The third floor wholesale office served merchants in the small towns around Wilmington in eastern North and South Carolina, who would come to Wilmington by train several times a year to purchase goods for their stores.

North of Gaylord's Big Racket Store was the four-story building designed in 1891 by Savannah architect A.S. Eichberg for the Rheinstein Dry Goods Co. Wilmington architectural historian Tony Wrenn has noted that when it was built it had "no equal in commercial architecture" in the city. Shoppers entered Rheinstein's through plate glass doors, six of which lined the building's long façade. This was a very metropolitan innovation when the building opened in 1891.

A month before the Bijou opened its doors in December 1906, construction permits were issued for Wilmington's third "skyscraper." The five-story bluff brick structure on the northeast corner of the block was built for another dry goods merchant, I.M. Bear. It would be leased to the Einstein Brothers for use as a wholesale dry goods store.