New business draws on building’s bijou past

by marlys good

Stroll through the doors of Greybull’s newest enterprise, Crazy Woman Territory, home of Crazy Woman Trading Post, the Hen House and Salon Bijou, and you’ll find yourself literally walking on a part of Greybull’s past.

A portion of the floor, which in the renovating process new owners Holton and Lori Harter discovered was not hardwood but a slab of plywood, is now a collage of old issues of the Greybull Standard. Through a time-consuming process that included three layers of preservatives, Lori provides customers with a walk back in time.

The building was built in 1916 to house the Bijou Theatre, after the burgeoning population of this small town had outgrown Greybull’s first theatre — the Greybull Amusement Hall, with its limited seating, folding chairs, and gas machine to run the reels.

With folding chairs, it didn’t take long to clear the floor for dancing and the numerous dances drew large crowds.

But, as pointed out by Tom Davis in Glimpses of Greybull’s Past, “Greybull had grown so sophisticated by 1916 that many people were not satisfied with a theatre that had no stage and relied on folding chairs.”

In May 1916, Mayor .J. Williams announced “among the new buildings now being built here is a fine theatre building that can be adapted for both legitimate drama and moving picture shows.”

“Messrs. B.W. Bickert and M. Leibrecht contracted with Charles Glasser to build a 100 x 25 foot cement block, one-story building. The new building would have modern opera chairs, stage scenery, electric light plant, dressing rooms under the stage and the latest model motion picture machine.” Cost of the building and equipment was estimated at $8,000.

Bickert said the opera seats in the Bijou Theatre “would be so arranged upon the inclined floor that every seat will have a perfect, unobstructed view of the stage and screen … (and it) will be one of the best between Billings and Cheyenne.”

Once it opened, the Bijou (the French word means “small but elegant and tasteful) played to an audience that on several occasions overfilled the seating and people had to be turned away.

Despite its success, the Bijou Theatre had several different owners that first year. Mr. Bickert sold the theatre to a Mr. J. Grovun and in 1917, Grovun sold the Bijou to George McKay of Casper, who refunded to anyone who considers they have not received full value for their money.

The town was growing so fast that a third theatre was built on Greybull Avenue. The two-story, 500-set theatre occupied the first floor; a “modern hotel” took up the second floor. The third theatre would be called The Empress, but before it even opened the name had been changed to Big Horn Theatre, and a large cast of a mountain sheep was placed over the entrance.

Shortly after Big Horn Theatre opened, the Greybull Amusement Hall closed after operating for less than two years. It was sold to W.F. Gibson who opened a furniture store there.

George McKay purchased the Big Horn Theatre six months after it opened and subsequently closed the Bijou Theatre in June of 1918, announcing his plans to install “a splendid new floor in the building and converting it into a “Dance Hall.”

The former home to Bijou Theatre became the home to a half dozen other businesses; most recently it housed Big Horn Quilts.

Ninety-nine years after it opened as Bijou Theatre, the historic building, newly renovated, remodeled, refurbished, was the scene of the grand opening of the Harter’s Crazy Woman Country.

Said the Harters, “After a few short months of peeling back decades of cosmetic changes, then adding new ones, (it) is a beautiful little building that we hope deserves the name bestowed it in 1916 – the ‘House of Comfort.’”

The Harters have done a masterful job in the renovations. From the floor — part hardwood, part tile, part carpet, part a walk down Greybull’s past — to the merchandise tastefully displayed; from the antique typewriter with plants twining between the keys that sits on the front counter, to the rack of homey, stylish clothing, Crazy Woman aprons and T-shirts, any color, style you want. Old-style flour-sack dishtowels, still popular today. It all draws you in.

Lori and Holten have put their own stamp on the “House of Comfort.”