KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ The historic Bijou Theatre, which opened in 1909 with George M. Cohan singing ``Yankee Doodle Boy,'' suspended operations and fired its staff on Monday.

The theater has been hampered by money problems for nearly three decades, said Chuck Morris, chairman of the theater's board.

``We are taking the difficult but necessary steps to put the Bijou Theatre on sound financial footing,'' he said.

The board plans a community fund-raising campaign to eliminate a $607,000 mortgage and $183,000 in other debt. The decision to suspend the remaining shows in the 2004-05 season came as the theater's mortgage lender threatened foreclosure.

``The Bijou and its supporters need a fresh, debt-free start,'' said Brad Hill, board vice chairman. ``That is the goal.''

The theater has provided a stage for everyone from Ethel Barrymore and the Marx Brothers to Grammy winners Randy Newman and Gillian Welch.

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On the Net:

Bijou Theatre: http://www.thebijoutheatrecenter.com/