Bijou Dream Theatre

Exterior of Liberty Theater

The Bijou Dream Theatre was located on the corner of S. Main St. and Chapin St. in Canandaigua. The theater originally opened in 1907 as an early silent film house, and one of the first motion picture theaters in Canandaigua, but eventually closed in 1940. The name “Bijou Dream Theatre” was a popular name for theaters across the United States, especially during the vaudeville era. Bijou is a French word, meaning “jewel” or “trinket.” It eventually picked up an adjectival use in the U.S., referring to something, usually architecture, as charming or quaint. There were Bijou Dream Theaters, of no relation to the Canandaigua theater, in nearby communities like Rochester and Buffalo. 

Interior of Liberty Theater

The Canandaigua Bijou Dream Theatre was eventually renamed after World War I to Liberty Theater. This was a common trend in the U.S. after World War I to rename establishments in more outwardly patriotic names. The theater was described as having 1,000 seats, but its popularity was outmatched by the size and quality of the Fox Playhouse, just around the corner on Chapin St. In 1940, the space was converted to a J.C. Penny’s, and is now home to the Stewart Title Company.

In 1916, while still under the name of Bijou Dream Theatre, the site hosted D.W. Griffith’s move, “Birth of a Nation,” which had become a sensation across the U.S. The infamous film was based on Thomas Dixon’s book, The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. The showing at the Bijou was accompanied by a 25-piece orchestra. The film was the longest and most-profitable film produced up until that time. Notorious for its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan, and its reliance on racist tropes, the film is credited with a revival of the Klan and its spread north in the 1920s, including into Ontario and Monroe County. 

Exterior nighttime shot of Liberty Theater