A long standing
icon, the Rialto Theatre in
Pasadena, California, has closed its doors after 81 years,
shutting out its customers, but probably not its ghosts.
The historic theatre, built in 1924 in a
Spanish Baroque design with Egyptian touches, the theatre seated 1200
people and included ten dressing rooms, a scenic loft, an orchestra pit
and a deep stage. The décor featured picture tiles, colorful stenciling,
and plaster ornaments, such as
harpies (half woman, half
vulture), and mythical gargoyles.
On its opening night of October 17, 1925, an organist
played its large Wurlitzer organ and the Rialto orchestra accompanied the
world premier of the
Picture "What Happened To Jones?"
Prior to the premier movie, customers were entertained with Vaudeville
acts and trapeze artists. Admission was .30 cents. When the depression
started, the theatre survived by offering prizes to entice its customers
and made it through the hard times.
When Vaudeville lost popularity in the
1930’s, three-act prologues were presented prior to the feature film.
It was also during this decade that the theatre suffered a backstage
fire which temporarily closed its doors. After it reopened, live
theatre never returned to the stage.
Over the years, the theater was sold, along with many
of its fixtures, including its historic
By the 1960’s the single screen theatre
was showing more niche movies, including silent films. The theatre
suffered another fire in 1968, but was restored once again and
Rocky Horror Picture
came out in 1975, it started a three decade run at the old theatre,
being shown every Saturday night at midnight for years, before it,
too, lost popularity and was then only shown on a monthly basis.
In July, 1976, the operations of the theatre were taken
over by the Landmark Corporation under a 100 year lease of the
building. However, soon after they took over, redevelopment in
posed the threat of tearing down the
legendary movie house. Locals protested and the Rialto was soon listed
on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
In the 1970's and 80's the Rialto began to
host some concerts and soon began to run more mainstream movies, in
the hopes of drawing more customers.
But, before long multiplex theaters
began to sprout up all over the area and in the meantime, the Rialto
was continuing to deteriorate. Discussions began in the 1990’s to
complete renovate the theater to either return it to its former glory
or split it up into a multiplex. However, in 2000, Landmark's parent
company, Silver Cinemas, declared bankruptcy, and there were no funds
Although one of the finest and least adulterated
theaters in the greater
area, its carpets were frayed, its paint chipped, and its velvet seats
fading. Customers may have remembered the aging movie house with
fondness, but they chose to patronize the more modern multiplexes with their
large parking lots, comfortable seating, and choices of movies.
Though the Rialto Theatre
survived the death of
vaudeville, two fires and threats of demolition and conversion to a
parking lot, it finally succumbed to low ticket sales and sadly,
closed on August 19, 2007.
Because it’s on the national Register of
Historic Places, the building will be saved from demolition. It’s future;
however, remains unknown. A yet unapproved re-development plan is in the
works, but as of this writing, the building’s future is unknown.