Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ready for her close up...

A few days ago I showed a little section of the wonderful Rialto Theater. It’s one of greater Los Angeles’ last remaining historic movie palaces, and it closed its doors last year. You can still rent it out for parties and fundraisers but its future as a real cinema is very much undecided.

The South Pasadena Downtown Revitalization Project includes the Rialto in the proposed redevelopment zone, though it doesn't specifically address revamping the theater. The project itself has recently met with opposition and the voters will decide in November whether the city has the right to move forward. (I’ll post more about this controversy soon.)

I can't bear to think of another architectural treasure ending up a crumbling relic. The Los Angeles area has lost far too many historic buildings through a combination of carelessness, economic strain and pure ennui. In this age of multiplexes and IMAX stadium cinemas, I’m not sure what it would take to bring The Rialto back to its former glory. Even though I’ve lived in LA for two decades, I never managed to see a film at The Rialto—but I know a number of people who would drive from the Valley or the west side just for the experience of seeing a film here. And then there were the regular midnight Rocky Horror screenings. I’m sorry I missed those.

For now -- with the exception of special events -- the Rialto is dark. Let’s hope there is a way to light its silver screen again. After all, Hollywood loves a good comeback.



See if everyone here was as considerate about their relics as you guys there were I don't think we'd have a problem with our crappy architecture - it's all the same, the houses, the cinemas... whatever! So boring...

Wayne said...

The Stanley Theatre in Vancouver is a heritage building from the same era. If it hadn't been for the The Arts Club Theatre, a very successful local theatre company, the Stanley might have ended up in a heap replaced by a string of stores selling Gucci or bling.

In my experience people flock to see intact, well cared for, heritage buildings. This is good for the city in question but may not be attractive to developers.

We only have a couple of examples of these buildings surviving as movie houses and they seem to be a challenge to adapt to live theatre. I hope South Pas can find a solution that will save the Rialto.

Virginia said...

Our treasured Alabama Theatre has been lovingly maintained. It has the added attraction of a "mighty Wurlitzer" that comes up out of the floor and we still have someone that plays it before the movie starts. We used to sing to it when I was a kid. They feature older movies now and it's grand. Nothing like a fancy, schmancy movie theatre! Hope yours survives!

Keith said...

The Rialto truly is a classic building. I've only been there once and it was for one of those midnight Rocky Horror shows.

Knoxville Girl said...

Oh I hope they find the vision to see that this theater could be a community-builder.
Both our historic theaters, Bijou and Tennessee, have been restored with great success - they are well-used community gems for live shows, and the Tennessee still shows vintage films.

babooshka said...

Jamjar is so right. We just tear dwon these delightfull cimemas in the uk or turn them into bingo halls. Just ripping the heart out of the inside too. We will never learn. I would still rather see a film here than a facelss multiplex. They jsut don't have tose wonderful dusty red velvets curtains that cover the screen.

Again the Last Picture Show jumps straight out at me.

Thursday Girl/Hollis the Cat said...

Hi Laurie!

Just wanted to let you know, they still show the Rocky Horror Picture show there was there just a few weeks ago...they'll advertise on the marquee. Don't forget your rice, newspaper, toast, etc.. :) said...

Its funny the sign says GOONIES on it. The last movie I saw at the Rialto... must have been 5 or 6 years ago now. It was a midnight showing of Goonies and we waited hours in line for it. The line was long and wrapped around the block! We also got an intro speech of the movie (a classic in its own right) from one of the actors, Sean Astin, who was fresh from his role in Lord of The Rings. Never forget it. Its beautiful inside too. Goonies never say die!

Sharon said...

I agree, it would be a shame to lose this great old building. It's awful how all of the old style movie houses are disappearing all over the country.

P.A. said...

Pasadena Adjacent
Development projects make me nervous. "Flow" means uniformity to me. That link with the architectural maquette doesn't help sell the vision.

ken mac said...

Fantastic shot. The detail in the lettering, well, heck that can't be repeated. Can't believe the city doesn't see the value in saving his landmark. are they citizens up in arms?

Anonymous said...

I would guess that it would take an arm and a leg to make the old theater pop like new again but it could be done and it could even become a popular place for whatever took over. I have seen some of these restored and turned into new theaters that worked so well the people have turned it into a full time job. I am sure you have also seen them on television which seems to have something of everything these days.

I also read and enjoyed your post yesterday. That would be interesting to open you door, get and paper and look out on a collection like that in your front yard.

About teaching macro shooting. I used to teach but stopped for a variety of reasons but probably number one was that people belly-ached about their cameras and how they were at a distinct disadvantage because they didn't have a "good" camera.

If I do it again it would have to be one on one. LOL

South Pasadena said...

Good news! I'm optomistic that The Rialto will be saved and revitalized when the Downtown SouthPas revitalization project goes forward.

A team of Chamber of Commerce Members and is working very hard toward that! I'm the CEO of the Chamber, and our "Vision Rialto" team has been at work for almost one year, visiting theatres and consulting experts to find a feasible business model for inside the Rialto (most likely multi-use performing arts.) The team includes Mark and Marinal Robinson of Decoma, the City's development partners. That project includes $250,000 in facade improvement money for the Rialto. We believe that this face-lift, plus an improved downtown business district, in conjunction with our Vision Rialto report, will be the key to attracting investors, who are needed to revitalize the theatre.

Our official report comes out soon. Meanwhile, if any readers have helpful information for our Vision Rialto Committee, email me at or call 626-441-2339.

Laurie, thanks for your wonderful site and great pix!

Mister Earl said...

I believe saving the Rialto is a sacred tablet of the South Pas 10 Comandments, along with Opposing the 710 Freeway.

When I used to go to the Rialto a lot back in the 80s and 90s, they showed two commercials before the show that were great. One was a guy claiming to be the local fire chief talking about not smoking. People would talk to him on the screen during his schpiel.

The other was a commerical to buy a Rialto discount ticket book using footage from It's a Wonderful Life, with new words dubbed in. Jimmy Stewart runs into his house all excited and the family gathers around and Jimmy has this big basket of money and he says, "Look at all the money I saved with my Rialto discount book!"

Everyone loved these commercials.

Anonymous said...

That's rite, mr ed, NO to the 710!!

Adding a couple of miles of FW track is NOT gonna solve any of our traffic probs in our area. If they wanna add more FW, put it in L.A.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, i mean, mr earl. Operating on 1/2 brain 2day.

+ Extend the Gold line instead.

Laurie said...

Greetings all,

Thanks for sharing some of your stories about The Rialto! I must say, I'm so happy that Scott from the Chamber of Commerce stopped by to give us his update. (Thanks, Scott!) I've been following the news about the revitalization project, but I didn't realize actual money was earmarked for a Rialto face-lift. I also think the Vision Rialto report is a wonderful idea.

Ken Mac, our town absolutely LOVES this theater, so the fact that it is where it is now makes everyone feel sad. This place is known as one of greater LA's landmarks. (It was actually used for the murder scene in The Player.)

Thursday Girl, welcome back! It's nice to see you here. I'm delighted to know that there is still a chance to do the TIme Warp again. I wonder who hosts the screenings?

Mister Earl, I can imagine the Jimmy Stewart commercial. I'll bet it was fun to see it.

I have more shots of The Rialto, but I'll save them for another post.

Thanks again for being here, everyone!

ben wideman said...

awesome picture laurie. b&w really is your specialty.

Trish said...

the first movie I ever saw at the Rialto was "The Strongest Man in the World". 99c seats and I think there was another movie shown afterwards but I cannot recall what it was. I went with $5 in hand, got my seat, got more popcorn, soda and candy than I could handle and came home with lots of change. My friends and I had a great time.

The last movie I saw there was "Four Weddings and a Funeral" just a few days after we buried my mother. We needed a laugh and a cry. We got both.

In between, I saw plenty of movies.

I had almost forgotten about the commercials mister earl! They were the cool part of having to wait for the movie to start.

It would be a shame to see this theater torn down---but it has been threatened for many, many years. Perhaps, rather than tossing out the old stuff, we can renew it and bring it to its former grandeur!

Mary Kathleen O'Looney said...

The rental rate is vetty reasonable considering it also includes the resident spirits.

SouthPas Chamber said...

Mr Earl,

How could I get ahold of that movie trailer? We're setting up a movie night at the Rialto and I would LOVE to show that! Scott - Chamber of Commerce, 626-710-2360.

Mister Earl said...

Scott - I've been out of town, so didn't respond more quickly. I really have no idea. Try calling the people who own the Rialto or perhaps it was run by Laemle at the time? Maybe someone at Laemle would have them? I'm sure someone does. Maybe they're on YouTube. ;-)