Rialto now dark

posted by Simon Overton on August 23, 2007 at 7:45 am

SOUTH PASADENA, CA — My wife and I battled our way along the insane freeways of California to say “goodbye” to South Pasadena’s venerable Rialto Theatre.

This was our only visit and found the old lady looking very stressed-out -the facade looked like a bad case of sunburn from decades ago. In fact it must be countless decades since the structure, in and outside ever saw any TLC.

Entering the almost pitch black auditorium we were welcomed by the wonderful sounds of George Wrights recorded pipe organ music… so lovely, but not the NON-air conditioned atmosphere which smelled hot and very stale. The latter must have come from the rock-hard, ancient seats. No wonder the audiences moved away.

Typical of a dying theater, Landmark put nothing into their final presentation of a once magnificent palace, as did others all too numerous to mention; The balcony was locked-up like Fort Knox, the faded bare screen had a faint glow of a few footlight bulbs and, I was told, “the curtains don’t work.” Just like the on-going infestation of boujoir multiplexes.

We were amusingly entertained by 15 minutes of forth-coming previews of movies scheduled in the next year or so. How quaint that H.Q. didn’t do their homework.

I read that Landmark still hold a lengthy lease, but if they don’t care, then who will? Surely not the next renting tenants? Maybe the City of Pasadena will add their clout to the facade’s appearance?

UPDATE 8/23: Nice recollections from the LAist.

Theaters in this post

Comments (13)

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on August 23, 2007 at 9:02 am

Very well written……………………….

William on August 23, 2007 at 5:23 pm

It’s very hard for a single screen theatre to make a profit in todays movie business. Pasadena’s screen total has grown with the opening of all those plexes. National General Theatres was the last chain that maintained the theatre right. It lasted a few years as a Mann Theatre before they dropped a few unprofitable locations a a few years in their chain. They kept the Academy and State theatres as their Pasadena locations. The only way Landmark could make the Rialto work is to cut it up or built a small plex around it and maintain the Rialto as the main screen. The problem is you can’t keep the place open if it’s not making any money. When Mann Theatres was operating the Alex in Glendale. The balcony was alway closed during the last few years they operated it. It wasn’t that it was a unprofitable theatre. It was they had used many of the seats to fix other seats in that theatre and others. Landmark has the figures as to how this theatre did. In that would show if the chain lost money in the last few years. The Rialto need alot of work and a lot of money to bring it back. Being a 1925 house it may need a earthquake retrofit in the plans to remain open. Only time will tell on it’s fate. It would be a fun house to run, being one of the last single screen Fox’s around.

HowardBHaas on August 23, 2007 at 7:12 pm

Interesting that William mentions the Alex.
Like other theater chains, Landmark is likely going to be more concerned with their megaplexes like their new Westside /theaters/20482/
2000 seats, 12 screens. That’s their for-profit economics.

It is unlikely the Rialto will reopen with the existing auditorium for daily movies, regardless of whether additional screens are added to the auditorium or not. I don’t know whether Landmark would consider dividing up the auditorium, but maybe that misses the point of saving the interior.

Perhaps either of these could be models for South Pasadena to follow with the Rialto:
Aleks in Glendale

Warner Grand, San Pedro

KramSacul on August 24, 2007 at 9:37 pm

How does the interior of the Alex compare to the Rialto?

KramSacul on August 24, 2007 at 10:13 pm

Besides the obvious deterioration, I mean.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 25, 2007 at 8:28 pm

The balcony of the Rialto was locked for decades. The story I heard was that, in the 1970s, the South Pasadena City Fire Department threatened to close the place down because the big, leather loges occupying the last several rows of the main floor were not fire resistant. The management moved the loges to the balcony and brought the balcony seats down to replace them on the main floor. The loges were never rebuilt to meet fire codes, and thus the balcony remained closed.

It may be true that with better maintenance, and with air conditioning, the Rialto could have attracted bigger audiences in recent years, but I doubt that, adding the cost of those things, it could have been profitable. I won’t blame Landmark for shutting the Rialto down, or for not spending the fortune the theatre needs to be made even minimally presentable. The place could have gone under soon after Mann Theatres abandoned it, but Landmark kept it going for about three decades beyond when it might have been expected to be closed and demolished to make way for a parking lot. For that I’m grateful.

HowardBHaas on August 26, 2007 at 8:52 am

Kram, I’ve read a bit about the Alex, but am not the best person to compare its interior to the Rialto. On vacation from Philadelphia, I have seen movies at the Rialto, and at the Warner Grand,(and visited dozens of historic LA area moviehouses) but the Alex I haven’t been to. The Alex was restored as a nonprofit, and was never a huge movie palace but was a nabe theater like the Rialto, so I made my suggestion.

Can somebody in LA answer Kram’s question?

KramSacul on August 26, 2007 at 4:03 pm

I guess I’ll just have to visit the Alex myself someday. The pictures available online show a pretty ornate theater with a balcony and a big stage. Not really a movie house though.

HowardBHaas on August 26, 2007 at 4:08 pm

There’s an Alex film society hosting a film series at the Alex.

The Rialto isn’t a moviehouse either anymore. It is a closed vacant building. And, unless it is chopped up into small auditoriums, it won’t likely reemerge as a daily moviehouse!! People dreaming that the Rialto will reemerge as a restored single screen daily moviehouse like the Castro can keep on dreaming, but it probably isn’t going to happen. If people don’t want to see the building demolished or used for non-entertainment purposes, then other solutions including mixed entertainment use (concerts, shows, etc) might be considered.

There are still movies at the Alex, and even more at the Warner Grand (foreign films, classics, etc) so people can still sometimes enjoy films in an authentic Golden Age Hollywood movie palace. Live shows help to pay the freight. Nonprofit status helps in those two theaters.

ceasar on August 28, 2007 at 1:11 pm

Bet the Rialto was a cinema of its day. I can tell you the Pemberton Cinema 4 is closed and leaves this town with no cinema at all. But in this town’s heyday there was the Strand,the Joy theatre. The Joy I remember was an old single screen like the Rialto and was torn down in the ‘80s in downtown.
Thus far the Cineme 4 is vacated space with FOR SALE on the box office window.

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on August 28, 2007 at 5:21 pm

My friend, JOSEPH MUSIL, of The American Museum of Theatrical Design in Santa Ana, Ca., 714-667-6959 was deeply involved with the design/restoration of the Egyptian style interior of the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

I seem to have bad luck in visiting these grand places… they’re closed on the day I choose to travel there: Fox/Copely Hall and Northpark Theatres in San Diego, Fox/Arlington in Santa Barbara, as well as the fabulous collection of theaters on Broadway in L.A.

ChrisB on August 30, 2007 at 10:31 pm

Sad to see, but I’ve always wondered why a town so concerned with preservation as South Pasadena is didn’t take it over long ago. Last movie I saw there was “The Triplets of Belleville”. Four people in the audience besides me. It WAS an early show on a Thursday, but…

MovieJohn on August 30, 2007 at 11:20 pm

The Rialto has numerous ‘problems’. I don’t think the Landmark did anything with it in ages. It was shabby inside and out for decades with that irksome closed balcony, lights that did not work, rows of seats that seemed ready to tip over and an attitude that was not especially welcoming – no thrilling movie going experience there in ages.

The stage is not up to fire code the last time I checked – 20 years ago. So no live shows until….

Parking in South Pasadena has been a problem for the Rialto, but now the city is in the process of building a parking structure near by. The Rialto is available for rent says Landmark. The SP Register did a nice little story on it.

I always get the imoression that the Rialto was a bit of a cast off for Landmark for they never lavished any attention on it as they did on their west-side venues.

Pasadena/South Pasadena (and they are two distinct and separate municipalities) is the artsy hub of the San Gabriel Valley.

The Rialto has a chance to live still.

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