Rialto Theater

80 Forsyth Street NW,
Atlanta, GA 30301

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Trolleyguy on October 6, 2018 at 3:26 pm

The new action flick “Venom” ostensibly takes place in San Francisco. However, this theatre’s marquee shows up in a couple of street chase sequences. Filming was principally in SF, but Atlanta was used as well and it shows.

reg41 on February 15, 2013 at 1:30 am

I spent 9/64 to 12/65 in Atlanta. This theatre was fairly new and was a great place to get lost in a movie. You bought your ticket at the street level box office, went into a spacious first floor lobby area, up an escalator, down a short hallway, and you came out halfway down the auditorium. The seats in front were conventional, the back half was very close to stadium style. The total seating in 1964 was about 1200. Admission was $1.50. The movie “The Great Race” played to near-capacity here for several weeks. They usually booked light-hearted fare like that, and some Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Pamela Tiffin, etc films played here.

TLSLOEWS on March 28, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Once again thanks for the photos Alonzo.

jeterga on March 28, 2011 at 7:28 pm

In the fall of 1916, a 925-seat theater, the Southeast’s largest movie house, opened in the Central Business District and the original theater district of Atlanta. The theater’s name was the Rialto, which is defined as exchange or marketplace. The Rialto continued to operate during the Depression and at one point in its history boasted the largest electric sign above the marquee south of New York City. In 1962, the original theater was torn down and a new 1,200-seat Rialto was erected on the same site. It was the first movie theater to be constructed in downtown Atlanta in 35 years and stayed open until 1989 before falling victim to a declining downtown economy.

In 1991, Dr. Richard Koehler, then director of the School of Music at Georgia State University, was approached by real estate consultant David Haddow about relocating the School to several vacant buildings in the block bounded by Forsyth, Luckie, Fairlie and Poplar streets. As an advocate for a downtown performing arts center.

Following a very successful $14 million fund-raising campaign, led by Georgia State University president Carl V. Patton and A.W. “Bill” Dahlberg, a GSU alumnus and president of the Southern Company, construction began in the fall of 1994 on the old Rialto Theater

Extensive renovations were needed to make the Rialto a state-of-the-art concert and performance hall. The Rialto Center for the Performing Arts now boasts superb acoustics after the theater’s roof was raised 12 feet. Interior renovations include a larger lobby to handle patrons, box office facilities, ADA-accessible improvements, new stage with proscenium, orchestra pit and 833 new comfortable seats.

In March 1996, the reopening of the 833-seat Rialto Center for the Performing Arts marked a turning point in the revitalization of the historic Fairlie-Poplar District of downtown Atlanta. Since the reopening of the Rialto, more than 600,000 patrons have experienced performances ranging from theater to dance to music offerings including jazz, blues, rock, and classical. The old Rialto Theater has been successfully transformed into a first-class performance venue.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on March 2, 2011 at 9:06 pm

When I visted it years ago,it was closed,but at least i got a close up look.Looked like what Stan said a Grand Theatre for Atlanta.

WHITEFIELD on March 7, 2010 at 12:26 am

Joe Namath as C.C.RYDER. Ann Margret as his girl. “C.C.AND COMPANY” STARTS FRIDAY at The RIALTO THEATRE.
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Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 27, 2009 at 1:40 am

The RIALTO was facing the same booking downtown theatres everywhere were facing. NOW SHOWING A BIG DOUBLE FEATURE

FOXY BROWN and TRUCK TURNER. Both rated R. need to write more?

Harvey on April 11, 2009 at 12:05 pm

1983 photo of the Rialto here.

Patsy on September 27, 2008 at 9:12 pm

“too young”…thanks! And you are correct…the first photo!

Patsy on September 27, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Lost Memory: Guess which Rialto photo I like better?

Patsy on September 7, 2008 at 12:47 am

StanMalone: Carleton doesn’t have a computer, but I have been in contact with him regarding another matter which isn’t related to theatres. I apologize for thinking that Carleton managed a theatre as he did tell me that he was a projectionist for many years in the Atlanta area. I do plan to call him this weekend so please email at and we can continue this conversation. Title your email “Carleton”. Thanks.

JFBrantley on September 6, 2008 at 12:53 am

What a shame that a true palace went to seed. I remember seeing the movie Winning there in the 1960’s. My brother, a friend and I rode the bus downtown and caught the matinee. Later on I saw a few movies between morning and afternoon classes at Georgia State.

What was very impressive about the Rialto was the large sequined letters that went on the marquee. I loved seeing them. They actually glowed with lit marquee behind them. Unfortunately, the marquee was changed to what it is now before the theater closed.

The last movie I saw there was Superman 3. It was an evening show with the lights on during the show. Actually the crowd was better behaved than at the current Southlake 24.

Patsy on June 4, 2008 at 4:56 pm

I’m trying to locate an Atlanta theatre manager by the name of Carleton Heist. Can anyone be of help to me?

Harvey on March 28, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Rialto hangs tough with action films – Last downtown picture show has endured some hard times

The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution – July 28, 1985
Author: POUSNER, HOWARD, Howard Pousner Staff Writer: STAFF

The Rialto , the last picture show in downtown Atlanta , may be the only theater in the metropolitan area where the ushers are armed with billy clubs.

Since the Omni 6 closed last year, the 1,200-seat Rialto has gone it alone as the only movie theater in the heart of the city – an area where marquees bearing nostalgic names such as Grand, Paramount and Roxy once shone.

The theater at the corner of Forsyth and Luckie streets has endured some hard times since it opened in 1962, replacing the first Rialto , which had fueled Atlantans' film fantasies at the same site since 1916. But the theater’s longevity is less a matter of the survival of the fittest than of its ability to take a licking and come back kicking.

Once one of the city’s premier theaters, the Rialto is hanging tough today with “action” flicks starring the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and that one-man demolition derby, Sylvester Stallone.

“We classify this as an action house,” said Rialto manager Bob Denham, “and it attracts an action crowd.”

That’s why there’s a sign at the entrance persuading patrons to permit the “doorman” to check all bags and coats, and laying down the Rialto law: “No alcohol, weapons, drugs, food or radios.”

Inside the immense auditorium, the matted carpeting and crudely restitched slashed curtains give the Rialto a desolate aura – like a setting from a Dirty Harry movie.

Appearances aside, Denham said, “Our customers are probably subjected to fewer disturbances than in most first-run theaters, where ushers are a thing of the past.” The in-house security force is a thing of the present at the Rialto , where overhead aisle lights are left on throughout the show so that troublemakers can be easily spotted and ejected.

Instead of the premieres of days gone by such as “It Happened One Night” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the Rialto ’s coming attractions include “War of Dragons,” whose garish poster outside assails passers-by with the aphorism: “Life Is Cheap When Death Comes Fast!”

“If we put a love story or a Disney picture on the screen, we’d fall flat on our face,” said Denham, adding that the Rialto sells between 4,000 and 5,000 tickets in an average week. Admission is $2 for a double feature; tickets are two-for-one on Bargain Wednesdays.

The Rialto ’s success stems from giving the people what they want, said C.L. Patrick, chairman of the board of the 450-screen Carmike Cinemas chain, which owns the theater. “There’s a demand for the kind of movies the Rialto shows,” he said. “Those – what do you call them? – kung fu movies do really well there.”

Denham, an action fan himself, said the Oriental chop-‘em-ups and American-made gun-'em-downs such as Chuck Norris’ “Code of Silence” draw equally well. “Action movies have a tendency to get you involved,” he explained. “They’re far-fetched, but you can feed yourself into the picture – root for the good guy, hate the bad guy.”

Bob Moscow, who managed the theater from the late ‘40s until the early '60s, misses the time when Atlantans made a night of dining downtown and taking in Rialto presentations such as “On the Beach,” “High Noon” and “The Caine Mutiny.” “We used to fight with all the downtown theaters for product,” he said. “We wanted to play all the top pictures.”

Atlanta ’s suburban sprawl and increasing land values in the central city drew the curtain on downtown’s prominence as a movie showplace. Only the Rialto remains, and, said Moscow, “It’s a different business now.”

1234 on October 6, 2007 at 6:39 pm

Actually the the Rialto opened as the Piedmont Theatre on April 2, 1916. And has a Smith Seeburg pipe organ. The theatre was designed by architect A.Ten Eyck Brown. This was the second theatre in Atlanta he designed, He also designed the Forsyth Theatre which was across from the Piedmont and would later design the Criterion which was on Peachtree Street. The Piedmont opened with the film “The Hunted Women”. The Wurlitzer organs were installed in 1920 and 1927.
In July of 1916 vaudeville became a part of the program.
On Dec. 17 1916 the Piedmont changed its name to the Rialto. The newspapers don’t say why the name change however the theatre may have had some pressure from the Piedmont Hotel which was directly across the street.
Anyway for more on the Rialto and its organs and some of the history of the theatre go to the Atlanta Chapter ATOS website and go to the newsletter section and look in the past newsletters for June 2006 for a more indepth article.

WHITEFIELD on July 29, 2007 at 4:10 am

Here is a night photo.
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WHITEFIELD on June 5, 2007 at 12:03 am

Here is a nice picture of The Rialto
View link

Don K.
Don K. on May 18, 2007 at 5:19 pm

What a great looking marquee! The vertical is simply terrific! Don’t remember seeing it the last time I was in Atlanta! Now that’s what you call progress!

JackCoursey on May 18, 2007 at 11:34 am

Here are some May 2007 photos of the Rialto: 1, 2, 3

StanMalone on June 9, 2006 at 1:49 pm

For the GSU history project:

My family moved to Atlanta in the summer of 1967. The first movie I attended after that was at the Rialto, June 10, a Monday I think. The feature was the John Wayne western “The War Wagon.” Like most of the first run movies that played there during that time, it was a Universal Pictures release. By this time the exodus to the suburbs (movie theatre wise) was underway and only the big downtown theatres like the Grand, Fox, Roxy, and Atlanta were left to keep the Rialto company. The bookings for the Rialto were mostly lower tier first run offerings which seldom lasted more than a month. Although starting in 1970, I passed the Rialto every day on the bus on the way to class at GSU, I never saw anything worth attending even though I was in the neighborhood. Even the Universal releases such as “Coogan’s Bluff,” “Hellfighters,” and “Winning” had short runs before heading out to the second run suburban houses. The Rialto did enjoy a brief stint as a top grossing location in 1970 with an eighteen week booking of the blockbuster “Airport” followed by a six week booking of the Clint Eastwood western “Two Mules For Sister Sara.” In late 1971 two more Universal releases, “Play Misty For Me” and “Sometimes A Great Notion” marked the end of that era of Rialto history. After that it was a collection of sex, action, and / or horror movies usually lasting a week. The one, last, effort at traditional booking came in June 1972 with the “Airport” knockoff, “Skyjacked.”

Since early 1971, the Coronet Theatre, located near the Fox on Peachtree, had been drawing huge crowds of the previously untapped “black” audience with movies such as “Cotton Comes To Harlem,” “Sweet Sweetback,” and “Shaft.” The Martin (now Carmike) chain which operated the Rialto made the decision to “go black” as the practice was referred to in the business, and “Shafts Big Score” opened to huge attendance followed by a Jim Brown action movie, “Slaughter.” The Rialto booked whichever of these movies it could get and filled in the gaps with action, kung fu, and horror features of less than mediocre quality. Like all good things, this did not last as the Grand, Atlanta (where I worked at the time) and even the Fox jumped on the “Blaxploitation” bandwagon, and there was simply not enough product, good or otherwise, to go around.

After my GSU days I did not have reason to go downtown and lost track of the goings on at the Rialto. In 1985 I made my first visit in 13 years, the purpose of which was to check out the booth prior to working there for the regular projectionist while he was on vacation. By this time the Rialto had truly fallen on hard times, playing very low quality double features of horror and action themed movies and charging a one dollar admission at all times. In other words they were giving the admission away in the hopes of making their profit at the concession stand. The boxoffice had a large sign posted which stated “NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINK, NO DRUGS, NO WEAPONS, ALL PACKAGES (INCLUDING HANDBAGS) SEARCHED AT THE DOOR.” Sure enough, there was a uniformed private security guard standing next to the ticket taker checking bags. When I made my way to the booth I noticed (just as Raymond did in his above post) that even though the feature had started, the house lights were still at the intermission level. When I hurried to point this out to the projectionist (one of the true old timers still left from the glory days of downtown theatres), he just smiled and proceeded to explain to this new youngster (who was 33 at the time) that only the cleaning lights were turned off during the show. The house lights were left on all day so the security guards could better see and be seen. Sure enough, there was another uniformed guard stationed in the auditorium.

Despite this beginning, I found the Rialto a great place to work. It was probably the last theatre in Atlanta where the projectionist used reels and made manual changeovers from reel to reel. In between features we would run previews which were often of Hong Kong made kung fu films complete with Chinese graphics and voiceover. I enjoyed working there so much that I continued on for about a year giving the regular operator a day off plus working his vacations. This all came to an end when Martin installed a platter system in the booth and did away with the projectionist, adding that duty to the manager. The last movie I ran there that did any great amount of business was Prince’s “Purple Rain” which brought back to me the days of “Airport” when I would look out of the booth and see a packed house. The last movie for me, prior to being let go was “CHUD” which stood for Cannibalistic Underground Humanoid Dwellers, and the intermission short subject, “Pipeline Critters” which was about the animals who made their home in the vicinity of the Alaska Oil Pipeline. What a great way to go out. Quite a change from John Wayne and my first visit to the Rialto.

kkeene on May 24, 2006 at 4:40 pm

I am the Marketing Manager at the Rialto and we are celebrating our 90th Birthday and our 10th Anniversary next year! We would love to collect the stories above or any new stories to use during the anniversary year! Please e-mail me at !

brazilianjiujitsu on December 16, 2005 at 3:13 pm

This was my favorite Theather even though I have only been once ( I saw some Kung Fu Movie) and it is like a blurr. As a kid (and now an Adult) I love Horror and Kung Fu Movies (also blaxplotation Movies). As a kid, I always would look forward to the Friday edition of the Atlanta Journal to look in the movie section to see what was playing at the Rialto. It was a Grindhouse for horror, Kung Fu and Blaxplotation movies. a rough crowd went to the Riaito so that is why I went once a child. The Theather closed in ‘89 with “ Punkinhead” as the last movie to ever play there. The theather was boarded up untill '95 When Georgia State bought it and turned it into a concert Hall. I sure do miss that Theather. I wish some one would open up a Grindhouse theather in Atlanta in the tradition of the Rialto. I thiink it would be a hit.