Rialto Theatre

1501 Douglas Street,
Omaha, NE 68102

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Publix

Architects: Frank Latenser, John Latenser, Jr.

Firms: John Latenser & Sons

Styles: Italian Renaissance

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Rialto Theatre, Omaha, Nebraska in 1920

The Rialto Theatre opened May 29, 1918 with John Barrymore in “Raffles”. It originally featured a diagonal floor plan and seating arrangements with the interior designed by architect Frank Latenser, and a multi-colored, terra-cotta exterior designed by his son John Latenser Jr. It was operated by A.H. Blank and was equipped with a Hillgreen-Lane pipe organ.

For promotional use, the theatre has three large vertical billboard-type signs, one on the cut-off front corner of the building, and another on each side of the theatre’s center board. The Rialto Theatre was closed on August 2, 1929 with Corrine Griffith in “The Devine Lady”.

After the Rialto Theatre closed, the building was used for many different retail store purposes. It was later demolished.

Contributed by Richard Pittenger

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

IvanSteinke on December 11, 2002 at 8:49 am

The Rialto Theater sat on the northeast corner of 15th and Douglas, where the Union Pacific office building is now being constructed.

If you want to find pictures of this building, from either side, the place to go is to the archival photography department at the Durham Western Heritage Museum in Omaha. They have over 21,000 pictures of Old Omaha, including the Rialto Theater. I know, because I have seen them.

beardbear31 on September 30, 2004 at 8:18 pm

A vintage view of the Rialto theater can be found at http://www.historicomaha.com/cp4.jpg

WAJWAJ on December 2, 2005 at 10:46 pm

Several architectural elements from the Rialto Theatre, as seen in the photo from beardbear31 on 30 Sep 2004, can be found at Lanoha’s Nursery in Omaha.

rivest266 on December 4, 2011 at 11:00 am

This opened on May 29th, 1918 by A. H. Blank. I have posted the grand opening ad here.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 15, 2012 at 3:26 pm

There is a photo depicting part of the lobby of either the Rialto Theatre or the Orpheum Theatre in Omaha, published in 1926 in a trade journal for the marble industry called Through the Ages. The magazine used the same photo twice, one caption identifying it as the Rialto and the other as the Orpheum. This is the photo, as scanned and displayed by the web site Quarries and Beyond, which has copyrighted the scan (so don’t upload it to the photos section here.)

I think the photo probably depicts the Rialto, though. The lighting fixtures have an Art Nouveau look, which doesn’t match the French Renaissance style of the Orpheum (1926) but might well have been used in the older Rialto (1918.)

Shehan13644 on April 4, 2016 at 10:36 pm

I am very interested in the history of the Rialto in Omaha. Does anyone have historic items, programs, or photographs of it that you might be interested in selling?

DavidZornig on November 11, 2016 at 1:43 pm

1961 photo of the former Rialto as Tully’s added, courtesy of Steve Raglin. There is a second photo of Cooper’s Cinerama next door as well. Maybe some one with photo editing skills can combine the two.

DavidZornig on November 11, 2016 at 1:54 pm

1/16/37 photo & copy added courtesy of Charles Martens.

“Opening of the Burlington Bus Depot at the corner of 15th and Douglas Streets. 1-16-1937”

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 10, 2016 at 9:04 pm

The Rhapsodic commentary on the opening of the Rialto that appeared in the June 22, 1918, issue of Motography is worth quoting in full:

“New $750,000 Theatre Opened at Omaha

“A. H. Blank and Associates Give Pictures a
Home That Has Few Equals in the Country

“THE Rialto Theatre of Omaha, Nebraska, built at a cost of $750,000, was recently opened to the public.

“It is one of the most beautiful playhouses devoted to pictures in America. The exterior was designed by John Latenser, Jr., and the interior by Frank Latenser, two Omaha architects. The structure is a composite of Venetian renaissance with modern adaptations. The building is 132x132 in dimensions. The dominant tones of the exterior trimming are of old ivory and blue terra cotta, with panels of tapestry brick in soft tones.

“The interior gives the spectator the effect of overlooking an Italian formal garden. Mural paintings form a per-> spective in which Lombardy poplars and ornamental shrubs lead the eye away to far-off mountains. There are marble balustrades and balconies with alcoves containing cleverly lighted fountains.

“The house is flooded with light from concealed electric globes and many beautiful color effects are gained.

“The seating arrangement is in keeping with the perfection of the house. The seats in the pit are so located that a perfect view of the screen is given from any part of the floor. There are no columns or pillars to obstruct the view.

“The draperies of the curtain and screen are of old rose silk velour, and all of the carpets are of soft-toned gray. Usherettes are costumed in gray, in keeping with the color scheme.

“The ventilation and heating system is the best obtainable. The washed air system is used and the air is entirely changed in the theatre ten times in an hour.

“One of the largest organs in the world has been installed. A prominent musician, Kenneth Widenor, is the organist. The orchestra is under the direction of Harry Silverman.

“The Rialto is essentially an Omaha institution, owned by Charles Grotte, Walter Brandes, John Latenser, Sr., and A. H. Blank.

“The opening play was John Barrymore in ‘Raffles.’ Paramount and Fox standard pictures are shown.”

Of interest are the revelations that the interior was designed by Frank J. Latenser in “…a composite of Venetian renaissance with modern adaptations.” The “modern adaptations” must have referred to such things as the art nouveau lighting fixtures I noted in an earlier comment.

The firm of John Latenser & Sons was formed in 1914 when John L. Latenser, who had practiced architecture in Omaha since 1885, established a partnership with his sons, who thereupon took over most of the work. On the Rialto project, John Jr. designed the exterior and acted as structural engineer and supervising architect. The Rialto was the first of five theater projects designed by the firm, including a 1954 remodeling of the Orpheum.

dallasmovietheaters on December 5, 2022 at 10:35 am

A.H. Blank opened the venue May 29, 1918 with John Barrymore in “Raffles”. The Publix Circuit took on the venue but was likely well dissatisfied with its acoustics upon being equipped with Vitaphone sound. The price of admission was reduced early in 1929 and the theater scuffled though hosting a variety of trade screenings and free kids matinees. The Rialto closed permanently on August 2, 1929 with Corinne Griffith in “The Divine Lady” supported by a Lloyd Hamilton comedy short. The Hilgreen-Lane pipe organ was sold to the local Central High School.

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