Rialto Theatre

329 Main Street,
Danville, VA 24541

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50sSNIPES on February 28, 2022 at 6:11 am

The Rialto began life as the Bijou Theatre during the 1900s until around 20 to 25 years later. On May 5, 1926, nearly half of downtown Danville was devastated in the city’s historic fire of 1926, which destroyed the following: Gilmers, The Kaufman Store, Harnsburger’s, Woolworth’s 5/10 Cent Store, Crews Coffee Company, Dunford’s Studio And Local Armory, and the Bijou Theatre (which the Bijou after the fire was completely destroyed).

Exactly a month before the Capitol Theatre opened its doors, J.C. Hester, secretary of the Southern Amusement Company announced that a “new” Rialto Theatre would be constructed at the former Bijou on January 18, 1927. As for starters before construction: The original announced capacity for the Rialto is an estimate of 1,000 (with 750 on the lower floor and 250 in balcony) the floor considering an 8 foot drop so persons in any part of the house will have perfect viewing, and the seats will be arranged and heavily upholstered to allow complete comfort. The regulation stage brings tabloid shows and smaller productions, while the big road stuff continues at the Majestic and the mainstreamers at the “then new” Capitol. The entrance since being announced “will” occupied a 17ft frontage on Main Street leading back into an ornate lobby. Right at the end of the lobby could have major expansion to a width of 46ft cutting behind two stores which will be on both sides of the lobby. The wiring of the theater was done by the Stigall Electric Company of Danville which included a $3,000 automatic switchboard.

During construction on June 28, 1927, Hammond Staples of 714 Dame Street, a young employee of Carter And Son’s was severely injured after a falling brick struck him on the head while standing next to the constructed Rialto building. The 4½ pound brick fell at a distance of 60ft from the bricklayer’s scaffold, his scalp was split open and a fractured skull was resulted. He was taken to Edmunds hospital by ambulance and was later released where Dr. H.A. Wiseman reported that the outer plate of the skull was cracked but the physician did not believe that the brain had been penetrated as there was no pressure on the brain. After X-rays were taken in order to define more clearly the extent of the fracture, Wiseman said that he had “react very well though but the outcome could not be foretold.

Meanwhile on July 9, 1927, Rialto’s seats arrived by the American Seating Company of Richmond, Virginia. The original seats of the theater were Silverman’s “On The Corner” seats and it represents a soft sanitary Spanish leather. The cushion was 6 inches thick with full spring edges, doing away with any hard surface underneath a person’s knees, especially to smaller people or children whose feet not exactly reach the floor. The hinges are ball-bearing which makes it possible to raise or lower the seat bottom with ease. There is also a hat rack beneath as well. At the end of each row contains an aisle light, and with rows being placed at a distance separate apart sufficient enough to permit room to patrons sitting in cramped position. The theater was also equipped with Arctic Nu-Air Corp air conditioners.

After all that construction, the Rialto Theatre is ready to open its doors. The Rialto Theatre opened its doors to the public on September 19, 1927 with Lewis Stone in “The Prince Of Headwaiters” along with Francis X. Bushman in “The Flag” in “very early color”, and a newsreel. Including the following before showing: Performances by Alvin Eley, Chas. Shopland and the theater’s orchestra performing “My Maryland”, and Thelma Berger with the Rialto’s organ.

On January 25, 1929, G.H. Melson of Western Electric and a force of 10 men had announced that the Rialto would be installing talkies. It was the first theater in Danville to install talkies, with the Rialto installing Vitaphone equipment. On February 4, 1929, the theater ran its first sound film: Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer” along with a Laurel And Hardy short in “We Faw Down”, and Will Hayes' Address. It was originally scheduled to show “The Singing Fool” as its first sound film but was scrapped.

Danville Police on January 6, 1930 were investigating reports of many break-ins in various places, one of which is the Rialto Theatre where police investigated a rear door of the Rialto Theatre had been forced open when a robbery took place there. It was reported that Jack Moser of High Point, North Carolina, was charged at attempting to defraud two Danville theaters (the Broadway and the Rialto). He was sentenced to jail for 10 days until court. He was released on the 16th after Judge C.K. Carter declared that “there was no doubt in his mind that the man was guilty but evidence did not substantiate the charge”.

Vitaphone didn’t last for long at the Rialto as on Groundhog Day 1931 (February 2, 1931), Western Electric took over the Rialto.

The Rialto continued operations throughout World War II and into the Korean War, as the Rialto was the first theater in Danville to show 3-D films beginning with “Bwana Devil” on April 12, 1953. Right when 1954 came along, the Capitol, Lea, North, and Schoolfield Theatres were the only indoor theaters in Danville to have CinemaScope only in 1954. One year later in 1955, CinemaScope was then installed at the Rialto.

On February 26, 1967, it was announced that the Rialto Theatre would close for the final time later in March in connection of a remodeling project of a Glenmore store. The Rialto Theatre closed for the final time on March 12, 1967.

jthackworth2000 on December 18, 2012 at 11:56 am

The Rialto Theater started life as the BIJOU Theater in the early 1900’s ( pre 1910 ). When the Strand Theater ( 1915 ) closed after just 1 yr. of operation the BIJOU obtained the small orchestra from the Strand Theater. The Bijou was a popular theater with a middle-class working patronage. The Bijou was purchased by Paramount Pictures in 1928-1929 through H.F. Kincey who also owned two other theaters in town. The theater was renamed the Rialto. The Rialto was popular for the appearances of many a western movie star, as was the Virginia Theater up the street, and was known for a popular intermission game called “Lucky.” The Rialto was a segregated theater with blacks having an entrance through the basement to a hidden staircase that went to the balcony and whites utilizing the orchestra seating or main floor. The theater operated until the 1960’s.