Rio Theatre

5566 Riverview Boulevard,
St. Louis, MO 63120

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Arthur Enterprises Inc.

Architects: William Schlesinger

Styles: Quonset Hut

Nearby Theaters

Rio Theatre 1956

The Rio Theatre opened November 22, 1939, designed by architect William Schlesinger. It was part of the Arthur Enterprises Inc. (Fanchon & Marco) this was one of two theatres in the St. Louis area built in the Quonset Hut style. Single floor theatre with a large lobby. A lot of neon adorned the front of the building and the marquee.

Located just off the main boulevard of W. Florissant Avenue on Riverview Boulevard, the theatre was located in the Walnut Park area of the northwest section of the city. Densley populated with an old German clientele. The Rio Theatre stayed around until 1973 when the neighborhood started to change and the older population moved to the suburbs. Lombardo’s restaurant finally bought the property and demolished the theatre for a parking lot.

Contributed by Charles Van Bibber

Recent comments (view all 16 comments)

butchieboy on September 10, 2011 at 9:44 pm

The Rio was my favorite theatre in the mid-50’s and early 60’s. Remember having to take my birth certificate to prove I qualified for the 35 cent admission (1958) when I was 11 but was 5'11" tall. !2 and older had to pay 60 cents. Remember seeing Creature of the Black Lagoon, The Birds, and Auntie Mame (yeah, I know, interesting mix) others as well, usually at the Sunday matinees.

Noir on September 11, 2013 at 9:25 am

Never used as a parking lot. It was next to Lombardo’s I went there in 1981. I lived in Walnut Park. I believe around 1976-1977 I saw the back door opened of the old RIO and I wandered in as a grade school boy seeking a little adventure. It was being used to store vending machines or vending machine parts. It was an old storage room, I did not see the rest of it.

People could go past the Katz drug store and Steak and Shake on Riverview, and past the old Howard Johnson’s near the Top of Tower to the Drive Inn during the summer. There was not enough money, assets, jobs, business ownership, promotions—income for these new frefugee families from mill Creek and elsewhere to support anything. Economic warfare has negative impacts.

You had to bridge the vast divide with money you did not have to go all the way up to River Roads in North County up West Florissant to see a movie or The Fox on the other side of town. You were not welcome at many places that might have been closer. There were once maybe 9 theaters around the North Grand area, near the Veterans hospital. Before The Fox was re-habbed it had cheap shows. People from the suburbs came to go to the Symphony across the street at night (before it was a movie palace) but most people from north of Delmar and Page, North St. Louis could not afford it.

The Fox theaterwas cheap on Saturday Matinee. Just like in North St. Louis it was old and falling apart. I think I saw “Snoopy Goes Home” or something there maybe around 1976-1977. It might have been $1 or $2 then.

Noir on September 11, 2013 at 9:36 am

Without the Rio and others you had to have the money to go all the way downtown. Everyone did not have money for cars. External segregated financial pressures just like in Warsaw during WWII, create ghettoes, and these just bring down movie houses.

The response to desegregation is blamed for closing many movie houses. We were not welcome and safe as minorities in most places. But at least we did not have to sit in the balcony.

Booker T Washington Theater never appears in listings. Hundreds of thousands of people continued to live in North St. Louis. A traditional minority neighborhood Mill Creek received the Civil Rights push back response. It was taken by force of emminent domain to create the site of the Gateway Arch, highway 40, St. Louis Univ got some area, and Grand Towers, and a Laclede town—-and 40 black churches and all their businesses, stability, and homes were raised to the ground. A different method than what happened in Tulsa, OK in 1920’s but the same result-devastation of the community. Compensation was little or nothing as everything was torn down starting in maybe before 1959. NAACP called it a “removal project.” So this is why “those people” were pushed to live there.

Josephine Baker lived in that neighborhood. Scott Joplin’s house was farther inland on2600 block of Delmar a streetcar ride from the Ragtime Turpin’s Rosebud Café. Turpin’s father Tom –honest John and brother Charles-owned the segregated Booker T Washington Theater opened in 1912 at 23rd St and Washington I think. Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and many others performed there. Red Fox’s Sanford and Son fame was on Vandventer near the White Castle and Manchester. A large numbers of black men were used for years to haul cotton and other goods on and off paddle wheelers and steam ships down by the Mississippi river so an old black neighborhood was there. This area grew with the war factories in WWII, being 95% black. Mark Twain even comments about hearing the work songs on the levy; syncopated timing paralleling Negro spirituals, all the unique music precursors to blues, Jazz, soul, Rock N Roll, pop, modern Country music and rap-that speaks of not being very happy. A great deal of American cinema was informed by these urban events and people. Hard work, Christian values, forgiveness, patience over hundreds of years by the late 1960’s and 1970’s did not seem to change much in economic conditions in comparison to the general societies resources. The deaths of many non-violent leader proved change—was not coming for several hundred years. So starting in the 80’s-rap tells a negative story.

From the movies—they copy James Cagney and many movies of “gangs.” People who eventually made it out of the poverty from other out of favor ethnic groups who were inurban areas.Cinema influenced them a great deal.

Noir on September 11, 2013 at 11:14 am

Why so many Cinema closings or demolished in urban areas?

Even the (Frederick) Douglas Theater on Vandeventer in the Ville closed in the early 1960’s—a segregated theater.

People do not have money for cinema pleasure when they are paid considerable less than average. If they exist on 3-5% of the financial assets poor to rich, quadruple unemployment,less money for education, fewer promotions, less ownership, no property appreciation, disparate impact in infant mortality and courts, health and so on—-entertainment takes a back seat.

Some families get ahead traditionally in America via who you know, connections, inheritance all via marriage—but this was completely outlawed for blacks until about 1968—it was not legal to marry someone in the general society.

45 years later,2013, very few Caucasian men today in US even in 2013 marry African American women although her family might have been solders fighting alongside of George Washington in a pivotal battle of the revolutionary war. Instead, it is 30 times as likely for a Caucasian man to marry a foreign born Asian woman from a communist country who may have an accent when they speak English than marry an African-American woman whose family has been defending the USA for centuries and helped build it for 400 years. Although African-Americans are one of the highest groups putting themselves at risk in the military—maybe due to a lack of opportunity, they are still not welcome in many families. People lament the old movie theater but do not lament the lack of diversity in they’re families.

Resources are not passing via marriage. With artificially limited money and the general population not moving into North St. Louis, the typical wealth accumulation method via property appreciation –is cut off from blacks in North St. Louis. Normal upward movement is blocked for 85%. The ghetto is an artificial creation, by the wider society that has caused depredation and raised a high economic invisible wall-force field.

Cinema movie houses like thousands of things were cut off. The deprivation is so high you could see families out on Sunday—dismantling buildings, taking the bricks to sell. A cinematic view looking like something out of the 1860’s, women, children, mom and dad in dusty old clothes.At night, the preditors, vampires and scavengers came out —because the wider society had locked them all inside—with 3%-5% of what they had to live on. So, yes this compression—-created violence.

African –Americans per the Urban League’s 50 year study 2013-1963 “I have a Dream Speech” report find that after 50 years and the entire civil rights movement—-blacks like those pushed into North St. Louis only had an increase in income in 50 years of 7%. What blacks were making as maids and porters in 1963, as a group in income they have advanced 7% from their old position—not much in 50 years. Remember blacks came out of the South in large numbers to work at the defense plants during WWII when the US was afraid of losing when pressed between Japan and Germany. Many of the plants had been converted but were shut down into the 1960’s and very early 1970’s. No jobs = no money.

Civil Rights leaders were gunned down, and JFK and the attorney general hopeful democratic candidate were killed. Martin Luther King was killed. Large numbers of black boys with no money for college or influence were sent to Vietnam. Military jeeps came to find you. They did not come back home after Vietnam to better treatment. Vietnam ate up all the national money. Simultaneously, manufacturing was declining and continued to decline. OPEC oil embargo in early 1970’s continued an ongoing-perpetual DEPRESSION that had existed in these communities, caused from deprivation.

While others had access, contacts, resources, money—-and still do, they lost hope. Like prisoners of war, who have been fenced off, thrown in solitary, tortured, and starved in so many ways—-all you have to do is drop a few pieces of bread in they’re midst. They have been setup to cannibalize and fight each other for the minuscule crumbs. Frankensteined and zombied a few will try to save themselves at the expense of others. They learned this from the wider society—but in an environment of few resources—this is the result.

Hopeless at being saved in they’re lifetime, they turn on each other—they no longer believe their leadership—or escape committee that has failed to release them from this ordeal. The urban Marshal plan like what was given to Germany and Japan was never given to black Americans in the USA. Like in 1940’s when American black GI’s had to go to the kitchen door to get food—German Prisoners of WAr got to eat up front. Old habits die hard.

In fact, most of the few leaders and educated were the only ones allowed to get out—leaving them. The leaders and those behind are both lacking the resources to help. The young look to the model of the Italian gangs, Jewish Gangs, Polish gangs, Irish gangs and German gangs—who made it out, and tried to copy some of these methods of surviving or freeing themselves. Could the general society survive under these conditions or worse for 400 years? They have people surrounding them who they are supposed to take the trash out for with immense resources comparably daily showing them what they do not have and will never have. A few gave up hope and history has shown they had good reason to give up hope. They took on the self focused, I am going to save myself at the expense of everyone else belief disease—-like in the general society.

They were just young urban capitalists in a society created War Zone, surrounded—who saw that forgiveness and kindness and non-violence—did not appear to work. They saw many A students getlittle or nothing. If they cannot get out they want to live a brief better life, get a few drops of water in Hades and die young and fast in the prison camp. The outside pressure ensures that they are not afraid of dying—they are afraid of living—seeing what the compression does to your loved ones over decades. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is not new.

Living under, other different rules—then the general society they responded differently—being at war with everything. They think everyone betrayed them.

They did not break into schools and commit mass murders—they seemed to be in an economic battle. They did cause allot of collateral damage—when they targeted adversaries. Living cinema.

People trying to survive in manmade depredated war zones——-have film noir cinema all around them. They are the movie. Ask those who went to Afghanistan or Iraq, except they had a green zone, pulled in and out of safe zones——and get to leave that zone or ghetto. They were funded with training, resources, college, and get to leave. These American black people, most of them do not get to leave, they do not have the resources —they are born into it, refugees, prisoners—in America. It took 50 years for some to crawl out into North County with the few resources that they had available. Some try to get out via the military—and come home in a body bag.

Life is a very different American cinema experience for them—real Noir. It was not God forsaken, it was an ordered result of Americans forsaking and creating a deprivation war zone for them—-they’re parents—they’re grandparents———and they’re children. It is the ultimate living American cinema.Living nostalgia.

Noir on September 11, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Thank you for your knowledge and input Chuck. Norside—gone in 1970’s. Lindell, gone in 1961 Aubert on Martin Luther King Blvd is family dollar store, Many smaller old buildings were used as churches. Big theaters they were too expensive to heat and maintain for another use.

I grew up in Walnut Park in North St. Louis City and lived there until I was 21. I graduated from grade school and high school there. I continued to live continuously in two other different areas of North St. Louis the next 11 years. I lived also about 7 blocks from Beaumont.

Cinemas must have income. Shifts in assets and income close theaters. The economic system for most who moved in there remained the same. They were constantly spatially, economically, educationally marginalized wherever they went. There was not a new start, really. The 1970’s St. Louis Rand consulting report called these “depletion zones.” City services and many other things were diminished there. The vast majority of block grant money was sent to the central corridor south of Delmar. Businesses including cinemas were cut off.

Children are born into families and rely on parents and grand parents ability to provide—-or are impacted by the deprivations of the existing system. Children enter a pre-existing system as they’re parents did. Cumulative, compounded, continuing, hundreds of layers of exponentially increasing historical pressures on those families was not really a new start.

Red lining and the most basic of comparably resources and opportunities—-were missing. Assets, incomes and opportunity needed to provide for families and children, when missing, do not allow you to properly or competitively maintain these families, raise children, maintain neighborhoods, businesses===or cinemas.

Areas and people in a struggle, in a war of sorts, all over the world have battle areas that look the same. Economic deprivation, 3%-5% assets, the men are missing-dead—prisoners-PTSD-coping mechanism—alcohol-legal/illegal drugs, single female headed households, women and children everywhere, teenagers clump together for protection and run wild, poverty, high dropout rate, rubble, bombed out looking buildings, and poor infrastructure and schools. This zone has existed for 4-5 decades near the old Rio and many of the theaters you mentioned. The “flight” of the assets, inheritances, incomes, opportunities, contacts, business owners, investors——those with expendable income—-beyond poverty level——left. This caved in the cinemas. It caved in everything else also.

Noir on September 11, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Beaumont played a role for the site of the movie “A City Decides” by Charles Guggenheim(1956) that was nominated for an Academy award. It was nice that 3 of the Little Rock Nine went there to finish high school after Little Rock Central High School was intentionally closed to thwart they’re attendance.

Some theaters played a role but since many theaters in their early years when they opened were segregated and later many closed in 1950’s and early 1960’s period of the Civil Rights movement——-they played less of a role in the population of that half of the city the last 40 years. Most of them were vacant buildings or demolished vacant lots.

I’m not blaming movies. Humans are always responsible for criminal actions even if they are under economic deprivation pressures not felt by the wider society. Creating economic refugees does not help problem. Bootless, strap-less and the resource-less found very few paths to success via they’re hard work—out into industry from there. Roads out for the 90% were few and they were stranded. Cinema owners with all their ability also could not figure how to make it work with all their business experience. No new cinemas or anything else have been built in that half of the city and the only other new movie theaters I remember were in the old train yards behind Union Station downtown or at the old Chase Park Plaza.

Sorry, I was not trying to be political. If you grew up there, the disparity of resources inside the zone vs outside the zone, the harshness, (what fundamentally caused the Cinemas to close)—-we saw as factual, versus political. People can differ on why all the cinemas just shut down.

But, I will in the future limit any future posts to a few lines of information on the visual facts of the old remains if any on the buildings—-versus forensic whys or the anthropology of what happened.

I was just responding to other people’s comments on the “demographics” and the neighborhood “changing” and it being a “God-forsaken ghetto.” I just thought some background on the underlying economic and social factors of why all the Cinemas were closings or being demolished would be helpful. Things did not happen at that time for no reason. It is not like today—where theaters are deciding to go digital or have competition form Netflix, cable, satillite, broadcaste TV, and internet streamed in movies.

As you said Chuck, “shifts in population and white flight to the suburbs.” Your not taking a political stand, you are just stating that facts. There seemed to not be any comments from those who lived there 24 hours a day and went to school there in decades. This was our daily environmentwith all its complexity.

For those who lived there, we saw here and there vacant old cinema buildings and vacant lots for most of the last 50 years. This environment is an accepted norm of American society. The hundreds of thousands of people who as children who grew up there, and were raised there have very different experiences than you do.

We would also have liked to have been able to visit when the neighborhood cinemas were open. If they are ever revitalized—maybe public viewing of movies, together with others, will be unique and popular again.

I am happy you have so many found memories of these cinemas in they’re heyday that have enriched your life.

rivest266 on February 22, 2016 at 2:05 pm

November 22nd, 1939 grand opening ad in photo section

Chris1982 on May 3, 2016 at 11:17 pm

I have read many of the comments posted by Noir and I don’t think this site was created to make political statements such as his.

Chris1982 on May 3, 2016 at 11:26 pm

Tony De Carlo managed the Rio Theatre for many years. He ran a tight ship and a very clean theatre. When the Rio Theatre closed Tony moved to the much larger and minature movie palace, the Granada Theatre in the Bevo area of South St. Louis. He stayed there until the Arthur Theatres went out of business and then went to work for Mid America Theatres. He managed the Manchester Twin and finally the Brentwood Theatre.

BobCarter on January 16, 2017 at 6:32 pm

The Rio Theatre in the late 1930s – early 1940s was a special place for my mother, younger brother and me. It was larger, newer, and classier than the little Robin Theatre that we usually attended. It was farther from our home in Wallnut Park. We didn’t have a car. Few people did. We only went on special occasions. First run films and Saturday matinees. The activities that made this theatre so special occurred between the feature films. There amateur “talent” contests were held and people, adults and children, would go up onto the stage and perform their talents. I’m sure prizes were awarded, though I don’t really recall what they were. Perhaps free tickets to next weeks matinee. There were tap dancers, harmonica players and other amateur musicians. Girls would jump rope and boys would do tricks with their Yo-yos. As a little kid the Yo-yo boys always made the biggest impression on me. I wanted so much to be able to make a Yo-yo sail through the air like those boys did. It never happened and the Saturday matinees went the way of all simple pleasures and movie houses that were part of childhoods magical places.

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