Rio Theatre

412 MacDonald Avenue,
Richmond, CA 94801

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Wartime Programming at the Rio Grindhouse

The Rio Theatre was converted from an auto garage, opening on June 26, 1943 with Humphrey Bogart in “San Quentin” & Wayne Morris in “Ladies Must Live”. The new theatre took advantage of the boom-town economy of wartime Richmond, home of the Kaiser shipyards which had attracted masses of workers from all over the country. It was a quick conversion using second hand equipment and quickly became a very profitable operation, open 24 hours a day and especially popular with the shift workers at the shipyards (another 24 hour a day operation).

Immediately after the war, business began to decline but the Rio Theatre, under a new owner, continued operating as a low admission price, last run “grindhouse”. It was in a rather rough part of town and had the reputation of being a real flea pit when I was growing up in the 1950’s. It was the only Richmond theatre I never was in, although I admired the posters outside every time I got a haircut at the barber shop next door. Now I regret I didn’t go inside at least once…it probably wasn’t as bad as it’s reputation…or maybe it was.

Ironically, the Rio Theatre outlasted all of the other movie theatres on McDonald Avenue which numbered about eight at the beginning of the 1950’s (from the Rio Theatre to the Uptown Theatre). It was still showing double features up until about the mid 1960’s I believe and then closed and became a church.

It was demolished by 2014 and by 2015 and an apartment block was built on the site. That area is an even rougher area of town now and I have no desire to check it out.

Contributed by jwr2000

Recent comments (view all 7 comments)

GaryParks on May 25, 2004 at 12:36 pm

About ten years ago(circa 1993 or 4), armed with a listing of the addresses of the theatres of Richmond, I checked out McDonald Avenue to see what, if anything, had survived. I’d never been to Richmond before. The Rio was still standing at that time, and in use as a church. I’ve seen old pictures of it, and aside from the marquee being gone, the building still looked like a theatre, with poster cases still intact, surrounded by maroon tile. Though I had my camera with me, there were several very unfriendly-looking guys out on the sidewalk, and I was unwilling to ruffle any feathers. I did photograph the shell of the Uptown—now a senior center and only vaguely recognizable as a former theatre—which sat along a quieter and cleaner stretch of the former theatre district. It was the only other theatre building surviving. I remember that the theatre variously known as the T&D, Fox, and UA survived into the mid-1980s, because at that time there was some talk of reopening it as some kind of community arts facility, but this didn’t materialize, and this theatre was demiolished.

bago1 on April 30, 2005 at 4:58 am

i was doing a study of the mexican history of richmond and recently found out that back in the 40s and 50s on certain nights this movie theater would have mexican movie nights and that all the latinos in this neighborhood would come here to watch there favorite mexican actors like cantinflas and pedro infante and tin tan and etc there used to be a small mexican neighborhood at the foot of mcdonald ave and gerard st mostly made up of ship yard workers and santa fe railroad workers .

DavidHurlbutt on April 30, 2005 at 7:06 am

Many cities in different parts of the USA had small neighborhoods of Mexicans/Latinos during the 1940s. In many of these cities it was common to have a neighbord movie theaters which weekly or occasionally one night or two nights a week featured Mexican films. In Milwaukee the World Theater (later known as Royal) would now and then have a Mexican films. As the Latino population grew, this theater featured only Mexican films.
Why was the Rio named Rio? There were theaters an all areas of the country called Rio.

DavidHurlbutt on June 8, 2005 at 11:51 am

I found the answer to my question WHY WAS THE RIO NAMED RIO? in “Spoils of War Plans for Peacetime” MARQUEE Vol. 27 No. 4. According to author Steve Levin the “Rio” name was chosen for its brevity. A short name made signs cheaper and advertisements also cheaper.

kencmcintyre on July 28, 2009 at 10:46 pm

This is from Boxoffice in January 1948:

WOODLAND, CALIF.-Harry Lazzarini, manager of the State and Porter theaters since 1946, has purchased the Rio in Richmond from the Robert L. Lippert circuit.

kencmcintyre on July 28, 2009 at 10:55 pm

The reason this maps out to Canada is because the street name is misspelled. It’s MacDonald, with the extra a. There is only one building left on the even side of the 400 block, but whether that’s the theater is anybody’s guess.

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