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Two photos of the exterior:
here’s the text of today’s LA Times article:
Rialto’s last picture show
The last picture show at South Pasadena’s Rialto Theater
By Francisco Vara-Orta
August 20, 2007
Tina Tsoutsas blew a kiss as she said goodbye to the Rialto theater, a longtime South Pasadena fixture that has showcased cinema from silent movies to this summer’s hit, “The Simpsons Movie.”
The beloved jazz-age institution, one of Southern California’s remaining single-screen theaters, closed Sunday evening after 81 years.
“Ask anybody who knows South Pasadena and they’ll know about the Rialto,” said Tsoutsas, 46.
The Arcadia native first came to the Rialto as a teenager in the 1980s to see a movie marathon on the Beatles. She liked the theater so much that she asked for a job there, working from 1984 to 1996 in various roles, including manning the ticket booth, doling out snacks at concession stands and ushering patrons to their seats.
One of her fondest memories, she said, was working the weekly midnight showing of the cult classic “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which had a three-decade run at the theater.
“It really is beautiful and historic,” Tsoutsas said in the lobby after a final tour of the theater with her boyfriend, Gary. “It’s just always been here.”
The Rialto opened its doors to the public Oct. 17, 1925, with organist Ray Metcalfe at the Wurlitzer and the Rialto orchestra accompanying the world premiere of Universal Pictures' “What Happened to Jones?” Trapeze artists performed on a bill shared with vaudeville acts. Admission was 30 cents and searchlights sent from Hollywood shone outside, alerting people to the opening.
With 10 dressing rooms, a loft, a green room, an orchestra pit and a deep stage, the Rialto’s Spanish Baroque architecture and Egyptian-accented interior design bestowed a regal atmosphere that went beyond just catching a flick for those perched in its 1,200 seats.
But on Sunday, about 30 people showed up for the first showing at 12:30 p.m. of “The Simpsons Movie,” with the discounted matinee price of $6 for adults. About 200 people attended the last show. Among them: a group of 15 who graduated from South Pasadena High school in 1960. For them, the theater had been a hangout during their teen years. They had returned to it every few years for periodic reunions and had made a point of being there for the last screening.
“No one is here to see the Simpsons, they’re here to see the Rialto Theater,” said Andrew Noice, a manager. The Rialto’s operator, Landmark Theatres, shifted in recent years from showing more independent art-house films to mainstream movies to boost ticket sales, he said.
Noice reminisced throughout the day with nostalgic Rialto customers. “Business has been up since people found out it was shutting down,” he said.
The low-key closing seemed appropriately somber for the aging beauty’s last day. The seats were squeaky, carpets worn. The balcony was closed for repairs, the theater warmer than the covered lobby outside. It took the camera flashes of patrons — allowed after the movie on Sunday only — to brighten up the dimly lit theater, as many fixtures were broken and had not been replaced in years.
“What I really loved about the Rialto is how it’s all original and has the feeling like you’ve just walked into a place frozen in time,” said Maryam Hosseinzadeh, 29, a South Pasadena native and graduate student studying historical preservation at USC’s School of Architecture. “But it’s a Catch-22 because it’s dilapidated, and I can see where there’s water damage, paint chipping away and how it’s become a faded glory.”
The theater has survived through the death of vaudeville, two fires and threats of being converted into a parking lot or five-screen multiplex, finally succumbing to consistently low ticket sales that Landmark officials said couldn’t sustain its operation.
“I remember my mom bringing me here to see "Romeo and Juliet” in the 1970s,“ said David Wolf, 42, a South Pasadena resident. "South Pasadena is starting to look too generic, and this theater is part of the cultural landscape that I worry is dying here. The Rialto was never mainstream and that’s probably why it’s fading out.”
The theater on Fair Oaks Avenue at Oxley Street may come back to life as part of a proposed development project, but that plan, which would take three years, has not been approved. “It was worth the trip to see it,” said Ralph Ramirez, 56, who traveled from Torrance with his wife, Deborah, to visit and photograph the structure. “This was my first time, and I’m sad that it’ll be the last.”
Landmark controls the theater under a long-term lease, but has said it couldn’t commit the $1 million needed for restoration and ticket sales aren’t enough to keep it open. Landmark has declined to release the Rialto’s ticket sales figures, but Noice said that in the seven years he’s worked there, there have been days with not one person showing up to watch a film.
“It’s a heartbreaking ending for the theater,” Noice said. “I’m more sad that it’s closing down than losing my job. I can find another, but there’s only one Rialto.”
Listed in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer movieclock as Montgomeryville Stadium 12
Corner Rte 309 and Rte 202 Behind Home Depot and Sports Authority
“All New Stadium Theatres with Digital Sound”
2007 photo of the lobby:
exterior photo showing the Ritz 5 and the Society Hill Towers which were designed by I.M. Pei
From the Nov 12, 2006 Philadelphia Weekly article by Andrew Repasky McElhinney,
Best IMAX out of Town
Well, it’s the only IMAX screen out of the city, but the United Artists' King of Prussia 16/United Artists' IMAX offers mainstream Hollywood event movies distorted on an IMAX screen. Hordes flock for the IMAX experience, not understanding that traditional movies gain nothing from being projected on an IMAX screen. Go to the Franklin Institute instead unless the King of Prussia IMAX is demonstrating its distinction as the region’s only showcase of mainstream movies in 3-D. Then it’s worth the trip, but just barely.
The June 1999 Philadelphia magazine gave the lowest rating in the Philadelphia area to the Regal Plymouth Meeting 10, rating it only a 2.8, with Comment stating “Regal Disappointment” The same magazine rated the AMC Plymouth Meeting 12 with a perfect 5.0.
The AMC Plymouth Meeting 12 is here. /theaters/20914/
As to the Regal-
From the Nov 12, 2006 Philadelphia Weekly article by Andrew Repasky McElhinney,
Worn, boxy theaters, bad projection and a disinterested, aggressively evasive and rude staff make the Regal Plymouth Meeting 10 the bottom of the barrel. Movies start early or late but not on time, the sound is uncomfortably loud, focus issues persist from projectors that are unmonitored and automated (and tend to shut off at random, unfortunate places), and wall-to-wall advertising assaults viewers whenever the feature’s not on. It’s the pits.
From the Nov 12, 2006 Philadelphia Weekly article by Andrew Repasky McElhinney,
Best Overall Theatergoing Experience
From its first-rate presentation, generous-sized screens and hardworking, quick-thinking and courteous staff, the all-stadium-seating AMC Plymouth Meeting 12 is the best megaplex in the area. Clean, adjacent to the Plymouth Meeting Mall, featuring two awesomely large THX-certified screens, reasonably reliable projection and a powerful sound systemâ€"this is as good as a multiplex gets.
The June 1999 Philadelphia magazine gave a perfect 5.0 rating to what was then the GCC Plymouth Meeting 12, with the highest possible rankings in each category of Cleanliness, Service, Screen & Sound, and Seating, and in the Comment section: “Worth the $8” This was the best rating of any movie theater in the Philadelphia area other than the Ritz 12 Voorhees (which had most of its screens devoted to arthouse fare then).
The 1999 Philadelphia magazine gave the lowest rating in the Philadelphia area to the Regal Plymouth Meeting 10 rating it only a 2.8, with Comment stating “Regal Disappointment”
Also in Montgomery County, and not too far away, is the Regal Marketplace 24 @ Oaks which was rated 4.8 which was the next highest rated of all Philadelphia area theaters. Some notable theaters built since these ratings include the United Artists King of Prussia 16 and the Bridge /theaters/10911/
caption to this exterior photo states apparently where former Scala cinema was:
Main auditorium photos:
In 2001, I saw a movie in the main historic auditorium, noting that it had 650 seats. If the original auditorium was 3000 seats, then is something missing? The original orchestra level or a balcony level?
And, what did the original lobby look like?
The theater was built 1933.
The auditorium to the right is larger. Irvin Glazer’s hardback book “Philadelphia Theatres A-Z” states each auditorium had 450 seats each. That might have been then true for the auditorium to the right.
I began attending in April 1988, and my notes indicate 421 seats for the larger auditorium, the one on the right.
An article on 12-14-1998 stated that the AMC Old City 2 had closed, one year ahead of its lease term, but would reopen in the spring as
the Ritz East, and had a total of 750 seats.
In 2001, I estimated 300 seats for the Ritz East auditorium on the right, which was then stadium seated, and a 30 to 35 feet wide scope screen.
You are trying to provoke Philadelphians by stating NYC is the best? Why not suggest the Ziegfeld, which you have included among your Favorites on this website? Instead, you’ve got a theater with tiny screens, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, which I went to once and will never return to.
The Avalon and Uptown in D.C. and the Baltimore Senator also are among the best East Coast treasures.
If we are going to talk multiplexes, this one- Neshaminy, is one of the most profitable in the nation. I added today the AMC Plymouth Meeting Mall 12, which is also an exceptional Philadelphia area
movie theater. In Philadelphia, the Bridge is a great movie theater and featured in the book Cinema Treasures.
A comment says the model ship in front was retrieved for use in the replacement building. Was it reused? on the exterior? photo anybody?
Was the main original screen still used after the theater was divided up?
It is rather far from downtown. There are more convenient movie theaters to get to from downtown. If on the other hand, you’d like a shopping expedition at Franklin Mills, it is perfectly doable.
12-21-1997 Philadelphia Inquirer article stated that on 12-19-97 the GCC Franklin Mills theater “moved” to the mall, with THX, digital sound, stadium seats (the 1st in Philadelphia, love seats, for total of 3636 seats.
12-18-1998 article (probably Philadelphia Inquirer) stated that Cherry Hill would have 4400 seats and take up 95,000 square feet and be Art Deco in style.
Feb 28, 1998 Philadelphia Inquirer stated that AMC Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem would open in 6 months with 4900 love seats. The theater cost $11 million to construct. Auditoriums would range from 100 seats with a 30 feet wide screen to 590 seats with a 61 feet wide screen. The theater will compete with nearby Franklin Mills and Oxford Valley Mall movie theaters.
I won’t speak for others but in the USA, it would be a great THEATER for plays, spelled that way as a noun. However, as a name, we can call it the Rialto Theatre if we like.
here’s the text of the LA Times article:
Dire projections for South Pasadena’s Rialto
The South Pasadena institution, eclipsed by multiplexes, will close soon, though a revival is possible.
By Roger Vincent
August 10, 2007
The jazz-age Rialto Theater in South Pasadena, one of the few remaining single-screen cinemas in Southern California, will roll its last film Aug. 19. The operator, Landmark Theatres, has run out of patience with the money-losing movie palace built in the 1920s.
But plans are in the works for a major real estate project surrounding the theater on Fair Oaks Avenue, and the theater may come back to life as part of the new development. For the foreseeable future, however, it’s curtains for the Rialto.
“It’s too expensive to operate,” said Ted Mundorff of Landmark Theatres. “It can’t compete against the new modern theaters that people prefer.”
The stately, 1,200-seat theater that opened with the Universal release “What Happened to Jones?” in 1925 will close with “The Simpsons Movie.” It also hosted the cult favorite “Rocky Horror Picture Show” as a midnight feature for three decades.
“We love the theater. We love South Pasadena,” said Mundorff, chief operating officer of the Los Angeles-based Landmark theater chain. “The economics just don’t work.”
Mundorff declined to disclose box office or concession counter revenues but said the Rialto was rarely more than half full. Although Landmark installed a new sound system last year, it would cost at least $1 million more to properly restore the theater, Mundorff said.
The seats are in particular need of repair, but the carpets are also frayed, paint is chipped and the place sometimes has a musty odor. In short, the Rialto is the kind of weary aging moviehouse that many people remember fondly but few think to patronize on a night out.
“Very few old theaters can make it,” said Jim Rosenfield, owner of the single-screen Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, which dates to 1938. American Cinematheque operates the Aero primarily as a revival house.
“I get calls all the time from people who want to save their neighborhood theaters,” said Rosenfield, who restored the Aero in 2005. “Unless they have someone behind them who is a patron of the arts or an angel landlord,” the theaters usually can’t be saved, he said.
Modern multiplexes have several advantages for moviegoers over traditional single-screen venues, including more choices of movies, more screening times and stadium-style seating offering better sightlines. Like many other old theaters, the Rialto doesn’t have a parking lot.
Landmark controls the theater under a long-term lease. Eventually it will revert to a trust held by the Jebbia family, which has owned it since the 1930s, said trustee Philip Jebbia, who has an investment business in South Pasadena.
In the meantime, Landmark would need a white knight to help pay for restoration.
“If we can develop an economically viable plan to restore the theater, that would be our preference,” said Bill Banowsky, chief executive of Landmark. “If we are unable to do so we will make the space available for other uses that are compatible with the neighborhood.”
One potential suitor is Decoma Developers Inc. Decoma is working on a revitalization project intended to create a more pedestrian-friendly retail, residential and leisure district in the core of South Pasadena, including blocks around the Rialto.
“The theater is a treasure and we are all working on the possibility of keeping the Rialto a single-screen theater,” said Marinel Robinson, principal of Torrance-based Decoma. “One day the theater will be renovated. Everybody needs to be patient.”
If Decoma’s project is approved by the city, it would start work next summer and complete the development in three years, Robinson said. “We will work with whoever ends up controlling the theater.”
The Rialto was one of the great luxurious theaters of its day, built to feature both movies and live performances. It had 10 dressing rooms, a green room, an orchestra pit and a deep stage for vaudeville performances.
A backstage fire damaged the theater in 1938, about the time the vaudeville era ended. Another fire in 1969 burned the organ loft, though the large Wurlitzer that once was used to accompany silent films was saved and later sold.
Plans to raze the theater to make way for a parking lot in 1977 were successfully resisted by local residents and Landmark backed off a proposal to divide the theater into a multiplex in the 1990s.
It has been featured in many films and commercials, most notably Robert Altman’s “The Player” and more recently “Scream 2,” Landmark said.
“Its a very special theater for our town,” said nearby merchant Lucia Wiltrout. “It’s got lots of good memories.”
On vacation, I searched for historic movie palaces in the LA area and enjoyed the Rialto! Its beautiful interior shouldn’t be gutted. It appears in the book “The Last Remaining Seats” for good reason. It has 1920s Golden Age Hollywood glamour!
South Pasadena can follow the example of the restored Warner in San Pedro http://www.warnergrand.org/ and restore the Rialto for live entertainment, cultural performances, AND a film series.
Are you talking about a Cinerama screen still in New York? Where? or maybe you are talking 20 or more years ago?
On vacation in 2000, I found the Rialto to be a perfect historic movie house to enjoy Sunset Boulevard and Citizen Kane.
More INTERIOR PHOTOS, please, before it closes!
and, yes, let’s hope it reopens with a restoration and continues to show films.