Rialto Theater

943 W. Hamilton Street,
Allentown, PA 18101

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Rialto Theatre exterior

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Simple on the outside, yet beautiful on the inside. Opened in 1921, closed in 1979, the interior was gutted and converted to storage space in 1980.

Later the auditorium was demolished, leaving just the front and foyer area.

Contributed by TC

Recent comments (view all 23 comments)

RJS
RJS on September 14, 2005 at 6:33 am

This building was taken over by PP&L (Pennsylvania Power & Light) and used for office space, although not sure if they own or lease the space. I worked as a computer contract employee for them in the late 1990’s and was not able to see anything indicating the building was once the Rialto. Hondo59 indicated the auditorium was razed, but from talking with old-timers at PP&L, they said the building was totally gutted to the walls and re-worked into office space. The auditorium area now has multiple floors of office space.
It’s possible that some of the lobby remains since only the first floor entrance was used as a bill payment center (now closed) by PP&L. I was never able to get into the second floor space above the bill payment area, so not sure what it looks like.
The Allentown Boyd was located on 9th Street directly behind the PP&L tower building. It was razed in the late 1960’s and replaced with a large PP&L office building referred to as the North building. I added the Allentown Boyd here months ago, but for some reason it never appeared. The Allentown Boyd was part of the Boyd chain of theaters also in Bethlehem and Philadelphia, it was quite popular because of its location across the street from Hess’s department store which was also razed in 2000.

drumrboy36
drumrboy36 on September 27, 2005 at 10:47 am

I lived in Allentown during the mid-1980’s. I remember watching the wrecking ball smash into the side walls of the Rialto’s auditorium. I remember the box seats and balcony being exposed as I watched from accross the street. The wrecking ball kept slamming into all that decorative plaster…..I remember feeling sick as I watched this theatre get torn to the ground. I lived on 8th Street at the time……and shortly after they tore this movie palace down…they tore one down that was on 8th street accross from my townhouse. I watched that one get demolished also ( can’t remember the name of it)…but I did sneak into the rubble and took a piece of decorative plaster that I still have saved in a showcase. Allentown does not treasure its historic downtown…..and downtown was in pretty sorry shape last time I visited ( about 2003).

weida
weida on January 9, 2006 at 11:43 am

Aloha, I live in Hawaii and wes recently reading an old article in Reminisce Magazine from July/August 2001 about a fly problem in Allentown that was so bad the Rialto Theater was giving free admission to any children who came to the theater with 100 dead flies. The date given in the article was the summer of 1928, but I can’t seem to find any other articles on it. Would anyone have any insite? I know it was long ago, but I would love to write a more detailed article for some of the magazines in Hawaii.

Mahalo,
Brian

RJS
RJS on January 10, 2006 at 6:52 am

Weida:
You may want to try the local paper, website is mcall.com. They’ve been around for about 100 years and may have something in their archives. They have an online archive, but only goes back to 1984. Not sure if they can help you given the fact of your location, but worth a try.

estott
estott on December 3, 2006 at 2:59 pm

I remember going to this theater in the 1960’s- especially to se BAMBI. It still was impressively elegant, at least to a child, but I recall that the beautiful marble railings were absolutely sticky with grime, and the bathroom was FOUL.

boilerman420
boilerman420 on March 6, 2008 at 10:29 am

I used to service the Air Conditioning in that building.
It should have never been razed.
The replacement building has been sold and is currently vacant.
Part of the original structure on Hamilton St. still remains.
Back in the day, the Rialto also had Bowling Lanes in the basement.
Thanks PPL for being so narrow-minded, and short-sighted.

Glennk1112
Glennk1112 on June 4, 2009 at 9:23 pm

The Rialto Theater was built on the site of an earlier theater that had burned down around 1916. That theater was named the Lyceum. The facade of the Rialto building that you see today is what was left after a remodeling. Originally the entrance building was a rather fanciful structure with a beautiful 1920’s marquee and I believe a large vertical sign that ran up the center front of the building. There was a rather disastrous fire in the Rialto office/lobby building, that I don’t think affected the auditorium structure too much, around October of 1957 (I think) during which the assistant fire chief of the City of Allentown fell through the lobby floor and was killed. I think the facade that remains today was what it was remodeled to after the fire. If I remember corrctly, the theater wasn’t really “gutted” after it closed, it just had the chairs removed and was used for storage, as is. I believe that the auditorium structure was razed during the summer of 1985 and it was at that time that a modern structure with some parking facilities was built on the site. The Lobby/office building was just remodeled and continued to be used as part of the larger building.

Glennk1112
Glennk1112 on June 4, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Two additional notes… I remember watching them demolish this theater and as the building was cracked open it was jut beautiful inside. I vaguely remember some type of domed ceiling (or what was left of it, that was encircled by a bas-relief design of classical figures. Other than that, it looked untouched on the inside. The other thing I wanted to mention was that one lingering piece of the Rialto was for many years located outside the Hess’s store at the South Mall in Allentown. When you went out of Hess’s into the mall, on the left hand side was a colossal marble sculpture that I think was of an angel holding another dying angel in it’s arms??? This statue was originally in the Rialto Theater. And what I was told was that it was so heavy that after many many years it had started affecting the structural integrity of the building. It was purchased by Max Hess and eventually ended up at South Mall. Is the statue still there? Does anybody know?

Glennk1112
Glennk1112 on June 6, 2009 at 5:04 pm

The statue was actually on your right went you went out into the mall. sorry for the error!

bwmoll3
bwmoll3 on July 30, 2013 at 11:20 am

There was a hugs fire at the Rialto about 1945 or so and the entire building was torn down and rebuilt. The front was originally a 3 or 4 story building with the auditorium behind it.

When it was re-built the lobby was cut down to 2 stories and sometime later it was given a red granite facade.

About 1970 or 71 it stopped showing first run films and turned into a Adult Theater. I remember going in there when I was in High School and watched “I Am Curious (Yellow)” and some other skin flicks (they really didn’t show any nudity.. just “simulated” a lot of things you can watch online today for free. I remember one movie they showed this girl and a guy going into a car and then the car was “rocking”. LOL.. then they got out still clotheed.

I don’t believe the Rialto actually showed anything close to the pornography you can watch online now.

In 1972 is when the Marquee was taken down because of the canopys they were erecting on Hamilton Street when they tried to turn it into “Hamilton Mall”.

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