Rialto Theatre

943 W. Hamilton Street,
Allentown, PA 18101

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rivest266 on April 22, 2017 at 1:46 pm

April 2nd, 1921 grand opening ad in the photo section.

bwmoll3 on July 30, 2013 at 8:20 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”.

Glennk1112 on June 6, 2009 at 2:04 pm

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

Glennk1112 on June 4, 2009 at 6:31 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 on June 4, 2009 at 6:23 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.

boilerman420 on March 6, 2008 at 7:29 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.

estott on December 3, 2006 at 11:59 am

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.

RJS on January 10, 2006 at 3:52 am

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.

weida on January 9, 2006 at 8:43 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.


drumrboy36 on September 27, 2005 at 7:47 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).

RJS on September 14, 2005 at 3:33 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.

hondo59 on June 7, 2005 at 9:31 am

I believe that the Rialto auditorium was razed about 10 years ago and an office building put up in its place. The entrance on Hamilton still exists.

Ziggy on May 5, 2005 at 2:16 pm

Especially if you look at photos number 4, 5, and 21. You can look down through the opening in the mezzanine and see the main floor of the theatre is covered with stuff being stored. Photo number 21 is on the main floor and you can see it cluttered with junk.

Ziggy on May 5, 2005 at 2:12 pm

Except that in the photos you can see the main floor of the theatre is loaded with boxes and such. Maybe it wasn’t gutted after all. I’ll have to stop by Allentown sometime soon and see what I can see.

teecee on May 5, 2005 at 1:51 pm

I’d like to think that the interior survives, but if you read the data page it states: “1980 – total interior conversion to storage space” . This is a nice way of stating that the place was gutted.
My guess is that the pictures are from a long time ago.

Ziggy on May 5, 2005 at 12:55 pm

I just went to the Library of Congress site. What a beautiful theatre! Obviously inspired by the original Rialto built in 1916 at Times Square. I wonder how old the photos are? It was in a great state of preservation when they were taken. You should be glad it’s at least used for storage, maybe that means the building is kept heated and watertight.

telliott on February 19, 2005 at 12:03 pm

Thanks TC I will. The Boyd was on a side street, I’m not sure which one, across from Hess Brothers department store. I went to see “Funny Girl” there for the second time (in the summer of ‘69). It was demolished for a parking garage..what a shame! The Eric was a brand new theater further down Hamilton St. I went there also in the summer of '69 to see “Midnight Cowboy”. The trailer for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was shown before the movie. When I went to Allentown in '89 I think the Eric was a 5 plex. They added on to the parking lot. The Capri was on Hamilton St. near the Colonial and I remember seeing the Doris Day movie there “Caprice”. At the Colonial which I believe was the largest theatre in Allentown, I saw “Rosemary’s Baby” in the summer of '68. At the Plaza at Whitehall, I saw “Summer of 42” in 1971 which left a lasting impression on me. Whenever I went to visit, I tried to see as many movies as possible so there might be some I have forgotten. I do remember seeing “Hawaii” in '67 at the Rialto. I think I saw “El Cid” at the Rialto as well in '62.

teecee on February 18, 2005 at 4:58 am


You should add the theaters that you mention above. I know that some aren’t posted yet. (PS I am not sure which Boyd you are referencing). Put in what you know and I’m sure the researchers out there will add more information.

telliott on February 17, 2005 at 11:22 am

I forgot the 19th St theatre!! My cousin took me there in 1967 to see “You Only Live Twice”. He lived in NJ too, in Millburn but he came home to Allentown to visit when I was there. I have a lot of memories there.

teecee on February 14, 2005 at 4:51 am

Glad it worked. I live in NJ so I’m not too familiar with all of the places that you have mentioned. I have been to the 19th Street Theater; it is pretty impressive.

telliott on February 12, 2005 at 4:44 pm

Thanks TC, it worked beautifully. I have fond memories of attending the Rialto when visiting my aunt in the 60s. She lived on Walnut St just south of Hamilton St and the Rialto was the closest theatre to her house. I always loved the architecture of the lobby and the huge auditorium. I also saw films at the Boyd, Colonial, Capri, Eric and Plaza at Whitehall Mall. To bad they couldn’t have turned the Rialto or Boyd or Colonial in to some kind of concert hall as other cities have. It’s a shame to lose all of that great architecture. They don’t build them like they used to.

teecee on February 11, 2005 at 7:33 pm

Unfortunately the web link is too large to cut and paste directly.
Go to this link: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/

Type in Allentown Rialto in the search bar and you should get to the page with 37 photos of the theater.
Let me know if this works.

telliott on February 11, 2005 at 2:11 pm

Where on the Library of Congress website? I went to look and there are so many listings, I couldn’t imagine where they would have photos of the Rialto theater of Allentown.

teecee on February 11, 2005 at 5:31 am

The Library of Congress website has an extensive listing including many photos of this theater.