Rialto Theater

80 Forsyth Street NW,
Atlanta, GA 30301

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reg41 on February 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm

I spent 9/64 to 12/65 in Atlanta. This theatre was fairly new and was a great place to get lost in a movie. You bought your ticket at the street level box office, went into a spacious first floor lobby area, up an escalator, down a short hallway, and you came out halfway down the auditorium. The seats in front were conventional, the back half was very close to stadium style. The total seating in 1964 was about 1200. Admission was $1.50. The movie “The Great Race” played to near-capacity here for several weeks. They usually booked light-hearted fare like that, and some Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Pamela Tiffin, etc films played here.

Tinseltoes on July 26, 2012 at 7:24 am

Pictured in this 1967 showmanship report: Boxoffice

Tinseltoes on July 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm

The new Martin’s Rialto described in this 1964 trade article: Boxoffice

TLSLOEWS on March 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Once again thanks for the photos Alonzo.

jeterga on March 28, 2011 at 11:28 am

In the fall of 1916, a 925-seat theater, the Southeast’s largest movie house, opened in the Central Business District and the original theater district of Atlanta. The theater’s name was the Rialto, which is defined as exchange or marketplace. The Rialto continued to operate during the Depression and at one point in its history boasted the largest electric sign above the marquee south of New York City. In 1962, the original theater was torn down and a new 1,200-seat Rialto was erected on the same site. It was the first movie theater to be constructed in downtown Atlanta in 35 years and stayed open until 1989 before falling victim to a declining downtown economy.

In 1991, Dr. Richard Koehler, then director of the School of Music at Georgia State University, was approached by real estate consultant David Haddow about relocating the School to several vacant buildings in the block bounded by Forsyth, Luckie, Fairlie and Poplar streets. As an advocate for a downtown performing arts center.

Following a very successful $14 million fund-raising campaign, led by Georgia State University president Carl V. Patton and A.W. “Bill” Dahlberg, a GSU alumnus and president of the Southern Company, construction began in the fall of 1994 on the old Rialto Theater

Extensive renovations were needed to make the Rialto a state-of-the-art concert and performance hall. The Rialto Center for the Performing Arts now boasts superb acoustics after the theater’s roof was raised 12 feet. Interior renovations include a larger lobby to handle patrons, box office facilities, ADA-accessible improvements, new stage with proscenium, orchestra pit and 833 new comfortable seats.

In March 1996, the reopening of the 833-seat Rialto Center for the Performing Arts marked a turning point in the revitalization of the historic Fairlie-Poplar District of downtown Atlanta. Since the reopening of the Rialto, more than 600,000 patrons have experienced performances ranging from theater to dance to music offerings including jazz, blues, rock, and classical. The old Rialto Theater has been successfully transformed into a first-class performance venue.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on March 2, 2011 at 1:06 pm

When I visted it years ago,it was closed,but at least i got a close up look.Looked like what Stan said a Grand Theatre for Atlanta.

StanMalone on March 2, 2011 at 8:17 am

An article in the Atlanta paper on 8/1/61 states that the Martin chain had purchased the Rialto. This would be the old Rialto which Martin soon demolished and replaced with the current building. I have always thought this was one of the best loooking theatres I have been in and almost identical to the Ziegfeld in New York City.

WHITEFIELD on March 6, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Joe Namath as C.C.RYDER. Ann Margret as his girl. “C.C.AND COMPANY” STARTS FRIDAY at The RIALTO THEATRE.
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Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 26, 2009 at 5:40 pm

The RIALTO was facing the same booking downtown theatres everywhere were facing. NOW SHOWING A BIG DOUBLE FEATURE

FOXY BROWN and TRUCK TURNER. Both rated R. need to write more?

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on August 29, 2009 at 6:54 pm

This is a 2008 night photo.

Harvey on April 11, 2009 at 4:05 am

1983 photo of the Rialto here.

Patsy on September 27, 2008 at 1:12 pm

“too young”…thanks! And you are correct…the first photo!

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on September 27, 2008 at 1:04 pm

Your too young to remember it, but I would say the first photo. :)

Patsy on September 27, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Lost Memory: Guess which Rialto photo I like better?

Patsy on September 6, 2008 at 4:47 pm

StanMalone: Carleton doesn’t have a computer, but I have been in contact with him regarding another matter which isn’t related to theatres. I apologize for thinking that Carleton managed a theatre as he did tell me that he was a projectionist for many years in the Atlanta area. I do plan to call him this weekend so please email at and we can continue this conversation. Title your email “Carleton”. Thanks.

StanMalone on September 6, 2008 at 3:15 pm

I am not aware of a Carleton Heist that ever managed a theatre, but for years I worked with someone of that name who was the projectionist at the Greenbriar, Shannon, and finally some General Cinema locations. I will pass this on to him. Can he contact you through your member profile?

JFBrantley on September 5, 2008 at 4:53 pm

What a shame that a true palace went to seed. I remember seeing the movie Winning there in the 1960’s. My brother, a friend and I rode the bus downtown and caught the matinee. Later on I saw a few movies between morning and afternoon classes at Georgia State.

What was very impressive about the Rialto was the large sequined letters that went on the marquee. I loved seeing them. They actually glowed with lit marquee behind them. Unfortunately, the marquee was changed to what it is now before the theater closed.

The last movie I saw there was Superman 3. It was an evening show with the lights on during the show. Actually the crowd was better behaved than at the current Southlake 24.

Patsy on June 4, 2008 at 8:56 am

I’m trying to locate an Atlanta theatre manager by the name of Carleton Heist. Can anyone be of help to me?

Harvey on March 28, 2008 at 11:31 am

Rialto hangs tough with action films – Last downtown picture show has endured some hard times

The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution – July 28, 1985
Author: POUSNER, HOWARD, Howard Pousner Staff Writer: STAFF

The Rialto , the last picture show in downtown Atlanta , may be the only theater in the metropolitan area where the ushers are armed with billy clubs.

Since the Omni 6 closed last year, the 1,200-seat Rialto has gone it alone as the only movie theater in the heart of the city – an area where marquees bearing nostalgic names such as Grand, Paramount and Roxy once shone.

The theater at the corner of Forsyth and Luckie streets has endured some hard times since it opened in 1962, replacing the first Rialto , which had fueled Atlantans' film fantasies at the same site since 1916. But the theater’s longevity is less a matter of the survival of the fittest than of its ability to take a licking and come back kicking.

Once one of the city’s premier theaters, the Rialto is hanging tough today with “action” flicks starring the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and that one-man demolition derby, Sylvester Stallone.

“We classify this as an action house,” said Rialto manager Bob Denham, “and it attracts an action crowd.”

That’s why there’s a sign at the entrance persuading patrons to permit the “doorman” to check all bags and coats, and laying down the Rialto law: “No alcohol, weapons, drugs, food or radios.”

Inside the immense auditorium, the matted carpeting and crudely restitched slashed curtains give the Rialto a desolate aura – like a setting from a Dirty Harry movie.

Appearances aside, Denham said, “Our customers are probably subjected to fewer disturbances than in most first-run theaters, where ushers are a thing of the past.” The in-house security force is a thing of the present at the Rialto , where overhead aisle lights are left on throughout the show so that troublemakers can be easily spotted and ejected.

Instead of the premieres of days gone by such as “It Happened One Night” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the Rialto ’s coming attractions include “War of Dragons,” whose garish poster outside assails passers-by with the aphorism: “Life Is Cheap When Death Comes Fast!”

“If we put a love story or a Disney picture on the screen, we’d fall flat on our face,” said Denham, adding that the Rialto sells between 4,000 and 5,000 tickets in an average week. Admission is $2 for a double feature; tickets are two-for-one on Bargain Wednesdays.

The Rialto ’s success stems from giving the people what they want, said C.L. Patrick, chairman of the board of the 450-screen Carmike Cinemas chain, which owns the theater. “There’s a demand for the kind of movies the Rialto shows,” he said. “Those – what do you call them? – kung fu movies do really well there.”

Denham, an action fan himself, said the Oriental chop-‘em-ups and American-made gun-'em-downs such as Chuck Norris’ “Code of Silence” draw equally well. “Action movies have a tendency to get you involved,” he explained. “They’re far-fetched, but you can feed yourself into the picture – root for the good guy, hate the bad guy.”

Bob Moscow, who managed the theater from the late ‘40s until the early '60s, misses the time when Atlantans made a night of dining downtown and taking in Rialto presentations such as “On the Beach,” “High Noon” and “The Caine Mutiny.” “We used to fight with all the downtown theaters for product,” he said. “We wanted to play all the top pictures.”

Atlanta ’s suburban sprawl and increasing land values in the central city drew the curtain on downtown’s prominence as a movie showplace. Only the Rialto remains, and, said Moscow, “It’s a different business now.”

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on November 17, 2007 at 12:55 pm

Here is a recent photo of the Rialto Theater.

1234 on October 6, 2007 at 10:39 am

Actually the the Rialto opened as the Piedmont Theatre on April 2, 1916. And has a Smith Seeburg pipe organ. The theatre was designed by architect A.Ten Eyck Brown. This was the second theatre in Atlanta he designed, He also designed the Forsyth Theatre which was across from the Piedmont and would later design the Criterion which was on Peachtree Street. The Piedmont opened with the film “The Hunted Women”. The Wurlitzer organs were installed in 1920 and 1927.
In July of 1916 vaudeville became a part of the program.
On Dec. 17 1916 the Piedmont changed its name to the Rialto. The newspapers don’t say why the name change however the theatre may have had some pressure from the Piedmont Hotel which was directly across the street.
Anyway for more on the Rialto and its organs and some of the history of the theatre go to the Atlanta Chapter ATOS website and go to the newsletter section and look in the past newsletters for June 2006 for a more indepth article.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on September 15, 2007 at 7:25 pm

I found two theater organ listed for a Rialto Theater in Atlanta. The first was a Wurlitzer opus 351 style 135 installed on 9/30/1920. The second was a Wurlitzer opus 1656 style E X installed on 6/16/1927.

WHITEFIELD on July 28, 2007 at 8:10 pm

Here is a night photo.
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