Rio Theater

Front Street,
Soledad, CA 93960

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The Rio Theater opened in May 1947. A retail establishment currently occupies the property.

Contributed by Ken McIntyre

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 26, 2009 at 4:20 pm

April 26, 1947, Boxoffice says “J.E. Friedrich, Rio Theatre, Soledad, expects to open the 528-seat stadium-type house around May 16.”

Cinema Tour has two photos.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 26, 2009 at 6:26 pm

I’ve found no mention of any other theaters in Soledad either in Boxoffice or the California Index. One 1970 issue of Boxoffice placed the Rio on Front Street, but that must have been a mistake.

Rio was a pretty common theater name, so it will probably be hard to track down the actual location of the house in that 1980 photo.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 26, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Another long, tedious comment:

I finally found the Soledad Theatre mentioned in Boxoffice. The October 5, 1946, issue said “The Soledad Theatre in Soledad burned to the ground recently. Owners are Gnesa and Franscioni.” The January 11 issue of Boxoffice ran an item saying that Edward Gnesa had been issued a permit to build a $35,000 theater at Soledad to replace one that had burned. No theater name was given.

Then there’s an item in the February 8, 1947, issue saying that A. Blanco, Ralph Martin and Frank Jaimes had bought a tract of land at Soledad from Ernest Gnesa and Edward Franscioni where they planned to erect a theater. This item said that the CPA permit had been granted and construction would start immediately. Again, no theater name was given.

Then there is an item in the June 28, 1947, issue saying that the Soledad Theatre had opened recently. It said that the house had 700 seats and that the owners were Blanco and Martin. This doesn’t match the description of the Rio in the item earlier that year, saying that it had 528 seats, was scheduled to open in May, and was owned by J.C. Friedrich.

The Rio and the second Soledad must have been different theaters that operated at the same time for a while. But while there are quite a few mentions of the Rio in subsequent issues of Boxoffice, I’ve found no more mentions of the Soledad after June 1947 until a passing mention of a Soledad Theatre at Soledad in the June 18, 1979, issue of Boxoffice. Puzzling. That’s a total of three mentions of the name in 33 years.

The Rio Theatre in Soledad was sold to Al Klokkevold, according to the November 15, 1947, issue of Boxoffice, though the item doesn’t say who the sellers were. But then there’s the August 25, 1951, issue which says in its San Francisco news column that Joe Friedrich of the Plaza in Salinas and the Rio in Soledad was in town on business. He must have gotten the theater back, but then he apparently soon found another buyer. The March 23, 1957, Boxoffice said that Roy Martinez had then been operating the Rio Theatre for five years. Martinez was mentioned as the Rio’s operator as late as the June 1, 1970, issue.

Wherever the mysterious second Soledad Theatre was, I’m sure it wasn’t in the building on Kidder Street. That vertical sign space has just enough room for the name Rio. Soledad would never have fit.

I suppose there’s a possibility that Roy Martinez or some later operator got hold of the second Soledad and moved the Rio name there, which would account for the January 1970 Boxoffice claim that the Rio was on Front Street, but I still think a Boxoffice error is more a more likely explanation for that claim, even though such a move could explain the 1980 photo as well. And it wouldn’t explain the 1979 Boxoffice mention of the Soledad Theatre. We might have to wait for somebody familiar with Soledad to turn up here and solve the mystery.

GaryParks on September 11, 2009 at 9:59 pm

I admit that I have rather quickly skimmed the above posts, but this I must state clearly to end any confusion. The Rio in the American Classic Images linked in Lost Memory’s post (the first one on this page) IS the Rio in Soledad. I first noticed it a few years later after it had closed. The neon was broken off the RIO sign, but it otherwise looked just as it did in 1980. It is along the old commercial Route 101 at the North end of downtown, and was very easily spotted from the 101 freeway. By the time I got to photographing it in the early 90s, it had all been painted yellow ochre, and was still closed. Not long after, the signs were removed, and the building was converted to a dry cleaner’s. It is now, as I recall, a market and has had a bit of mini mall style prittification on its facade, though some features remain unchanged. The most obvious recent additions are royal blue diamond shapes in a row along the upper half of the facade where the signs used to be. The Soledad Theatre, a completely different building, still stands, and is better preserved, that is, still more recognizeable as a former theatre.

GaryParks on September 11, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Forgot to mention: The theatre in Lost Memory’s above Aug. 4, 2009 post is the Soledad Theatre of which I speak, and not the Rio. The name SOLEDAD did indeed fit on that vertical sign tower. The letters were just rather small. The Soldad is on a side street, about a half block East of the old commercial Route 101 that the Rio is on. If you look quickly and carefully (mind the other drivers!), you can spot the Soledad vertical from the 101 freeway. In fact, that’s how I know the name was on the vertical. At night, into the early 80s, you could read the neon from the freeway. There was neon outlining those squared-off “holes” on the sign tower, as well as other places. It was quite colorful. In the mid-80s, the neon was stripped off and the whole facade painted dark brown (the 70s Earthtone Movement died hard, I guess), and the theatre I seem to recall continued to operate a little longer, but was closed by the end of the 80s.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 11, 2009 at 11:53 pm

In that case, the address currently listed for the Rio is wrong. 177 Kidder Street is the address of the second Soledad Theatre, and the Rio was on Front Street. Thanks for the clarification.

It also means that Cinema Tour misidentifies the photos on the page I linked to there on June 26, 2009. Those photos depict the second Soledad.

The Boxoffice items I cited in comments above do apply to the Rio, then. It was located on Front Street, opened about May 16, 1947, was originally owned by J.C. Friedrich, and was being operated at least as late as 1970 by Roy Martinez.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 19, 2009 at 12:43 am

I finally stumbled across a Boxoffice item later than 1947 with information about the second Soledad Theatre. It’s in the August 5, 1950, issue in an article about the use of laminated wood in theater construction. The theater isn’t mentioned in the article itself, but two photos of it, inside and out, are used as illustrations.

See bottom of right-hand page here.

Andres on November 12, 2011 at 11:00 pm

can someone post a direct link to the databases you all are searching? I was raised in Soledad, and my parents actually reside there to this day. I’m really interested in the history of the town, and I’d like to get to know more about these theatres. I’d appreciate a link. Thanks!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 13, 2011 at 3:22 am

The Rio Theatre building is still standing at 325 Front Street, corner of Benito Street. It is currently occupied by La Esperanza Market.

Andres: Boxoffice Magazine has an extensive collection of its back issues online st this link. I don’t use the collection very much anymore. When it was first available, any search engine could fetch many results on just about any subject the magazine had ever covered, but the site appears to be blocking searches now, and its own internal search function is useless.

I think the sources cited by other CT users who commented on the theaters in Soledad were mostly print sources which are not available online.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 27, 2016 at 3:55 pm

At the top of this page we’re currently displaying a photo of the second Soledad Theatre on Kidder Street, not the Rio. The Rio was in the building at 325 Front Street, now housing a grocery store. Google street view has been set to the correct location, but the pin icon on the map is a block off.

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