Rialto Theatre

1481 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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Rialto Theatre

The original “Temple of the Motion Picture” and “The Shrine of Music and the Allied Arts”, the Rialto Theatre was built on the site of the former Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre on the corner of Broadway (Times Square) and W. 42nd Street. The Rialto Theatre was opened on April 21, 1916 with Douglas Fairbanks in “The Good Bad-Man”. Under the personal direction of S. L. Rothapfel (Roxy), the Rialto Theatre show ran five times daily and included the Rialto Orchestra, vocal and instrumental solos, and “accompaniment contributed by the grand organ”.

A December 2, 1917 program announces:

“For the convenience of patrons

Ladies Retiring Rooms on the First and Second Mezzzanine Floors

Gentlemen’s smoking rooms, off the Main Floor and Second Mezzanine

Writing tables and Check Room on the First Mezzanine Floor

Drinking Water on the First and Second Mezzzanine Floors, filtered by the Puro process

Carriage Call on the South Side of the Main Lobby

This theatre, with every seat occupied, can be emptied in less than three minutes".

A Paramount-Artcraft Strauss house, the Rialto featured a weekly film with the bill changing every Sunday.

Next door to the Rialto Theatre and over Child’s Restaurant was the Republic Restaurant.

“The most beautiful and cleanest Chop Suey and Tea Parlor in New York”.

“The Rialto Orchestra, maintained by the Rialto Theatre Corporation, and conceded to be the finest organization in existence devoted to motion pictures, enjoys through special arrangement with the Carl Fisher Company, access to and the use of the largest and most comprehensive musical library in America.”

The Rialto Theatre was taken over by Paramount/Famous Players in 1919. It was closed in May 1935 with Henry Hull in “The Werewolf of London” and was immediately demolished.

A new Rialto Theatre on a smaller scale (700-seats) was constructed in an Art Deco style. This theatre was on the same site of the now closed & demolished Cineplex Odeon Warner Theatre, which is listed on Cinema Treasures as the Rialto Theatre. Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre also has its own Cinema Treasures page.

Contributed by Al Alvarez

Recent comments (view all 29 comments)

CharmaineZoe on January 26, 2014 at 8:36 am

Don’t know if anyone has mentioned it but the architect for the 1916 theatre was Thomas W Lamb.

robboehm on January 27, 2014 at 9:56 am

Architect is listed in the heading.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on February 12, 2014 at 9:19 am

His name is listed in the side bar under Additional Info — Architects: Thomas W. Lamb

AlexNYC on April 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Was the Rialto on the northwest corner of 42nd & Broadway, where the ESPN Zone is today? Due to all the new big buildings in the area, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact address today.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on April 23, 2015 at 1:22 pm

AlexNYC, it was on the Northwest Corner of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue where Chase Bank is today. ESPN Zone, once east on Broadway, is already gone.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on April 23, 2015 at 8:01 pm

After this theater was demolished, a new Rialto link was built on this corner and operated as a movie theater from 1935 to 1990 and for many years specialized in two-fisted melodramas and horror movies. Its manager once said his theater, both in styling and presentations, sought to satisfy the “ancient and unquenchable male thirst for mystery, menace and manslaughter.”

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on March 6, 2017 at 2:34 pm

Here are excerpts from the NY Times review of this house’s last picture, “Werewolf of London”

The Rialto Theatre, which began its career as a picture house on the night of April 22, 1916, by showing Douglas Fairbanks’s “The Good Bad Man,” is bidding farewell to Times Square this week with a nerve-jangling exhibit called “The Werewolf of London.” The theatre will be demolished after the last screening of the picture next Wednesday night, but a new Rialto will be erected on the site and open its doors to the public some time in October.

Designed solely to amaze and horrify, the film goes about its task with commendable thoroughness, sparing no grisly detail… Granting that the central idea has been used before, the picture still rates the attention of action-and-horror enthusiasts. It is a fitting valedictory for the old Rialto, which has become melodrama’s citadel among Times Square’s picture houses.

Joseph Angier
Joseph Angier on June 17, 2017 at 6:42 am

Wow and wow! This theater was not only beautiful, but played host to the premieres of some of our greatest films, including “Freaks.” I love all the pictures and comments on this site

jordanlage on May 12, 2018 at 7:51 am

@NYer “What were they thinking?” Indeed. The age-old preservationist’s lament, echoed down through history. Living in Manhattan and being one who bows down at the rapidly vanishing glorious cathedrals of live as well as filmed performance, I often find myself traveling through Times Square, and in my mind, ennobling that forsaken wasteland with memories of the ghosts of movie palaces past.

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