435 W. Milam Street,
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The Rio Theatre was a majestic brick building located just west of downtown Wharton, Texas. Opened on August 13, 1950, this building replaced the original Rio Theatre which had opened in 1935.
The exterior had a large vertical, wall-mounted sign bearing the theater’s name and a broad, burgundy-colored marquee with real milkglass. The neon on the marquee and the vertical sign glowed a mystic pink! The terrazzo floor outside the lobby was a seafoam green with two pink lines that curved towards the lobby.
The Rio Theatre was known as the home of the stars, and it was a favorite hangout of Wharton teens in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and early-1970’s. During these years the theatre was operated by the Frels Theatres chain, out of Victoria, Texas. The manager in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s was Mae Jensen. The Rio Theatre would show a children’s movie on Saturday mornings. Among the movies that made their Wharton debut at the Rio Theatre were “Old Yeller”, “Love Story”, “Shaft”, and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”.
The Rio Theatre was closed on June 15, 1975. It was used as a church from 1976 until 1991. Left abandoned, it was demolished on November 20, 1997.
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