Rio Theatre

435 W. Milam Street,
Wharton, TX 77488

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Rio Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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.

Contributed by Bob Machann

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

kenholmz
kenholmz on January 29, 2010 at 1:22 pm

A television pilot was filmed in Wharton in 1970. The Rio was closed to the public for three days while filming was done inside. Sadly, this footage was left on the cutting room floor. I saw the pilot when it aired. It began with a passing train. As the last car went by there was a city limit sign, “Wharton Wisconsin”. The only information I have ever found on this pilot is linked below.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0455821/

sepiatone
sepiatone on February 17, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Thanks, Ken, for the information. This is slightly off-topic, but was the passing train in “Two Boys” a Southern Pacific train? Back in the day, there was an SP railroad crossing down the street from the Rio (It’s now a Kansas City Southern track). I wonder if that’s where the train scene was filmed.

kenholmz
kenholmz on March 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Bob, the track used in “Two Boys” crossed N. Alabama Rd. The tracks ran along side Santa Fe Street. The view was to the north and the train was moving eastward. I don’t know if the train was a Santa Fe. BTW, I worked for Mae Jensen at the Rio back in ‘69-'70 for a while.

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on May 25, 2010 at 6:42 am

Picture of the Rio when “To Kill a Mockingbird” was playing there: View link

sepiatone
sepiatone on November 9, 2010 at 3:56 pm

The Rio opened at 6:00 p.m. on August 13, 1950. The premier feature was, fittingly enough, “Nancy Goes to Rio” with Ann Sothern and Jane Powell. The Rio’s general contractor was James Kershaw, and C. Russell Lewis of Dallas, Texas supervised the artistic decorations.

sepiatone
sepiatone on January 7, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Are there any surviving photos of the Rio’s interior? There were bas-reliefs in the lobby and auditorium when the Rio was new. Did these survive a 1967 interior remodel? Does anyone know?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 16, 2011 at 12:33 am

Judging from the photo of the facade that CWalczak linked to above, this 1950 theater was not Spanish Renneissance in style, but thoroughly modern. Maybe it was the original Rio that was Spanish.

sepiatone
sepiatone on April 29, 2011 at 5:41 am

The last movie to show at the Rio before it closed was “Los Hombres No Lloran” with Jorge Rivero and Lorena Velazquez. That was on June 15, 1975.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 17, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Pictured in this 1961 trade report: Boxoffice

Greg100
Greg100 on November 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I was the general manager of the Rio Theatre in Wharton from summer 1972 untl June of 1975. I also managed the Plaza Theatre at the same time. It was during this period that the Plaza went through a major conversion from a one screen theatre into a three screen unit. When the Plaza opened as a three screen unit in June of 1973, the Rio was converted into a “R” rated theatre and remained so up until I left in June of 1975. I have pictures of the Plaza grand reopening that I will try and find and post. I remember we opened the Plaza with “American Graffiti”, but I cannot remember the other two features.

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