Rialto Theatre

3-4 Coventry Street,
London, W1D 6BL

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Rialto Cinema

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One of the oldest surviving cinema buildings in London’s West End district, and still retaining most of its original decoration, the Rialto Theatre is an amazing building.

Externally the tall narrow facade resembles many American theaters but inside is a riot of Edwardian plaster-work designed by Horace Gilbert. The main architect was Hippolyte Blanc. It opened as the West End Cinema Theatre on 18th March 1913, with seating for 452 in the stalls and 232 in the circle. There was a small cafe located upstairs on the first floor of the building behind the tall windows of the facade. In the basement was the Elysee Restaurant, which later became the Cafe de Paris nightspot. The West End Cinema Theatre was the first cinema in London’s West End to have neon signage, which was installed soon after its opening in 1913.

On 28th April 1924, it was renamed Rialto Cinema, and a small pipe organ was installed soon afterwards. It was taken over by the Associated British Cinemas(ABC) chain in 1934, and they operated it until around 1940, when it was taken over by an independent operator. In March 1941, a German bomb penetrated the building and exploded in the Cafe de Paris beneath the auditorium, which killed many people. The Rialto remained closed until repairs were carried out and it re-opened on 7th September 1942 under the Lou Morris cinemas chain. A Compton organ had been installed, which had come from the Ritz Cinema, Sheerness, and was played by organist Florence de Jong. The Rialto Cinema was closed in January 1946, and was taken over by Alexander Korda in August 1946, to become an art house cinema. It re-opened after refurbishment on 29th November 1946 with the gala British premiere of “Les Enfants du Paradis”, which played for many months. Renovations were carried out in 1949 to the plans of architect George Coles, when it was leased to the film distributor Films de France, and continued to showcase French films.

In 1954, it was taken over by 20th Century Fox, and they employed architect Samuel Beverly to make alterations to the proscenium to enable CinemaScope to be screened, and the Rialto Theatre was re-opened on 15th October 1954 with “Three Coins in the Fountain” which had moved over from Fox’s Carlton Theatre in the Haymarket. Further alterations were carried out by architect Leonard Allen in August 1959, which included the installation of a large sign-box on the facade, and giving the orchestra stalls a ‘reverse rake’ to improve sight-lines. The Rialto Theatre re-opened with Fox’s “Blue Jeans”, and they operated the cinema until 1977, when it was taken over by the Brent-Walker group. There were plans proposed to convert to a shopping arcade in 1978, but the cinema continued successfully until Brent Walker’s lease expired in January 1982 and the final films screened were “Carrie” and “Force Five”. The cinema then lay derelict, with only the Cafe de Paris operating in the basement.

Eventually the Rialto Theatre was restored and used as the Fashion Cafe which folded very quickly. It become a Chicago Rock Cafe in 2002 which didn’t last too long either. It has now been converted into a casino named the Hard Rock Casino, retaining all the decorative interior from its original cinema days.

It is one of London’s most unknown, yet most important cinema buildings and is a Grade II Listed building.

Contributed by Ian Grundy

Recent comments (view all 21 comments)

larrygoldsmith
larrygoldsmith on March 22, 2008 at 9:44 pm

This theatre may have had ties to 20th Century Fox Film Corp., but it was never owned or operated by the FOX/NATIONAL GENERAL CORP. chain of theatres. These are seperate co’s. Fox/ National General no longer exsist. 20th Century Fox is alive and well. But there is no connection between the two. Fox Theatres/National General Theatres never owned or operated movie theatres overseas.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on August 15, 2009 at 6:01 am

The Rialto Cinema can be seen on the left of this night-time view of Coventry Street in November 1955:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/allhails/2808666144/

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 23, 2009 at 3:43 pm

The derelict interior of the Rialto Cinema, photographed in 1998:
View link

woody
woody on June 14, 2010 at 4:51 pm

a cinema ad for the Rialto from dec 1979 when it screening The Bitch, and was a Brent Walker Theatre
http://www.flickr.com/photos/woody1969/4701030909/

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on January 18, 2011 at 4:44 am

A vintage photograph from April 1955, showing the Rialto Cinema. The Peter Robinson store was later demolished and the Swiss Centre built on the site. In 2009, this too was demolished and a hotel has been built on that site:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/allhails/5154525536/

Mike_Blakemore
Mike_Blakemore on September 23, 2011 at 11:04 am

The seating was removed. and ended up in a short lived cinema in Birmingham called “The Original Cinema” Saltley..

Mike_Blakemore
Mike_Blakemore on October 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Have found a picture of the auditorium….

Mike_Blakemore
Mike_Blakemore on October 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I The 20’s and early thirties The Cinemas was Operated by ABC Cinenas. The Manager that I trained with at The ABC Savoy Walsall. Was assitant Manager at the Commodore Hammersmith and did management relief at Rialto

eceleticandveryinspired
eceleticandveryinspired on May 16, 2013 at 2:48 am

Compare the mamzing similarity of the Rialto coventry st london and the Parkway Baltimore, USA.

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1878#

tomholdsworth
tomholdsworth on September 30, 2013 at 5:21 am

In fact 20th Century Fox DID own the Rialto, I was a projectionist at the Rialto in the late 1960’s and was directly employed by 20th Century Fox Corporation.

I saw the cinema recently (now a Casino) and the interior appears to be intact as I remember it, pity it is not a cinema anymore.

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