Rialto Theater

1539 North 3rd Street,
Harrisburg, PA 17102

Unfavorite 2 people favorited this theater

Showing 10 comments

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 9, 2015 at 9:24 pm

The Family Theatre was advertised at Third and Harris as early as February, 1916. There were at least two earlier houses called the Family Theatre in Harrisburg. One operated on Third near Locust Street at least as early as 1892, and the October 26, 1912, issue of the Harrisburg Daily Independent said that the new Family Theatre on Market Street would open that evening.

A May 9, 1915, item in The Courier described the Family Theatre as “…a large airy room having thirteen exits.” The Market Street house that opened in 1912 had seated only 250, so thirteen exits would have been more likely in the larger, 900-seat Third Street house. That could be an indication that the Third and Harris Family was open by 1915.

HarrisburgHarry on November 9, 2015 at 11:41 am

I’m a little late on this contribution, but better late than never. I grew up in this neighborhood in the mid to late 50’s. I knew this theater well. I was about 10-12 years of age at this time…yeah…I’m an old guy for sure. Maybe I can help fill in some of the gaps for those who may be interested. While I don’t have any photos to share of this gem of a movie house, I have lots of memories of attending it’s regular Saturday matinees. Every Saturday there was a different episode, to keep you funneling money back into their coffers. It had a balcony, which was really surprising for such a small theater. I know this because the older kids would sit up there and toss/throw candy down at the younger kids, when they weren’t “necking” with the girlfriends. It had a small lobby with candy/popcorn snackbar. As I recall, it was open on weekends and perhaps one, or two weeknights. Admission was only 10 cents. Popcorn 5 cents, candy 5 cents, and soda 5 cents. Once a month, on a Saturday, my dad would give me 50 cents on a Saturday to go get a haircut at Abe’s barbershop, adjacent to The Rialto. The haircut cost 25 cents. Afterwards, a quick dart to the right and you were in front of the ticket booth. It had a little marquee area, beyond the ticket booth, with windows showing the “Coming Attractions”. After entering into the lobby, you could either go upstairs to the balcony, or straight ahead into the main theater. It had a very small stage in front of the movie screen. I never saw, or heard of anyone staging a play there, but I could imagine it would have been possible. There were “exit doors” opening onto Harris Street, which the kids that were not able to pay would use to enter the theater after “pooling” their money together to send in one patron. After the lights went down, the doors would be opened by some “unknown” patron, and the bad element would come in. You didn’t squeal on those kids, because they would beat your _ss after the show, if they got kicked out. So, I’m pretty certain this impacted The Rialto’s revenue, long before the rioting, aforementioned. This was a gritty part of the city, and it was predominantly caucasian. Our family moved out of the area by 1961, so I can’t provide any further information about the demise of The Rialto theater. Thanks for allowing me to share some very fond memories.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 11, 2014 at 4:32 am

The New Rialto Theatre at 3rd and Harris Streets first appears in advertisements in the Harrisburg Evening News in the summer of 1922. The Rialto is not listed in the 1922 city directory, but a house called the Family Theatre is listed at 3rd and Harris Streets. Ads for the Family Theatre end in 1922. I suspect that Bruce Calvert (previous comment) was on the right track, and the Family was the same house that was later the Rialto.

Bruce Calvert
Bruce Calvert on July 28, 2013 at 4:21 am

I have a program from 1917 for the “Family Theatre” at 3rd and Harris Streets. Do you think that it could be the same theater? It was printed in Philadelphia, but the city for the theater is unnamed.

carolgrau on March 23, 2010 at 4:37 am

It was with the Uptown, I don’t remember the owners name he never came around.. Being we were up in the booth we never had much contact with the Manager also..The night of the riot I heard the projectionist got sprayed in the face with mace, Was a projection problem that caused it.. Projectors were junk untill I got there,, I don’t remember the regular guys name but before he retired he left them go to hell. I at least got them usable, but if you did'nt know what you were doing look out,, Most guys with any sense refused to go there, so the business agent would send the new people up there.I used to do it for him, but would go out of my way to find an excuss not to go there.

1posterfan4sure on March 23, 2010 at 3:52 am

Norelco, I love your stories, the “reel” dirt on some of these places. From the way you tell it, no wonder they had projection troubles. Sounds like the riot was an event waiting to happen. Tell us, who owned and operated the Rialto? Did it ever have any connection with any other Harrisburg theaters or was it on its own?

carolgrau on March 23, 2010 at 3:31 am

The Rialto was at third and Harris Street right on the corner…Projectors were held together with rubber bands and wedged toothpicks, Real old Simplex Standards, Brenkart Enarc Lamps RCA sound… Terrible place to work,, You had to go into the Theatre and out a door and up a ladder and go up over the roof to get to the booth.. If you had to use the bathroom you had to use trashbags and bring them down at end of your shift.Was a challange when the winter came and the walkway was icy,

JohnMessick on March 23, 2010 at 12:06 am

Several years ago I contacted the Dauphin County Historical Society. Looking for pictures of Harrisburg theaters I have several of the Senate. One of the Colonial. No interior shots. None of the other area theaters.

1posterfan4sure on March 22, 2010 at 11:33 pm

No, at that time I would not have been welcome on North 3rd Street, certainly not at night when the theater was operating. I’m curious what the Rialto may have looked like inside. It was probably the largest of the city’s neighborhood houses. No pictures exist, I’m sure.

JohnMessick on March 22, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Another one of your top-notched write ups John. I am trying to think where it was located at. Have you ever been inside?