Rio Theatre

11239 S. Western Avenue,
Los Angeles, CA 90047

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WildAces on July 31, 2017 at 8:04 pm


docchapel on June 2, 2015 at 4:32 pm

The Theater was not on the corner, but just north of Imperial on Western Avenue on the west side of the street.

The Rio brings back lots of memories for me. Some good and unfortunately, a lot of bad. Located in the middle of gang infested territory when I first saw the theater in the late sixties – early seventies, it had already been closed for many years.

A Black Bus Driver from the then MTA, (I can’t remember his name) wanted to reopen the house to have a neighborhood theater again, and sunk his money into the project.

He approached me as one of the few Black and Licensed Projectionist around to help him with the project. In those days, Projectionists had to be certified and licensed through the Department of Building and Safety in Los Angeles.

I trained a projection crew, and ended up being the manager of the theater so a licensed projectionist was on site. The theater was only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday’s with plans to expand later.

The gangs made the theater a focal point for confrontations and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department was constantly being called, and we pulled more than one gun out of the theater on shakedowns. Jamel Barnes, Tookie Williams, and Raymond Washington were all fledgling gang leaders and I knew all of them personally through my work with L.A. Schools Youth Services with my working buddy and college roommate, Cliff Stewart. They were in and around the theater constantly with their “crew.” These guys were all 15 and 16 at this time. It was just a matter of time before things exploded. The Crips had claimed the theater as “their territory,” and the Bloods didn’t take kindly to it.

Finally there was a shooting near the theater and threats were made for more if it opened. The owner closed down, which angered Sheriffs Deputies who had volunteered to work on their own time to prevent that from happening. They didn’t want the gangs to continue to ruin the neighborhood and dictate who could do business, and close the theater.

The last film shown was “AKA Cassius Clay.” I ran it 2 nights, put it in the can, and the doors closed forever.

ArmandV101 on March 29, 2011 at 9:30 am

Hit the submit button before I was finished. Saw “Gorgo” and “Babes In Toyland” at the Rio Theater.

ArmandV101 on March 29, 2011 at 9:29 am

A friend advised that today’s the 50th anniversary of the release of “Gorgo” in 1961. I saw a double-bill of “Gorgo” with “Babes In Toyland” in 1961.

MrWillM on March 10, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Saw quite a few movies at the Rio living in South L.A. early and mid-60s. Used to get my haircut at a barber shop just to the North.

Interestingly, that Dec ‘58 ad tells me where I was during that week since I saw “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Ritz in Inglewood.

kencmcintyre on November 19, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Here is part of a review in the LA Times in August 1971:

Sandwiched in between screenings of “Vanishing Point” and “Shaft”, the Rio Theater at Western Ave. and Imperial Highway is presenting members of the Watts Writers’ Workshop in a live production of Elizabeth Leigh-Taylor’s “Cinderella Brown”. If this first experience of mixing the media is any indication of trends, the concept has about as much future as the Titanic.

Sad to report, this black parable on the Cinderella story seems desperately out of place in such a cavernous monument to Technicolor-Vistavision such as the Rio. But, sadder yet, there is an excellent chance it may be out of place anywhere. Since parts of it were inaudible due to echoing acoustics, we’ll have to give the play the benefit of the doubt. But not much.

“Cinderella Brown” will continue its ham-on-celluloid run through Sept. 16.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 5, 2009 at 4:53 pm

The building on the northwest corner of Western and Imperial was a gas station. In the 1952 aerial photo the roofs over the pump islands are attached to the main building, but in 1972 the islands are free-standing. The gasoline companies were always rebuilding their stations, and they built duller buildings each time.

The early announcement of plans for the Rio published in Boxoffice Magazine’s issue of August 21, 1948, said that the theater would be at Western and Imperial, and would include a commercial building on the corner containing seven stores. That part of the project never got built.

The Rio as built was similar to the Southside Theatre, having the same basic configuration, but was somewhat smaller at about 1100 seats to the Southside’s nearly 1500. Both houses were built for the Southside Theatres chain, the Rio in 1948 and the Southside in 1949.

Clarkus on July 4, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Thanks for the link Ken. Joe, I guess my memory wasn’t so bad after all. The 1952 aerial image of Western and Imperial avenues show the Rio very near the northwest corner of the intersection as well as Scrivner’s drive-in on the southwest corner. It looks just exactly as I remember it.

kencmcintyre on April 29, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Here is a December 1958 ad for some horror movies at the Rio:

kencmcintyre on March 31, 2009 at 5:48 pm

If you enter the address on this site you can see the Rio in the 1980, 1972 and 1952 photos. Just south of the theater in the 1952 photo is what apppears to be a drive-in restaurant. The theater appears to be a sizable building.
View link

kencmcintyre on February 13, 2009 at 4:01 pm

The Rio is listed in this independent theater guide in the LA Times in March 1968. Click on the guide to expand the view.

kencmcintyre on October 24, 2008 at 8:45 pm

Advertised in the LA Times independent theater guide on 7/7/71. No features listed-“call theater for program”. Phone number was 757-9237.

stephenl42 on October 6, 2008 at 5:57 pm

During the early 1960s I attended a Saturday matinee with a ticket price of nine cents. In the early 50s I saw Samson and Delilah. I think Victor Mature played Samson. I recall that when walking in the doors, the snack bar was on the left and the auditorium was on the right. I only went there a few times because I lived down the hill in Inglewood.

Clarkus on April 18, 2008 at 12:20 am

The Southside theater on Vermont was also designed by Clarence J. Smale and appears to have strong similarities to the Rio. How similar were they?

kencmcintyre on April 17, 2008 at 9:10 am

11215 is the last building going south before you reach the intersection of Western and Imperial. There is a vacant lot at the approximate location of 11239 S. Western.

Clarkus on April 13, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Well Joe, I guess my memory is not that good. In my mind it seemed the place was closer to Imperial. I do remember (accurately I hope) a joke/magic/novelty store in the corner of the building that I, as a kid, found totally cool. I would love to see an image of the Rio as well as a photo of the Western/Imperial intersection from that era.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 13, 2008 at 7:11 pm

The Rio was not on the corner, but just up the block on the west side of Western Avenue. The county assessor’s office gives the address of the parcel on which the Rio stood as 11239 S. Western Avenue, and the building now there was erected in 1995. At TerraServer you can see the 1994 aerial photo of the intersection, and the Rio was still there, so it must have been demolished in 1994 or 1995. I think it had closed earlier though.

I passed by the Rio several times in the 1950s, when we used to take my grandfather fishing in Manhattan Beach, and we usually drove down Western and turned west on Imperial. It was a nice looking modern building with the theatre’s name in enormous letters. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a photo of the Rio somewhere on the Internet but I can’t find it right now.

Clarkus on April 13, 2008 at 2:32 am

I saw several movies in this neighborhood house. It was a quonset hut style of architecture. Google Maps/Satellite shows a Burger King and parking lot occupying the spot where this theater was. It’s definitely history.

kencmcintyre on July 2, 2007 at 6:38 pm

The LA Times was advertising the Rio in 1954. Unfortunately the address is only given as Imperial and Western. I’ve driven through that intersection enough times to notice if there was a theater there, so I believe this one will stay demolished.

kencmcintyre on September 16, 2005 at 4:34 pm

When was this theater demolished?

William on December 16, 2003 at 5:40 pm

The architect of the Rio Theatre (1948) was Clarence J. Smale.