Rialto 4 Cinemas

841 Gilman Street,
Berkeley, CA 94710

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Rialto Theatre Berkeley November 1972

Essentially assembled in a West Berkeley warehouse from salvaged parts and ornamentation from demolished or renovated older theaters (its seats, for example, came from the Oakland Paramount), the Rialto Theatre opened in 1972, and was the first theater in what would eventually become the Renaissance Rialto chain—–“the rebirth of the Rialto”, according to Allen Michaan (who had named it after an old theater he had attended as a child).

Initially a single-screen rep house, the cinema was expanded into a twin in October 1974 and became a fourplex on March 21, 1975, showing foreign and independent films and achieving a cult following among aficionados of those films.

Eventually changing trends, among them the then-recent arrival of the Shattuck Cinemas, took their toll, however, and Michaan eventually closed up shop at the cinema that began it all in 1989.

Contributed by Garrett Murphy

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

gsmurph on December 9, 2004 at 4:05 am

The building that housed the rialto now houses several retail outlets.

jfrentzen on May 12, 2005 at 7:39 am

The Rialto was a unique theatergoing experience. It was located on a stretch of Gilman street that came fairly close to Emeryville and was located on the edge of a slum. If a north wind was blowing, you’d step out of the theater and smell the Emeryville food processing factories. That was pretty bad. Parking was iffy and my car was stolen from the area at one time. Nonetheless, the theatre itself was funky and amusing. The lobby was fairly small for a 4-plex. The concession stand was dinky, as I recall. Three of the auditoriums were uncomfortable to sit in. The largest auditorium was better in all respects, although in terms of comfort it was only a bit better than the others. Those seats were HARD to sit in for more than ten minutes. The large auditorium played 3-D movies and the booth was equipped with Stereovision 3-D, which used the polarized glasses instead of those red-blue things. I saw ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN there and the picture was excellent. This auditorium, though, was very peculiar — a section of seats was positioned off to one side, facing a wall. People seated all the way over to one side could not see the screen! The Rialto was, during the mid-70s, the only place to see cult movies…literally. The UC Theatre was a better experience but the Rialto would keep titles for a whole week. The Rialto would sometimes play the same stuff you would find at the Telegraph Repertory, but the viewing experience was better (which isn’t saying much).

gsmurph on May 4, 2006 at 11:31 pm

Uh Jeff, Gilman is practically on the opposite end of Berkeley from Emeryville; Gilman is actually very close to Albany (and UC Village).

blgwc on February 20, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Where you could hear three movies for the price of one…but I loved it.

rivest266 on August 12, 2018 at 4:37 pm

2 screens in October 1974.

rivest266 on August 13, 2018 at 7:07 am

and four on March 21st, 1975.

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