Rio Theatre

1205 Soquel Avenue,
Santa Cruz, CA 95062

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Rio Theatre

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The Rio Theatre, which was built in 1949, has now reopened as a performing arts center. The Rio Theatre was purchased from United Artists before the giant theater chain filed for bankruptcy.

Contributed by Ross Melnick

Recent comments (view all 16 comments)

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on October 16, 2007 at 12:02 pm

The above link no longer works so try this one instead.

GaryParks on April 12, 2008 at 3:18 pm

I first attended the Rio in 1975, for a revival of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” paired with the European animated science fiction fantasy, “Fantastic Planet.” At this time the Rio’s auditorium was draped in crimson soundfold, and this is the look I knew during all the years I went to shows there. However, a longtime resident of the Santa Cruz area said that before the soundfold was applied to the walls, there were murals depicting women being attended by nymphs or putti or somesuch. I’m wondering if anyone will ever confirm the existence of these murals. I remember the tiered lotus wall fixtures with lighting in red and blue that I mentioned in an earlier post, and there was originally a blue-lit neon clock to the right of the screen. Also, during my earliest visits there, overstuffed couches still remained in the lobby, and there was at least one framed painting on the wall, which was clearly of 1940s vintage, depicting a vase and a bowl of fruit. Also, there was a mirror mounted in the front of the concession stand, which had a silkscreened image of a smiling woman, advertising a soft drink, probably Coca-Cola. The mirror was suffering from some oxydation of the silver and paint on its back.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on September 6, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Here is a 2008 photo of the Rio.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on January 21, 2009 at 2:38 pm

The Rio can also be seen in this photo.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on April 27, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Here are two 1984 photos:



GaryParks on May 9, 2009 at 5:45 pm

If one looks closely at the first of the two photos linked to Lost Memory’s April 27 post, a hand painted poster in the display case can be seen, inviting Mothers to make use of the Rio’s Cry Room. I remember this poster, which was hand painted. I have no idea how old it was. Usually it was displayed in a freestanding poster case in the lobby, just inside the entrance doors to the left as you walked in.

CSWalczak on March 15, 2012 at 7:44 am

According to the history page on this theater’s official website, this theater was specifically built to house a “Cycloramic” screen and opened as the Rio Cycloramic Theatre. The screen was supposed to create the illusion of depth. It sounds a great deal like Cinerama. Does anyone know anything about these Cycloramic screens?

GaryParks on February 6, 2014 at 9:07 am

I just heard from a friend who heard on Santa Cruz radio station KSCO that last night a driver crashed into the entrance of the Rio, taking out the ticket booth and plowing into the front doors. He then got out of the car and killed himself. More on this if I hear about it.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 6, 2014 at 12:03 pm

CSWalczak: The 3D Film Archive says that the Cycloramic screen was introduced in 1949 for a revival of a big screen projection process from the 1920s called Magnascope. The page features this trade journal advertisement for B. F. Shearer featuring the Starke Cycloramic Screen. As the Rio was built in 1949, the timing was right for it to have been a Cycloramic house. B. F. Shearer was the leading theater supply company in the west for decades, and probably supplied the furnishings and equipment for the Rio.

Cyclorama is, of course, also the name of the large, white, usually concave backdrops that have been used in stage theaters since the 19th century.

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