Rialto Theatre

149-50 15th Road,
Whitestone, NY 11357

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Rialto Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

This small theatre in Whitestone, a community north of Flushing, Queens, operated for several decades with late-run double features, but early fell victim to competiton from home televsion.

More information is needed about the Rialto’s history and present status.

Contributed by Warren G. Harris

Recent comments (view all 10 comments)

JohnFitzgerald
JohnFitzgerald on September 15, 2005 at 12:23 pm

This is the first movie theatre I remember going to. I guess I was about 6 years old (around 1956) and I went with my older brother. I remember seeing Gung Ho with randolph scott and movies with the east side kids. I also remember seeing Love Me Tender with Elvis, which back in those days was a big deal. This theatre was always called the itch by the locals The unusual location, it was in the middle of a residential block, I suppose added to its demise..I’m not sure when it closed but it must have been around 1957 or 1958.When the rialto closed the building was purchased by a Jewish congregation an became Temple Hillel. In 1966 it was purchased by the dwarf giraffe athletic league who still own and run it today. The theater floor was gutted and the room converted into a gymnasium and basketball court.If you pass the building today it does not look like it was ever a theatre.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 6, 2005 at 9:31 am

Well… I took a drive by the former Rialto’s highly unlikely location the other day and snapped these photos. As jff posted, it’s smack in the middle of the most residential of Queens' blocks (15th Road, no less, not even Street or Avenue!) very close to where the busy 150th Street crosses over the Cross Island Parkway, but well out of the way for anyone except those who lived on the adjoining blocks to have known much about! Looking at the building now and knowing it used to be a theater, one can sort of recognize a familiar profile… But it is only really when looking at the rear of the structure (see the last photo below) with its walls angling back to where the screen was that the past is revealed to trained eyes.

First up – here’s a shot looking down the block from 150th Street (the theater is on the left side of the street from this view): View link
I imagine the trees on the block were younger and not as full as they are now, but even so, can you imagine walking along and peering down this street to see a movie theater marquee jutting out from between the row of houses?

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This last shot of the building’s rear is taken from the sidewalk of the next block down (15th Drive):
View link

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 7, 2005 at 4:37 am

I’m sure most of the gutting and refurbishing of the interior occured in the ‘60’s after Dwarf-Giraffe took over. I imagine that none of whatever (probably modest) ornamentation might have existed is left. Perhaps one day I’ll walk in and see if I can peek around the gym and basketball court – not that I expect to see anything like the remnants of the old Brooklyn Paramount in the LIU gym!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on May 12, 2006 at 9:54 am

The photos I posted above are located here now that I’ve reorganized my photobucket account. The old links no longer work.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 27, 2007 at 9:16 pm

I was on the block earlier today and pulled over to see if the place was open. While the doors were locked and the lights turned off, I could look through the small square porthole windows on the front doors and note that there seems to be a small vestibule leading to a set of doors leading into the large gym space. The vestibule floor seems to retain the original upwards slope towards the inner doors and I suspect that this may have been the original outer vestibule under the theatre’s canopy. Next time I’m in a Barnes & Noble, I’ll have to look for the “Whitestone” book Warren posted about above and check out the 1946 image of the Rialto for comparison.

Those inner doors were open when I visited today, by the way, and I could make out that the space beyond is one big open room right back to the rear wall of the building. It was too dark to make out any details. I wonder if any elements remain at all – perhaps on the ceiling?

DGO79
DGO79 on April 4, 2009 at 8:08 am

I have very fond memories of The Rialto. JJF is right—we called it the itch—probably because it was pretty funky and your feet stuck to the floor. I went to the Saturday double features—generally movies that had long seen their day in theaters. I loved the horror and sci fi movies. For instance, I saw the double feature of the original “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” there. I think the doors opened at 1:00 on Saturday afternoon. I would bring 51 cents: 26 cents(?)for the ticket and 25 cents to spend in the snack machines (there was no candy counter) which dispensed soda, popcorn and ice cream. I think the owner would sell the tickets and then go upstairs and run the projector. There was a matron who would prowl the aisles with the flashloight and intimidate the kids. I went to PS 79 which was a block away and rememmber when they gutted it either 1957 or 1958.

bigman39
bigman39 on October 17, 2010 at 6:27 pm

I remember the itch.Sat Matinees had a double feature newsreel 15 cartoons a serial or 3 stooges coming attractions and Maybe a guest appearance by Superman(Bud Collier), Brace Beemer (The lone ranger) or Floyd Buckley The red Lantern from the land of the lost. I learned all about necking in the back row. Mr Schafter was the owner it was a family run theatre. H sent his grandson to college to become a lawyer.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on June 30, 2011 at 9:11 pm

According to the Dwarf Giraffe website the theater was purchased in 1966 and had been used as a Jewish Temple in the years since the Rialto closed. The Athletic League gutted the “theater floor” – per their description – for conversion to a gym. There are photo galleries on the website that show numerous views of the space, and indeed, it appears the room was gutted to the bare brick walls. However, it is possible that the ceiling – which consists of several widely spaced cross beams with either a tin or coffered motif in the recesses and crown molding (all painted white) – may be original to the theater.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on July 1, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Nope. That is the front of the theater, Tinseltoes. I uploaded some pics I took a few years back and included a pair of views of the theater’s rear wall from the next block over (which had to be viewed through the backyards of the neighboring houses).

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