Sunday Afternoon at the Theatre- Rialto Edition

Mar 21, 2010 by Lisa Newton

While covering the Sunday Afternoon at the Theatre series, its depressing seeing these historic buildings go to waste. More accurately, they’re literally wasting away.

Because Los Angeles’ history with film and Theatre is intertwined with who we are as a city, we’ll be forever known as the Entertainment Capital of the world, and for good reason:

The Downtown Broadway Theatre’s are representative of our cultural and artistic heritage.

They still are able to have an impact upon our enjoyment of the cinematic art form, and they still have much to offer our residents as an ode to our city’s architectural heritage.

The Broadway Theatre District should be designated as a redevelopment corridor that should be restored for the present.

Downtown Broadway Street circa 1920

Each and every Theatre in this series was, and still is, a crown jewel. Although each one may have used different architects, designs, materials, staging, décor, and colors that made them all differ from one another, their commonality is the thread of which these Theatres have in common.

As well, they were initially built to provide a magnificent environment for an entertainment district. Nothing has changed in that respect.

The Rialto Theatre is no differentt:

The Rialto Theater was built for J.A.Quinn, who as of 1919, was the president of the Motion Picture and Theatrical Co-operative Association of the World. Yes, you read that biographical reference correctly— “of the World.” It’s amazing how small the world was in 1919.

Two years after the Rialto was built, it was then sold to Sid Grauman, of the Grauman Chinese Theatre fame, who had also recently opened the Million Dollar Theatre.

Designed for film by architect Oliver P. Dennis, the Rialto, had a seating capacity of only 900, which Grauman chose as a film venue, subsequently running films more than one per week.

The theater was now billed as "the most beautiful little theater in the world." That statement may have been an exaggeration, but business was good and the theater was in its heyday; it was claimed in 1924 that the Rialto hosted more world premieres than any other theater in the world. Many of the elements that have become attached to movie premieres – searchlights, stars, social and industrial leaders, and politicians – started at the Rialto. Source: Bringing Back Broadway

One outstanding feature of this grand Old Theatre is its marquee–which after a redo in 1930, remains the longest in existence in LA.

The Rialto Theatre features stadium-style seating at the back of the house, with an ordinary raked floor section at the front. Access to the auditorium is through two tunnel-like aisles that slope up to a cross aisle, which bisects the house at the bottom of the stadium section. Given the current popularity of stadium seating in new multiplex theaters, the Rialto was some three quarters of a century ahead of its time. Source: Cinema Treasures

Rialto Theatre courtesy of the LA Conservancy

As with many of the other downtown Theatres, when the movie industry shifted from downtown to Hollywood, the Rialto’s popularity waned. Over the subsequent years, X-rated films and Spanish language films each had their day there.

As I walk down Broadway, I’m easily able to envision a different time when the Broadway Theatre district was at its pinnacle; but those times are coming back, albeit slowly but surely.

With the current efforts of Bringing Back Broadway and the LA Streetcar, Broadway and its world famous Theatres will hopefully return to their former glory.

With Travelin’ Local’s commitment, along with other organizations, we hope that day will hopefully be here much sooner than later.

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Architecture, Culture, Downtown, Entertainment, Film, Los Angeles, SoCal

3 Responses to “Sunday Afternoon at the Theatre- Rialto Edition”

  1. Michelle says:

    Thanks Lisa! What a great article!
    I hope one day we can all go to a show here and at all the great theatres along Broadway. The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, LA Conservancy and Bringing Back Broadway are working hard to make it a reality! I hope the public get more involved as that is the only way it will happen.


  2. Ryan Cowles @ Metacom Creative says:

    What a shame.. It’s always upsetting when you see beautiful old buildings deteriorating, or worse, torn down and replaced. Something about old buildings and signs has always intrigued me, and those marquees look like they were beautiful
    Ryan Cowles @ Metacom Creative´s last blog ..Taking a Train Across the Country – Part One My ComLuv Profile


    Lisa Newton Reply:

    I totally agree, but a little good news is on the horizon. Another theatre I featured in this series, the Palace, had a new message on the marquee. I saw it yesterday when I was there:


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