June 09, 2015

Photo Essay: Upon the Revitalization of the Red-Tagged Rialto Theatre

It's not often you get the opportunity to pay a sanctioned visit to a rundown, closed theater.

Sure, vandals break in and cause mayhem. Vagrants spend the night. Thieves strip the place of copper pipes and anything else valuable.

Me? I just want to look.

I'd heard that the vacant Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena was going to be open for a South Pasadena Preservation Foundation meeting, but I found out about it too late to reserve a spot.

I thought maybe I'd show up anyway to see if I could get in. I figured I'd go a couple hours early and get some daylight photos of the exterior without crowds of people.

The Rialto has been in the news a lot lately, particularly when it was reported that Quentin Tarantino might buy it and reopen it as a cinema, as he did with the New Beverly. That deal fell through, but the Rialto was purchased by a developer from Downtown Los Angeles.

Since no one is exactly sure what the future plans are, this might've been my last chance to see the Rialto anywhere near its original condition. Lucky for me, the door was open, and when I asked to come in and look around, my fellow preservationists welcomed me.

Miraculously, many of the lobby murals are intact, and in pretty good condition.

Actually, the whole theater is remarkably preserved... hope that whatever revitalization happens will retain much of the Rialto's original features.

After all, other theaters have been revived from far worse condition.

Built in 1925 by theater impresario C. L. Langley (also responsible for the Alex Theatre)... retains a lot of original plaster ornamentation in the auditorium as well.

It was a combo movie and vaudeville theater pretty much from the beginning...

...and has the rigging and footlights for stage shows, as well as films.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show screened here for 30 years.

Since its closure in 2007, the entire building has been red-tagged – deemed "unsafe and uninhabitable."

Particularly the balcony.

It violates several California Fire Code Sections even now, which means a fire marshall must be present at any public gathering inside.

This theater has already survived two fires (one which soaked the Wurlitzer organ, which had to be subsequently removed)...

...and previous threats to turn it into a parking lot.

South Pasadena celebrated its centennial at the Rialto in 1988. In ten years, let's hope we're celebrating the Rialto's centennial at the Rialto.

In the meantime, it opens occasionally for special, one-off events.

But you still can't go into the balcony.

[Updated with new photos 2/12/17]

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Fox Theatre Fullerton, 90 Years Old and Starting Over
Photo Essay: Last Chance Look at The Tower Theatre (Lobby, House & Balcony)
Photo Essay: Last Chance Look at the Tower Theatre Part 2 (Backstage, Projection Booth, Basement)

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