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Rialto Theater

Rialto Theater was at 50 High Street, on the northwest corner of North Front and High Streets, and extended north to Market Street. It opened Sept. 1, 1920, as an 867-seat movie theater. The original plan in 1919 was to raze the St. Charles Hotel on the site. Instead, part of the hotel was demolished and the remainder saved and rebuilt as the theater, designed by L. W. Fahnestock, a Cincinnati theater architect. The Rialto, established by the Jewel Photoplay Co., featured a $20,000 Wurlitzer organ, described in a newspaper story as a Hope-Jones unit orchestra that "reproduces the effects of a symphony orchestra, combined with the sweetness of tone of the finest church organ." The organ had about a million parts and 150 miles of wiring. In the era of silent films, the new theater also had the Rialto Ladies' Symphony Orchestra that performed for afternoon and evening shows. An anonymous history of amusement in Hamilton, published in the Journal-News Dec. 20, 1936, said Aug. 4, 1929, "the talking picture, now better known as sound picture, made its advent in Hamilton, the Rialto presenting a music show, 'Broadway Melody," while the Palace presented William Boyd in 'The Flying Fool.' " The office of the Jewel Photoplay Company was in the Rialto building. The theater name was changed to Court Theater in August 1959, after it had been closed briefly for remodeling. It was renamed the Rialto Theater again in May 1989 with 650 seats, after being closed in 1988. It closed for several periods in its final years, when it was operated as a two-screen theater with 500 seats. It finally closed in October 1993, and sold to the City of Hamilton for $140,000 in 1996. It was razed by the city in October 1996.

A city park, Lentil Park, was created on the High Street portion of the theater site. It commemorates a mythical boy who grew up in Hamilton Author Robert McCloskey, born and educated in Hamilton, recalled his boyhood in Lentil, a book about a boy, age 10 or 11, who lives in a typical Midwestern town, the fictional Alto, Ohio. Lentil is one of three McCloskey works labeled his 'Midwest boy books,' reflecting his boyhood in Hamilton. The others are Homer Price and Centerburg Tales. Sept. 21, 2001, the life-size sculptures of harmonica-playing Lentil and his dog, Harmony, were unveiled in the new park. McCloskey was born in Hamilton Sept. 15, 1914, and died June 30, 2003, on Deer Isle, Maine, his home for many years. (See Jim Blount history column in Journal-News Sept. 10, 1989, for more details.) Also see entry for Lentil Park.

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