Rialto Theatre

1023 Fair Oaks Ave.
    | map

South Pasadena, CA  91030

Friends of the Rialtofriendsoftherialto.org | on Facebook | Newsletter

NEWS: The theatre is to become a church. The owner, Izek Shomof, has signed a 20 year lease with the Mosaic Church for the theatre as well as the ground floor retail space and the second floor apartments. The South Pasadena Review had the story on April 26, 2017: "Church to operate the Rialto Theater." The building's owner plans doing exterior restoration work with any work inside being done by the new tenant.

Escott O. Norton, in a post on the the Friends of the Rialto Facebook page, says his group had been trying for several years to raise money to secure a lease and restore the building as a performing arts center but donations were not forthcoming. He hopes to work with the church on restoration issues and perhaps program the theatre with movies and live events on off-nights. The Rialto turned 90 in October 2015.

Bianca Barragan had a June 22, 2015 Curbed L.A. story "A Plan to Bring South Pasadena's Rundown Rialto Theatre Back as a Multiplex," with drawings of how the structure would have been divided up under a proposal from Vintage Cinemas owner Lance Alspaugh. He also operates the Los Feliz and the Vista.  A Pasadena Star-News June 2015 story "Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena built in 1925 opens for one night" covered a community meeting to discuss preservation concerns -- and included a nice photo album.

A July 20 Pasadena Star-News story "Multi-use development plan..." discussed an emerging proposal from a group headed by the Friends of the Rialto founder Escott O. Norton to retain the theatre as a single house and make more use of its stage facilities. Bianca Barragan's July 22 Curbed L.A. followup story "There's a Second, Rival Plan to Reactivate..." also discusses that second possibility from the Norton group. Alas, there was not sufficient public support or donations for the project.

A September 23, 2015 South Pasadena Now story "New Group Shows Interest..." outlined the efforts of the group headed by Escott O. Norton to raise funds to restore and operate the theatre as a versatile performing arts space.

Opened: October 17, 1925. On the screen for the opening was Reginald Denny in "What Happened To Jones."

The Rialto was a project of  C.L. Langley who also built the Alex in Glendale. His empire was absorbed into West Coast Theatres with Langley as president.  Later the firm would become Fox West Coast.  

Successor companies to Fox West Coast operating the Rialto include National General Corporation and Mann Theatres. Landmark Theatres was the last operator.

Architect: Lewis A. Smith. See our Blogspot posts for more by the prolific Mr. Smith, who did many projects for Fox West Coast.

Seating: 1,200

The 2014 sale: The building was sold in December 2014 to Izek Shomof, a downtown L.A. developer. The owners had gone through a long period of deliberation before selecting a buyer. Repairs to the facade, one of the city's many concerns about the building, began in early 2015.

At the time, Mr. Shomof was looking for tenants and, according to the L.A. Times, he "hopes to turn it into an entertainment venue that could include a bar and screenings of old movies." The L.A. Times had the news in a January 2015 story by Frank Shyong. The South Bay Daily Breeze also had a story about the developer and his plans for the building.

A March 2015 Pasadena Review story by Bill Glazier noted "...Progress Being Made on Rialto Theatre."

Sale price was undisclosed. The building went on the market in June 2014. Landmark Theatres still had a lease on the theatre that ran until 2024 but they evidently relinquished that as part of the sale process.

Newmark Grubb Knight Frank represented the Jebbia family for the sale of the building. A NGKF June 2014 press release outlined the (unpriced) offering. Just the fact that the family owning the theatre had finally put it on the market was a big step toward the neglected building's rehabilitation.

The October 2014 news was that, as Curbed LA said, "Quentin Tarantino is Not Buying the Rialto Theatre in South Pas." There was almost a deal but he backed out before closing. Curbed L.A. ran a June 2014 story about the "crumbling Rialto" being for sale. The Italian media outlet il Post gave the Rialto a great photo spread as well.

A July 2014 L.A. Times story by Frank Shyong "Will South Pasadena's Rialto Theatre Rise Again?" discussed the concern of local residents who fear it may end up as something other than a theatre. Among several purchase offers submitted at the time of the story was one from Vintage Cinemas, operators of the Vista and Los Feliz theatres.

In a April 2014 story, the South Pasadena Review had speculated on a sale: "City Looks at Next Steps..."  An August 2014 Review story noted that a "Rialto Sale Would Spark South Pasadena Renaissance."

The Rialto had ceased regular operations in August 2007 when Landmark Theatres said patronage wasn't sufficient to pay the bills. After they abandoned regular programming, the theatre had been open only for sporadic rentals. And it started deteriorating.

In March 2010 it got red tagged due to various fire code deficiencies. The city wanted sprinklers, smoke detectors and a fire alarm control panel -- none of which were required when the theatre last operated.

Although Landmark was no longer operating the theatre, at the time of the 2014 sale they still held the remainder of a 99 year lease on the theatre that was executed in 1924. Dominic Jebbia had purchased the building in the 1930s and it had been held in a trust for the family members that are his heirs. The building has been on the National Register since 1978.

Earlier Development / Restoration Plans:  The Pasadena Star News ran an August 2013 story about the City of South Pasadena and the Chamber of Commerce again weighing the options to rescue the decaying theatre. Larry Wilson offered a "moderately radical" plan for a revived theatre in an August 2013 article in the Los Angeles Daily News.

The building's vertical sign had been under attack in 2012 by the City's Building Department as being unsafe. It got a reprieve and was fixed up by leaseholder Landmark Theatres. Support for the sagging marquee was also upgraded. But the L.A. Times in a 2012 story asked "What's next?"

There had long been talk about possible development deals either incorporating the theatre or on adjacent property. Torrance based developer Decoma had a project designed but it got aborted after financing dried up in 2009.  The City of South Pasadena then went looking for a new developer but nothing happened. David Fonseca did a story in October, 2010 on the blog South Pasadena Patch: "City Seeks New Partner For Redevolpement Project."

The project, as it was then designed, did not include the Rialto. But the city hoped a renewed interest in the area would be a first step toward rehabilitating the theatre building.

The Rialto in the movies:  The theatre is also featured in "Kentucky Fried Movie" (1977) and "Nightmare on Elm Street 4" (1988).  See the Rialto Theatre in the Movies set on the Friends of the Rialto Facebook page for lots of stills.

Tim Robbins leaving a show at the Rialto in Robert
Altman's "The Player" (Fine Line, 1992). He's gone to
look for a writer he thinks is harassing him.
larger view

A look at Tim Robbins and Vincent D'Onofrio
 in the Rialto lobby in "The Player."
larger view

Tim Robbins walking in front of the Rialto after
the showing of "The Bicycle Thief" in "The Player."
larger view

Bad things happen in the parking lot north of the
Rialto in "The Player."  Don't look in the puddle. 
larger view

We see a lot of the Rialto at the beginning of Wes
Craven's "Scream 2" with Neve Campbell, Courteney
Cox, Leiv Schreiber and Jada Pinckett Smith.
(Dimension Films, 1997).
larger view

A look at the marquee in "Scream 2." Jada Pinckett
Smith is going to have a bad moviegoing experience.
"Blame it on the movie."
 larger view

Not quite the Rialto auditorium in "Scream 2." 
We're actually at the Vista Theatre for the interiors.
larger view

"Scream 2" also used the Variety Arts Theatre
downtown for scenes near the end of the film.

Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) go to
the Rialto for their first date to see "Rebel Without a Cause"
 in Damien Chazelle's "La La Land" (Lionsgate, 2016).
 larger view

See the Theatres In Movies post about "La La Land" for more
Rialto shots as well as views of other theatres seen in the film
including the Magnolia in Burbank, the El Rey on Wilshire,
and the Variety in West Adams.

The Rialto on Video: See Don Solosan's "Insider's Peek #15: The Rialto" on YouTube. The video for LAHTF features Escott O. Norton, the organization's executive director. Norton also heads the Friends of the Rialto group.

More information: See the Rialto page on Cinema Treasures for lots of history, recent news and links to additional photos.  Also see their page listing other theatres designed by Lewis A. Smith.

Don't miss Sandi Hemmerlein's 2015 Avoiding Regret photo essay "Upon the Revitalization of the Red-Tagged Rialto Theatre."

Legends of America has a story about the alleged ghosts at the Rialto.  See Laurie Allee's 2011 article in South Pasadena Patch for a discussion of the problems surrounding the Rialto.

An elegant look to the rear of the house from onstage.

photo: Escott O. Norton - Friends of the Rialto - 2016

Thanks, Escott!  The photo appeared with a June 2016
post on the Friends of the Rialto Facebook page.

friendsoftherialto.org | on Facebook | Newsletter

The 1925 vintage Armstrong - Power wire
guide counterweight system stage right.

photo: Hunter Kerhart - 2014


And the view in the other
direction, across to stage left.

photo: Hunter Kerhart - 2014

A lovely view down from the flyfloor.

photo: Mike Hume - 2017

Thanks, Mike! 

Visit the Historic Theatre Photography section of his website for a fine
array of photos he's taken of theatres in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
Also check out his Historic Theatre Photography page on Facebook.

about photos from other
websites that appear on this page...

We've tried to give appropriate credit. Please
contact us if there are incorrect attributions, links that
no longer work or other issues. Assume that all the images
are subject to copyright. Contact the webmaster of the
site in question concerning reproduction or other use.

    Draumatrauma on Photobucket   

Here's a great shot of the lady above the proscenium.
It's in Dramatrauma's Rialto 2008 set on Photobucket.
 full size view

A nice view of the plaster work above an exit. 
full size view

A detail of the mural on the lobby landing.
 full size view

And there are 100 more views in the set!

    R Lader on Flickr   


An interior shot posted by R Lader.
It's a view from the 1968 ATOE
Los Angeles conclave program.
 full size view

    more from the LAHTF    

www.lahtf.org | group Facebook page | official FB page

An April 2016 look at the
marquee by Wendell Benedetti.
full size view | on the LAHTF page

The photo above (and some of the ones
 below) originally appeared as part of an

11 photo set by Wendell Benedetti

on the LAHTF Facebook page.

A detail of some lovely Batchelder tile work
in the lobby.It's a 2016 Gary Simon photo.
on the LAHTF page

 The photo above (and some others
below) originally appeared as part of a
7 photo set by Gary Simon on the LAHTF
 Facebook page. Thanks, Gary!

A main floor side wall detail.
It's a 2016 Gary Simon photo.
on the LAHTF page

A look at the one of the balcony soffit
fixtures and the plasterwork around it.
It's a 2016 Gary Simon photo.
on the LAHTF page

Some elegant plasterwork on the main
 floor back under the balcony.
It's a 2016 Gary Simon photo.
on the LAHTF page

Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for this sidewall
plaster detail. It's one of a set of 5 views she took
 during the October 2015 90th Birthday Gala.

An April 2016 look across the main floor by Wendell
Benedetti. It was a crowd of well-wishers following
 a fund raising benefit of the revue "Showtune."

Below the organ grille house
right -- not a PG rated attraction.
It's a 2016 Gary Simon photo.
on the LAHTF page

Thanks to Gary Simon for this 2015 view from
 the balcony on the LAHTF Facebook page.

A look down from the balcony with the Rialto
in action. It's an April 2016 Wendell Benedetti photo.
on the LAHTF page

The grinning creature atop the proscenium.
It's a 2016 Gary Simon photo.
on the LAHTF page

A closer look at the proscenium's gargoyle
 by Wendell Benedetti. It's 2016 photo.
Also noteworthy on the LAHTF page:
| marquee - 90th gala - 2015 - Stephen Russo |
| facade - day view - 90th - Russo | lobby - Russo - 2016 |
| balcony rehearsal view - 2015 - Don Solosan |
| boxoffice - Wendell Benedetti - 2016 |

    L.A. Times   


Los Angeles Times photographer Annie Wells
 went on a Vintage Movie Palaces tour with members
 of the League of Historic American Theatres in 2006.

In the Photo Gallery of 24 pictures numbers
 1 through 5 are nice shots of the Rialto.

Vix also comments on this tour
on History, Los Angeles County

An organ grille view by Irfan Khan, one of 7 photos with
"Will South Pasadena's Rialto Theatre Rise Again?,"
 a July 2014 L.A. Times story by Frank Shyong.
A look at the balcony lobby by Irfan
Khan from the July 2014 story.
Some of the same photos from the 2014 article
appeared again in a January 2015 story by Mr. Shyong:
 "South Pasadena's historic Rialto Theatre sold...."

    Online Archive of California   

A c.1970 view of the Rialto. It's from the
South Pasadena Public Library collection.
full size view

    Pasadena Star-News   


A Pasadena Star-News June 2015 story
 "Rialto Theatre... built in 1925 opens for one night"
covered a community meeting to discuss preservation
concerns -- and included a nice photo album.  This Walt
Mancini photo gives us a look at the crowd.
Here's one of the bold ladies that
hang out below the organ grilles.

A look at the lobby landing. It's a Walt
Mancini photo for the Star-News that's part of
the June 2015 album with the story.

A balcony soffit light fixture detail by
 Walt Mancini of the Star-News.
full size view | on the Star-News site

    Ken Roe on Flickr   


A great view toward the back of the Rialto auditorium
taken by Mr. Roe
in 2008. It's from his wonderful
 Movie Theatres USA set.

full size view

A terrific look at the proscenium by Mr. Roe.
full size view

    South Pasadena Patch   


Laurie Allee has done a neat 2 minute video about the
Rialto with clippings and vintage photos.  It's part of a
2011 article "The Rialto: A Landmark of Cinema History."

The article also includes an interesting
history of the building.

The Rialto Theatre -- a 1925 design by L.A. Smith.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

[ click on any of these photos to enlarge ]


  A noirish view of the theatre lit for "Showtune."

photo: Wendell Benedetti - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2016

Thanks Wendell! 

The photo originally appeared as part of a set of 11 photos
on the LAHTF Facebook page. The Conundrum Theatre Co.
 production was a benefit for the Friends of the Rialto organization.
 It's a revue based on the works of Jerry Herman.

A closer look at the the neon.

photo: Mark Peacock - 2009

See Mark's Vintage Theatres photo set for lots more great work.
Also visit his blog: On the Road With Mark Peacock

See another nice 2009 "Rocky Horror" night
marquee shot from Thomas Hawk on Flickr.

The view from across Fair Oaks Ave.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

Looking north on Fair Oaks.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

The boxoffice. 

photo: Bill Counter - 2010


A look into the lobby.

photo: Hunter Kerhart - 2014

We're looking straight in from the entrance
doors -- and on into the auditorium.


The vista across the Rialto's auditorium.

photo: Hunter Kerhart - 2014

The front of the auditorium.

photo: Hunter Kerhart - 2014

The beast at the top of the proscenium.

photo: Hunter Kerhart - 2014

The balcony view.

photo: Hunter Kerhart - 2014

Thanks, Hunter! 

Keep up with Hunter's explorations:
| the Facebook page | hunterkerhart.com | on Flickr |

| Hunter's photography blog: South on Spring |

An look to the rear from house right.

photo: Escott O. Norton - Friends of the Rialto - 2016

Thanks, Escott! The photo appeared as
a post on the LAHTF Facebook page.

The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation is actively involved
in the study and preservation of the vintage theatres in the L.A. area.
The group frequently supports events and offers tours of the buildings.

| group Facebook page | official FB page

Downstage right.

photo: Hunter Kerhart - 2014

More from Hunter:
| across from house left - on the LAHTF FB page |
| drinking fountain detail - on the LAHTF FB page |
| view to the grid - on the Friends of the Rialto page |

    Berger Conser Architectural Photography   


A dazzling look at the auditorium from
Berger Conser Architectural Photography.
The photo is from their great book "The Last
Remaining Seats: Movie Palaces of Tinseltown."
full size view

Robert's website has a portfolio of 16
images from "The Last Remaining Seats."

    more from Friends of the Rialto   

friendsoftherialto.org | facebook.com/FriendsoftheRialto

A 1931 look at the gang of kids at the Rialto
for "Cimarron," that "Rampaging Epic" with
Richard Dix. It's a photo from the Kenny
 Collection via the Huntington Library.
Another 1931 Huntington Library photo during a
run of "Huckleberry Finn" with Jackie Coogan.
A 1933 view from the Tom B'hend-
Preston Kaufman Collection.
full size view | on the Friends page

Also see a 1933 facade detail in
the FOTR Historic Photos album.

A 30s view of the Rialto interior in the Historic Rialto photos
album on the Friends of the Rialto Facebook page. It was added
by Escott O. Norton and he credits it to his friend Phyllis.
full size view | on the Friends page

Linda Hammonds has the photo on the
 SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook page where
she credits it to the South Pasadena Public Library.

A 1977 look up from under one of the
 proscenium boxes by Len Carriffe.
A portfolio of nine of Mr. Cariffe's photos of
the Rialto appears on the Facebook page for the
 South Pasadena High School Alumni Association.

A lovely look across the auditorium from
the Friends of the Rialto Facebook page.
full size view | on the Friends page

A sidewall mural detail. The photo appears
 on the FOTR Facebook page.
 full size view | on the Friends page

A fine bit of sidewall ornament.

The view up toward some of the plasterwork
at the proscenium and house left organ grille.
 It's a photo on the organization's Facebook page.
full size view | on the Friends page

A 2014 look into the orchestra pit
 from the FOTR Facebook page.
full size view | on the Friends page

Up toward the grid stage left -- a 2014 photo.

A 2014 look at the 1925 dimmerboard.

The basement dressing room corridor
-- and a trap overhead. It's a A 2014 photo.

A look toward the stage during the 2015
production of "Showtune."  Note the nice view we
 get of the balcony soffit and the decorative beam.
Another April 2016 "Showtune" photo.

Also on the Friends Facebook page:

    L.A. Public Library Collection   


A shot while the theatre was playing
"My Dinner With Andre," a 1981 release
  full size view

A Los Angeles Herald Examiner photo
 taken by Chris Gulker in 1984

full size view

Also in the collection:
| 1945 view -- "You Came Along"  |

    Messy Nessy Chic   


The Parisian blogger got this story together in record
speed after it was announced in June 2014 that the building
was for sale. "For Sale: Who wants to Buy an Endangered
1920s LA Movie Theatre?" has a fine selection of photos and
lots of information. This look at the boxoffice lead the article.
full size view

A vintage look at the Rialto's lobby.
The lobby photo comes from Friends of the Rialto.

.  An auditorium view credited to Lorne Thomas.
full size view

    Lin Rhys on Facebook   


A look at the exterior of the forlorn Rialto by Lin Rhys.
full size view

A look up at the signage by Lin Rhys
full size view


This site once had a fine selection of photos and ads.
Alas, it's now vanished. Here are two interior views by
Jeffrey Burke that were once on the site:

A look toward the screen by Mr. Burke.
full size view

A look toward the rear of the house.
 full size view

    Tahoe 61 on Flickr   


A view of the organ grille area at the Rialto
 by Tahoe 61 in his Rialto Theatre set.
 full size view 

A view of the front of the balcony by Tahoe 61.
   full size view    

More by Tahoe 61:
| lobby | under balcony |
| exterior side | marquee at night |