Start your Los Angeles area historic theatre explorations by heading to one of these major sections:
| Downtown | Hollywood | Westside | Westwood/Brentwood | Santa Monica | [more] L.A. Movie Palaces |
To see what's recently been added to the mix visit the Theatres in Movies site and the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page.

Navigating Your L.A. Theatre Tour

Welcome to the tour!  In addition to this Los Angeles Theatres site, I have two other websites devoted to historic theatres in the L.A. area. All the material on those sites is (slowly) moving over here. The version of the program they're hosted on is being discontinued. But the pages should be up and functional at least into the middle of 2018.

I'm currently working on the downtown theatres -- with a few side trips to do new versions of pages for some of the more important buildings in outlying areas. The Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page will let you know what new items have been added either here or to the doomed web pages. My Theatres In Movies site might also warrant a look -- it's an ongoing project tracking which Los Angeles area theatres have showed up in films.

If you can't find what you're looking for, leave me a comment on this post or do an e-mail to counterb@gmail.com. See you at the movies!    -- Bill Counter

This site on a Mobile Device: If you find what you're looking for here on this post, terrific. But also note that you can go to the bottom of any page or post and click on "View Web Version" to get the navigation links at the top of the page and the long list down the right side.



Historic Theatres Downtown

The survey page gives a rundown on the 20 major surviving theatre buildings in the Downtown Theatre District. There are links to pages about each of them for more detail. You might also want to consult alphabetical rundowns on pages for Hill St. and farther west, the Broadway Theatres, Spring St. Theatres and Main St. and farther east. Those pages give you more detail, including discussions about all the theatres that have vanished.

In addition, there's a downtown alphabetical theatre list with alternate names and a theatre list by address.


Historic Hollywood Theatres

Hollywood wasn't just about the movies. Starting in the mid 20s it was also a center for legitimate theatre and musical revues at four newly built playhouses. You'll find an alphabetical list of the theatres in the district on the Hollywood Theatres overview page that includes a bit of data on each and links to pages for more details. Down below this list there's also an alternate name directory.

Also of possible interest is a separate section with a list of theatres by street address.



 Westside Theatres

The Westside started booming with retail and housing in the mid 20s and the theatres followed. Many theatres along Wilshire Blvd., in Beverly Hills, and in other neighborhoods became prime venues for everything from small foreign films to major roadshows. It's a huge territory. The Westside Theatres overview page gives you both a list by neighborhood as well as a survey arranged alphabetically.

Also see the list of Westside Theatres: by street address and the Westside Theatres: alphabetical list page which includes alternate names.


Westwood and Brentwood

Westwood Village was the third significant theatre district to evolve in Los Angeles, after Downtown and Hollywood. With the construction of the UCLA campus beginning in the late 20s there was a chance to develop a unique shopping and entertainment district for faculty and students. By the 1970's the area had evolved so that Westwood had the largest concentration of first run screens of any neighborhood in Los Angeles. The Westwood and Brentwood Theatres overview page will give you a tour of the area.



Santa Monica Theatres 

Santa Monica had a vibrant theatrical life even in the days when it was a small town isolated from the rest of Los Angeles. There were opera houses, nickelodeons and, later, a selection of movie palaces to chose from. The Santa Monica Theatres page will give you the rundown on theatres including the Aero, the Criterion, the Elmiro, the Mayfair and many more.



[more] L.A. Movie Palaces

This section tries to fill in all the other areas of Los Angeles County. You'll find links to separate survey pages on theatres North of Downtown, San Fernando Valley Theatres, Long Beach, Pasadena, Glendale, Theatres Along the Coast, and lots more. The index page has links to all these theatres organized by area.

More resources: If you are still having trouble finding what you're looking for, these pages might help. The alphabetical lists also include alternate names for each venue.
- Downtown Theatres: alphabetical name list
- Downtown Theatres: by street address
- Westside Theatres: alphabetical name list
- Westside Theatres: by street address
- Hollywood Theatres: by street address
- Main Los Angeles County Theatres list: alphabetical
- Main Los Angeles County Theatres list: by address
- San Fernando Valley Theatres list: by street address
- San Gabriel Valley, Pomona and Whittier Theatres list: by street address
- Film and Theatre Technology Resources
- Theatre History Resources
- Theatre list by Architect
- Theatre Tours and Events

Happy touring! Please let me know if you spot errors, links that don't work, etc. 

Rialto Theatre: history + exterior views

812 S. Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90014 | map |

Also see: Rialto Theatre - interior views 


Opened: May 21, 1917 as Quinn's Rialto by exhibitor John A. Quinn. The initial presentation was "The Garden of Allah" accompanied by an original score performed by the Quinn Symphony Orchestra under the direction of the score's composer, Joseph Carl Breil. The pre-opening photo is in the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library. Note the original facade. In the 20s it was shortened and restyled. An article in the Moving Picture World issue of June 23, 1917 describing the opening:

"Los Angeles was the scene on May 28 of the formal opening of J. M.[sic] Quinn's new motion picture theater, the Rialto. Prior to the formal opening, the house had been opened to the general public a week previous. Manager Quinn's new establishment strikes a note of comfort that has been the cause of much favorable comment by his audiences. Artistic simplicity characterizes the foyer and interior decorations. The lighting system is pleasing and is so arranged that it can be utilized in heightening incidental effects in the projecting of the feature.

"A huge electric sign representative of flickering candles and with the emblazoned words 'Quinn's Rialto,' at the top of the theatre structure, gives the theater its place in the sun on the local Broadway. Selig's multiple reel feature, 'The Garden of Allah," has drawn capacity audiences from the first day of the opening. Mr. Quinn was the recipient of many floral tributes from his many friends upon the ushering in of his newest venture. Through Irving Lesser of the All Star Feature Distributors, Mr. Quinn bought the entire rights for Los Angeles for 'The Garden of Allah.'"
 

Thanks to ace theatre detective Cezar Del Valle for finding the article and including it in a post on his Theatre Talks blog. Another account of the opening once posted on the LAHTF Facebook page comes from an unknown source:

"A new and decidedly attractive theatre, the Rialto, with a seating capacity of 800, was opened in Los Angeles during the past week by J. A. Quinn, former manager of the Garrick and Superba theatres there. Artistic simplicity characterizes the foyer and interior decorations. There is nothing garish about the place, but there is a fine touch of the imposing. The simplicity extends even to the lighting effects. The screened incandescence of the illuminating fixtures is very pleasing and is so arranges that it can be utilized in heightening incidental effects demanded in the picture. 


"The aisles are broad and the space between the tiers of seats permits of easy passage. The lobby is compact and intimates the plain refinement that pervades throughout the place. A huge electric sign representative of flickering candles and the emblazoned words, "Quinn's Rialto" scintillates from the top of the structure. J.A. Quinn, who is sponsor of the many novel features in the house bearing his name, is a film exhibitor of vast experience...." 



An undated view of J.A. Quinn from  the collection of Marlaine Hysell. Quinn was also involved in the Superba Theatre and the Garrick. The Superba site is now occupied by the Roxie. The Garrick was demolished to make way for the Tower Theatre

Architect: Oliver P. Dennis. The building is 9,830 square feet.

Seating: 1,000 originally. 840 in later years.

Sid Grauman took it over in 1919 and gave it a remodel using William Woollett as the architect and it was then known as Grauman's Rialto. Woollett is best known as the designer of the Million Dollar and Metropolitan theatre interiors. Paramount had become a partner in the Million Dollar in April 1919 and presumably financed the Rialto renovations.

In an October 1919 telegram from Grauman to Adolf Zukor in New York he mentions that he is "making changes in Quinn's Theatre [ i.e. Quinn's Rialto] which will make it the prettiest little house in America. Framing knockout presentation for 'Male and Female' with which we will open house for long run at real prices." "Male and Female" was a November 1919 release from Paramount directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Thomas Meighan and Gloria Swanson. Thanks to theatre researcher Michelle Gerdes for finding the telegram in the AMPAS Margaret Herrick Digital Library collection.

In one program, the renovated Rialto was advertised as "The World's Most Beautiful Little Theatre." Hillsman Wright, of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation described the theatre after the Grauman makeover as  "Asymmetrical, lush, and amazing. This was the prestige, long run roadshow house. Satin seats, high ticket prices. Newspaper accounts said there were as many as 30 showgirls and a small orchestra in that tiny space (!). Like the Million Dollar and Metropolitan, Grauman's downtown houses were unique-as much works of art as entertainment venues."

Hillsman speculates that because of the lack of space at the Rialto, some or all of the cast for the elaborate prologues were based at the Million Dollar and bused down Broadway to the Rialto. This would be much like what was depicted in the film "Footlight Parade" (Warner Bros., 1933) where they're using the same cast and changing costumes in the bus as they rush from theatre to theatre to stage James Cagney's Grauman-like prologues before the feature films. Perhaps not coincidentally, even though the film is set in New York, we get a view of the Million Dollar Theatre as we speed by.



The cover of Grauman's Magazine for November 6, 1921. The Rialto was running "The Sheik" with Rudolph Valentino. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for finding the program.



A 1923 ad for the Rialto while the theatre was still under Grauman's management. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. The theatre was still listed as Grauman's in the 1923 city directory. In 1924, Grauman sold all his downtown holdings to Paramount Publix. The Grauman name continued to be used in advertising although he was no longer involved in the management.

It's unknown how long the theatre stayed as a Publix house after the Grauman sale. West Coast Theatres ended up operating the two big ones (the Metropolitan and the Million Dollar) for Publix. At some point before mid-1927 the Rialto drifted off and became an independent operation.

A post-war renovation gave the lobby a swirling Skouras-style look. According to theatre historian Ed Kelsey the building had a seismic retrofit in 1983 and received another renovation in 1984 that removed most of the remaining historic details. 

Closing: The Rialto closed as a theatre in 1987. The lobby was converted to retail space and what had remained of the theatre interior was gutted. In 2008, a $6 million remodel was proposed to re-light the Rialto as a restaurant/bar/live music venue. Nothing happened with those plans. 

Status: The reopening of the building as an Urban Outfitters store was in December 2013. They have a long term lease and did a terrific job restoring the marquee, the longest downtown. The marquee is the only part of the building that is effectively landmarked. Supposedly the boxoffice was landmarked as well but that didn't stop it from disappearing.

Hillsman Wright notes that early in the process one of Urban Outfitter's contractors had been furnished vintage photos of the sign for study. This wasn't the first theatre project for the company. The chain evidently did a great job of adaptive reuse of the Garden Theatre in Charleston.


The Rialto in the Movies:


The Tower, Rialto and Orpheum appear briefly in Sidney Poitier's "Let's Do It Again" (Warner Bros./First Artists, 1975) although we're supposedly cruising around New Orleans.



Antonio Banderas is in New York City reading a book on the street as his friend passes out flyers for his musical event at the Empire Ballroom in Arne Glimcher's "Mambo Kings" (Warner Bros., 1992). Behind him we get the north side of the Rialto marquee. On the Rialto marquee: Esther Williams in "La Sirena de Millon Dolares" ("Million Dollar Mermaid," 1952).  See the Theatres in Movies post for more shots from the film, including interior views of the Tower.



It's uncertain what city we're supposed to be in but we end up on Broadway in Nick Cassavetes' "She's So Lovely" (Miramax, 1997) with Sean Penn and Robin Wright. Not sure who Erin Dignan is, but her retrospective is advertised on the front readerboard. Esther Williams is still on the north readerboard for "She's So Lovely." See the Theatres in Movies post for another view showing the Rialto and shots from several scenes at the Tower, where we go for a dance.



A crowd is lined up outside the Tower waiting to see the Cartoon Festival in "The Replacement Killers" (Columbia, 1998). Note we get a bit of the Rialto marquee with the Esther Williams film supposedly still playing. See the Theatres in Movies post for some of the action in the film at the Mayan, Million Dollar, Tower and Orpheum theatres.



Gabriel Byrne is hailing a cab in New York City in the Peter Hyams film "End of Days" (Universal, 1999) with the Rialto and Tower theatres across the street. The film spends time in the Tower, Los Angeles and, briefly, the Belasco. And yes, when we see the other end of the Rialto marquee in "End of Days," Esther Williams is still playing. See the Theatres In Movies post about "End of Days" for ten more screenshots from the film.



Looking north on Broadway in Michael Bay's "Transformers" (Dreamworks SKG/Paramount, 2007). Thanks to Marc Zimmerman of the Cinema Heritage Group for the screenshot appearing in the Cinemas in the Movies album on the CHG Facebook page.

There's a ride up Broadway with a look at the Rialto and Tower in "Big Ass Spider" (2013).

We get brief night views of the Rialto Theatre marquee near the end of Dan Gilroy's "Roman J. Israel, Esq." (Columbia/Sony, 2017). The film features Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo in a story of a brilliant, idealistic lawyer who makes a serious misstep. We also get glimpses of the Warner Downtown, Orpheum and Los Angeles Theatres. See the Theatres in Movies post for more about the film.

The Rialto in Music Videos: We see lots of the Rialto's marquee in RUN-DMC's "It's Tricky," available on YouTube." The video also features Penn and Teller. Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting this one.


More exterior views:


1917 - A look at the Rialto with its opening attraction, "The Garden of Allah," on the marquee. The photo appeared with the June 23 Moving Picture World article that described the theatre's opening. Thanks to Brooklyn-based theatre historian Cezar Del Valle for finding the article for a post on his Theatre Talks blog.



1920 - Grauman's Rialto during the 3rd week of the run of the Mary Pickford film "Suds." The photo from someone's scrapbook went for $8.95 on eBay. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for finding this gem. Visit his amazing website about another Grauman theatre, the Chinese -- www.graumanschinese.org



1922 - A Los Angeles Public Library photo with the Garrick Theatre (now the site of the Tower Theatre) on the left, the Southern California Music Co. Building (later renamed the Singer Building) in the center, and the Rialto on the right. Note the reworked roof sign, here saying "Grauman's Rialto."



c.1923 - A lovely shot looking north toward 8th. On the right toward the end of the block we get a slice of the Rialto and beyond, at 8th & Broadway, the Garrick. Across 8th is the Chapman building, still there. On the extreme left of the photo we have a glimpse of Tally's Broadway with Hamburger's Department Store beyond.

The photo is on Brent Dickerson's chapter Later Around Broadway and 8th. This multi-part Broadway tour is one of many great adventures on Brent's "A Visit to Old Los Angeles" epic that appears on the Cal State Long Beach website. Details are on the site's index page. The photo also appears in several versions on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page: version 1 | version 2


 

c. 1923 - A drawing giving us a look at, from left to right, the Garrick Theatre, the California Music
Company/Singer Building and what looks like the partially renovated facade of the Rialto. Thanks to Brent Dickerson for the image. It's included in his Later Around Broadway and 8th chapter.



1924 - A view with Rialto on the right playing Harold Lloyd's "Hot Water," an October release. It's a photo in the California State Library collection.



1927 - A wire walker on the marquee. Note that by this time, the facade has been remodeled, losing the classical pediment and most of its windows. The Rialto's feature is "The Rough Riders," an October release. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. 



1927 - Another wire walker shot. Note the construction signage for the Tower Theatre. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



late 1920s - A glorious postcard looking up Broadway from Cezar's Del Valle's collection. We get the Rialto marquee on the right. Beyond you can see the Tower marquee noting that they're "Featuring Vitaphone." Thanks, Cezar! Check out his Theatre Talks blog to learn of his latest investigations.



1928 - A C.C. Pierce view looking south on Broadway. We get the Tower, Rialto and, a bit farther down the block, the "new" Orpheum. The photo is in the Huntington Digital Library collection where you can enlarge it and pan around looking at the details.



1928 - A detail from the C.C. Pierce photo above.



1929 - A Christmas view north toward 8th from the Dick Whittington Studio. On the right we get a bit of the Rialto marquee followed by the Tower and the President/Globe. Over on the left in the distance there's Loew's State and the Broadway entrance to the Paramount Theatre (the former Metropolitan theatre). The photo in the USC Digital Library collection is one in a set of seven photos surveying Christmas decorations that year. Thanks to Stephen Russo for finding the photos on the USC site.



1930 or 1931 - A great night shot of the Rialto marquee as we look north on Broadway. The main feature at the Rialto is "Today" with Conrad Nagel, released in November 1930. The photo from the California Historical Society is in the USC Digital Library collection.



1931 - Looking south on Broadway at the Tower, Rialto and Orpheum Theatres. The Rialto is playing a Chaplin film -- perhaps "City Lights" as a moveover from the Los Angeles. The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



1942 - We're shopping at the May Co. Out the doors across Broadway we see Betty Grable and Victor Mature in "Song of the Islands." The second feature looks like Dorothy Lamour and William Holden in "The Fleet's In." It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for finding it in the Library's collection.



1946 -  The Rialto running "Tomorrow is Forever." Note the Tower Theatre at the left -- during this period called the Music Hall. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



1953 - The Tower is seen here in its "Newsreel" days. The Rialto down the Street is running "The Moon is Blue" with William Holden and David Niven. The photo from the Jack Finn collection appears on the website of the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society.



1972 - The theatre as a Spanish language film house. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.


 
1970s? - An undated photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection giving us a view north on Broadway during a light traffic day.



1986 - A photo from the Los Angeles Conservancy archives that appeared in a Broadway photo gallery that was once on the organization's website. The Rialto closed in 1987. 



1995 - A nice shot of the longest marquee from the Grace Marketing Research Broadway Theater Tour. The site also has a great Hollywood Studio Tour.



2002 - A photo by Betty Sword that's included in Cezar Del Valle's Theatre Talks post about the Rialto's 1917 opening. Thanks, Cezar!



2007 - The longest marquee downtown. The facade used to be a bit taller and more ornate. Photo: Bill Counter



2007 -  A pre-restoration view looking north. Photo: Bill Counter



2008 -  Thanks to Stephen Friday for his photo on Flickr. It's from his terrific 75 photo East Side of Broadway set.



2012 - A look south on Broadway at the Tower, Rialto and Orpheum theatres. That's the Singer / Southern California Music Co. Building in between the Tower and the Rialto. The structure beyond the Rialto is the Wurlitzer Building. Photo: Bill Counter



2012 - A closer view toward the theatre looking south. Photo: Bill Counter



2012 - A man and a theatre awaiting better days. Thanks to Yasmin Elming for her photo on the LAHTF Facebook page.



2012 - The view north from the Orpheum. Photo: Bill Counter



2012 - The Rialto, the Singer Building, and the Tower Theatre as we look north toward 8th St. Photo: Bill Counter



2012 - A lovely night view north on Broadway. Photo: Hunter Kerhart. Thanks, Hunter! Keep up with his latest explorations: on Facebook | HunterKerhart.com | on Flickr



2012 - Deserted at night. Thanks to Stephen Russo for his photo on the LAHTF Facebook page



July 2013 - Making a pattern from some of the surviving tubing. Thanks to Gary Callahan for his photo from the LAHTF Facebook page.



July 2013 - Chris Nichols noticed the sign work on the Rialto in preparation for the new tenant Urban Outfitters. He covered it in an August 2 Los Angeles Magazine story discussing what's
happening downtown: "Urban Outfitters Bringing Big Changes To Downtown Los Angeles."



September 2013 - Brigham Yen's DTLA Rising story: "Urban Outfitters Coming Soon..." included this shot of work underway on the marquee. Also see his December 2013 story about the store's opening for a number of interior views.



November 5, 2013 - The white base coat on the Rialto's sign. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



November 6, 2013 - Old paint and new: work on the south readerboard. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



November 12, 2013 - Making the south readerboard colorful again. Thanks to Escott O. Norton for his photo on the LAHTF Facebook page.

The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation is actively involved in the study and preservation of the many vintage theatres in the L.A. area. The group frequently supports events and offers tours. www.lahtf.org | on Facebook |



November 14, 2013 - The neon back up on the south readerboard as the Urban Outfitters opening neared. Photo: Hunter Kerhart 



November 21, 2013 - The Rialto marquee at dusk. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



November 24, 2014 - New neon tubing getting installed on the marquee. Thanks to Wendell Benedetti for his photo, a post on the LAHTF Facebook page.



November 24, 2013 - More details of the marquee work by Romeo Sign Service. Thanks to Wendell Benedetti for his photo on the LAHTF Facebook page. More 2013 views on the LAHTF Facebook page: night before opening - 12/18 - Stephen Russo | from the south - 12/18 - Russo | lighting ceremony - 12/18 - Benedetti | marquee lit - 4 views - 12/3 - Norton | from the south - 11/12 - Escott O. Norton |



December 2, 2013 - A look at the neon colors at the north corner. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



December 2, 2013 - The reborn Rialto marquee on its first night. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



December 2, 2013 - A closer look at the front readerboard. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



January 25, 2014 - A big night on Broadway with the Rialto, Tower and Globe marquees lit. The event was the "Day on Broadway" celebrating the 6th anniversary of the city's Bringing Back Broadway initiative. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



January 2014 - The Rialto from across Broadway. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



 2015 - A fine neon detail by Sh8dyone on the Bringing Back Broadway Facebook page.


Around the back:



1978 - Thanks to Tom Zimmerman for this photo of the back of the Rialto with an old Tower "Newsreel Theatre" sign pointing down the alley to 8th St. It's in the collection of the California State Library.

 

2007 - The rear of the Rialto Theatre building. Photo: Bill Counter
 


2012 - The rear of the Rialto from Spring St. Orpheum Theatre owner Steve Needleman's company,
Anjac Fashion Buildings, owns most of the block with the exception of the Rialto and Tower Theatre properties. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012

More Information: The Cinema Treasures page on the Rialto has lots of interesting discussion about the history of the building. Cinema Tour has a brief history as well as a few exterior photos.

See Brigham Yen's December 2013 DTLA Rising story about the Urban Outfitters opening for a number of interior views. Yen also had a November 2013 story with exterior photos. He had earlier run stories in May 2013 and way back in September 2012 when Urban Outfitters was still looking. Ed Baney of the Broadway Theatre Group (Los Angeles, Palace, Tower and State Theatres) noted at the time that the chain had looked at every available property along Broadway.

Donna Evans had a December 2013 story in L.A. Downtown News about the opening. Richard Guzman, in a May 2013 story "Urban Outfitters Coming... " noted that the Philadelphia based chain has 215 U.S. stores and opened 15 new ones in 2012. Ryan Vaillancourt had a May 2013 L.A. Downtown News story about retail on Broadway: "Urban Outfitters and the Broadway Shopping Tipping Point."

A May 2013 Curbed L.A. story by Neal Broverman discussed the project. A followup story on Curbed L.A. had more of the history of the Rialto and some vintage as well as recent photos.

The Rialto Theatre pages: back to top - history + exterior views | interior views |

| Downtown: theatre district overview | Hill St. and farther west | Broadway theatres | Spring St. theatres | Main St. and farther east | downtown theatres by address | downtown theatres alphabetical list

| Westside | Hollywood | Westwood and Brentwood | Santa Monica and Venice | [more] Los Angeles movie palaces | the main alphabetical list | theatre history resources | film and theatre tech resources | theatres in movies | LA Theatres on facebook | contact info | welcome and site navigation guide |