Also see: Rialto Theatre - interior views
Opened: May 21, 1917 as Quinn's Rialto, a project of 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.
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 Lee 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 late 1923 Grauman sold his interest in his downtown theatres to Paramount Publix. They already had a 50 percent share prior to Grauman bowing out. 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. In 1928 Harry Srere's Pacific Amusements Co. was running the house. He's mentioned (with his name spelled as Strere) in a story in the August 15, 1928 Variety about his taking over the Palace from the Orpheum circuit. It's on Internet Archive.
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 with Metropolitan Theatres as the final operator. 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 seen on the north readerboard. 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 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. See the Theatres in Movies post for three shots of the Orpheum from the film.
There's a ride up Broadway with a look at the Rialto Theatre and the Tower Theatre in "Big Ass Spider!" (Epic Pictures Group, 2013). The film, directed by Mike Mendez, is about an alien spider that escapes from a military lab and goes on a destructive binge in Los Angeles.
We get a quick look at the Rialto 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 shots from the sequence.
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 - Putting up the letters for the theatre's inaugural attraction, "Garden of Allah." Thanks to intrepid researcher Ken McIntyre for finding the photo for a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.
1917 - The Rialto shortly after the opening. The photo appeared with the June 23 Moving Picture World article that described the theatre's debut. Thanks to Brooklyn-based theatre historian Cezar Del Valle for finding the article for a post on his Theatre Talks blog.
1917 - The Rialto with a big crowd for "The Whip." The film was a March release about a racehorse named Whip. Thanks to Dallas Movie Theaters for the photo from a trade magazine. It was a contribution of theirs to the Cinema Treasures page about the Rialto.
1917 - A big crowd at the Rialto for "Polly Of The Circus," a September release with Mae Marsh. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting the photo on Photos of Los Angeles.
1920 - Grauman's Rialto during the 3rd week of the run of the Mary Pickford film "Suds," a January release. The photo from someone's scrapbook went for $8.95 on eBay. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for finding this gem. Visit GraumansChinese.org, his amazing website about another Grauman theatre.
1920 - A big crowd for "The Restless Sex," a September release starring Marion Davies. Thanks to Dallas Movie Theaters for the photo, a contribution of theirs to the Cinema Treasures page about the Rialto.
1922 - A Los Angeles Public Library photo with the Garrick Theatre (now the site of the Tower) 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. Note the absence of a roof sign. The newly remodeled facade lost the classical pediment and most of its windows.
1925 - The facade done up as The Big Show for D.W. Griffith's circus epic "Sally of the Sawdust." The photo appeared in the October 31, 1925 issue of Motion Picture News with this caption: "Frank Newman got real display results on 'Sally of the Sawdust' (United Artists) at the Rialto, Los Angeles. The authorities don't permit cut-outs on the streets so Newman mounted them on net and hung them back of the street line." It's on Internet Archive.
1927 - A wire walker on the marquee. 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). 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 set on the USC site.
1930 or 1931 - A great night shot of the new deco 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.
1944 - A look south at the Tower, Rialto and Orpheum. At the Tower it's "Cry Havoc!'" with Margaret Sullavan, Joan Blondell and Ann Sothern. It was a February release. The bottom half of the bill is "Pinup Girl" with Betty Grable and John Harvey. Thanks to Sean Ault for finding the photo on eBay. Ron Whitfield also had a version posted on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.
1944 - The Rialto running "Marriage is a Private Affair" and "Princess and the Pirate." Don't you love those channel letters with the light bulbs inside? The image appeared on Photos of Los Angeles as a post from Ken McIntyre. It also appears on Noirish Los Angeles post # 5731 where contributor Gaylord Wilshire notes that it's part of a theatre slideshow on AllyQuest.com.
A cropped version of the photo from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives appears on page 12 of the 2008 book "Theatres in Los Angeles" by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper, Amy Ronnebeck Hall and Mr. Wanamaker. It can be seen in the book's preview on Google Books.
1944 - Ken McIntyre found this photo with a caption noting that it was L.A.'s Rialto. Hard to tell. The ballyhoo is for "House of Frankenstein," a December release. It was a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.
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.
c.1950 - A look at part of the 800 block of Broadway with the Rialto off to the left. To the right of the theatre is the Wurlitzer Building (1924, Walker & Eisen) and, nearest us, the Brown-Israel Outfitting Co. Building (1922, Benjamin Bloser). Thanks to Ken McIntyre for the photo, appearing as a post on Photos of Los Angeles.
1953 - The Tower is seen here in its Newsreel Theatre 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.
1976 - Thanks to Bill Gabel for this shot, a contribution of his to the Cinema Treasures page about the Rialto.
1979 - Thanks to Ken McIntyre for this great view, a post of his on Photos of Los Angeles.
1980 - Another marquee shot appearing on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles from the indefatigable researcher Ken McIntyre.
1983 - A January shot from the American Classic Images collection. Also on their website: day view - May 1980 | another daytime marquee view - May 1980 | daytime shot toward the Tower - January 1983 | night view - January 1983 | Tower, Rialto and Orpheum at night - January 1983 |
1986 - A photo from the Los Angeles Conservancy archives that appeared in a Broadway photo gallery that was once on the organization's website.
1986 - A great look at the neon discovered by Ken McIntyre. It appeared as a post of his on Photos of Los Angeles. The Rialto closed in 1987.
1995 - A nice shot appearing on 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!
c.2002 - A look south from Ken McIntyre appearing on Photos of Los Angeles. The letters are still up (more or less) for the copy advertising Esther Williams in "Million Dollar Mermaid" -- visible in at least 4 movies from "Mambo Kings" (1992) through "End of Days (1999). The copy was up at least into 2003.
2007 - An early morning view of the longest marquee downtown. 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 looking south toward the theatre. Photo: Bill Counter
2012 - The north end of the marquee and a bit of the May Co./ Broadway Trade Center. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for his photo on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
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 detail of the south corner of the marquee with the bonus of a bit of the Wurlitzer Building. Photo: Ken McIntyre - Photos of Los Angeles
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.
2017 - A marquee shot from Ken McIntyre on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. Yes, the scaffolding is still up in front of the Singer Building.
2017 - A detail of the south readerboard. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for his photo, added as a comment on Photos of Los Angeles.
Around the back:
1977 - Thanks to Ted Wright for this look at the back of the theatre. The sign is advertising the Tower Theatre, then called the Newsreel. The photo appeared as a post from Ted on Photos of Los Angeles.
1978 - Thanks to Tom Zimmerman for this photo of the back of the Rialto. 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
2017 - A look west across the Rialto toward the Hamburger / May Co. / Broadway Trade Center building during its exterior restoration. Thanks to Bao Le for his photo, a post on the DTLA Development Facebook page.
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.
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