Rialto Theatre, South Pasadena
Latest News – March 2021
In August 2020 the long-term tenant of the Rialto Theatre presented plans for Phase 1 of their Rehabilitation Plan for the theatre to the City of South Pasadena Cultural Heritage Commission. The 6-minute presentation is available online on the City of South Pasadena's website.
The tenants are completing ADA-compatible restrooms on the main floor level. The additional proposal is to demolish the raked/sloped main floor of the auditorium and replace it with a level floor, including installation of wheelchair lift, in a reversible manner.
Architects for the tenant have stated that the existing wooden floor was not structurally sound, however to LAHTF's knowledge that statement has not been independently verified.
The changes would see aisles maintaining the original rake/slope of the main floor on either side of the auditorium, with the main floor area being leveled and matching the elevation of the area immediately in front of the stage. Steps from the surrounding aisles, and the wheelchair lift, would afford access to the leveled floor.
The 1940s seating at main floor level has apparently been removed by the tenants. Architects for the tenant claim that the seats were in constant need of repair. It is not clear whether removal of the seats was permitted.
As of March 2021 there appears to have been no progress on the proposed rehabilitation project.
Update – November 2020
Exterior work on rehabilitating the theatre's façade is wrapping-up, with neon being reinstalled on the Rialto's exterior. The neon was probably added in the 1940s modernizations.
Update – July 2020
Update – January 2020
Shomof Group, owner of the Rialto Theatre, has renegotiated the lease with current tenant Mosaic church group, which sees Shomof Group take responsibility for exterior renovation work and Mosaic take responsibility for interior renovation and improvement works.
Exterior renovation work commenced mid-January and is expected to last 4-6 months. Shomof Group intend to lease the two storefront retail spaces at street level.
Update – September 2019
Plans have been approved for the first phase of renovation for the Rialto Theatre, which will include adding ADA bathrooms on the ground level in what is currently the back room for concessions. This was historically a bathroom, so this will be a great improvement. LAHTF has spoken with the local architect who designed the renovation and is working with the tenant to make sure all work is done appropriately.
Update – December 2017
The Friends of the Rialto is working with projection equipment expert Tom Ruff to restore the 35mm projectors. The plan is to use these for film screenings and special events. Mosaic hosted their first movie screening on December 17th, and it was a great success! Two screenings of "It's a Wonderful Life" were shown on the big Rialto screen using a digital projector. Over 700 people came to the 2 screenings, with many young families in attendance. The Theatre was decorated inside and out, and costumed ushers sold popcorn and candy at 1940s prices to crowds that literally lined up all the way outside the theatre! Friends of the Rialto will continue to advocate for proper restoration and community based events.
About the Rialto Theatre
After 92 years as a theatre, the Rialto has a new tenant. Mosaic Church has signed a lease for the Rialto, and intends to bring the theatre back to life, both for church services and events, and eventually non-church entertainment open to the general public. Mosaic Church has multiple locations around Los Angeles, with a headquarters in Hollywood. Friends of the Rialto is working closely with the Church to promote a proper restoration. To that end, Friends of the Rialto has consulted directly with the architectural firm preparing the Historic Structures Report. The HSR is a detailed accounting of every every historic element of the theater building, and an assessment of what should be preserved and protected.
The Rialto Theatre was designed by L.A. Smith and opened in 1925 and presented vaudeville and movies with live orchestra and Mighty Wurlitzer Organ accompaniment. The Rialto is rare in Southern California, much of the theatre is in original condition, with dressing rooms, a scenic backdrop in the fly gallery, orchestra pit, green room, etc. When it opened, the seating capacity was 1200, with 800 on the orchestra level and 400 in the balcony. Even the original 92 year old seating in the balcony remains.
The Rialto Theatre was owned since the 1930s by the Jebbia family until a few years ago when it was purchase by downtown developer Izek Shomof. His intent from the beginning was to find a tenant to manage the theatre space and do the restoration. With the generous support of the new owners, the non-profit advocacy group Friends of the Rialto produced a series of shows in 2016 and 2017 to showcase the versatility of the Rialto, including movie screenings with live accompaniment, live concerts, broadway musicals, and vaudeville styled variety shows.
For more information, visit www.FriendsoftheRialto.org