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The Rialto Theatre (1917)

Architect: Oliver Perry Dennis

In 2013, after many years of disrepair, the historic Rialto Theater was renovated to house the international retailer Urban Outfitters. Urban Outfitters has also restored the historic marquee, the most significant feature of the original theater. "We had been looking at Downtown L.A. for several years, watching what was happening and where. When we decided the time was right to open an Urban Outfitters, the Rialto Theatre on Broadway was the perfect location," said John Hauser, Urban Outfitters Chief Officer of Brand Experience. "The Rialto movie palace building still has incredible character – you can feel the history when you are there. Urban is excited to be on Broadway and to be part of the revitalization." The two-story Urban Outfitters opened on December 19, 2013.

 

Quinn's Rialto Theatre was built in 1917 by F.P. Fay for J.A.Quinn and leased to him under a ten-year contract. The theatre opened on the afternoon of May 21, 1917 with the American premiere of Selig's film, "The Garden of Allah," accompanied by a symphony orchestra and other musical acts. Within two years the Rialto was sold to Sid Grauman who had also recently opened the Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway.

 

The two-story Rialto, designed for film by architect Oliver P. Dennis, had a seating capacity of close to 900. In addition to a pipe organ, there was an elevator-type orchestra pit that could hold 25 musicians and a balcony on each side of the stage for singers. Long and narrow, the auditorium had a stadium-style build with a sharply raked floor extending to the mezzanine level. Patrons entered through tunnels from the lobby to the main floor. Due to stores positioned on either side of the main entrance, the lobby itself was narrow and finished in marble, as was the exterior entrance. The front of the building was covered with vitrified brick and stone, had an ornamental iron marquee, and arched windows on the second story. At the end of October, 1919, Sid Grauman announced that the theatre would be closed for several weeks for redecorating and remodeling.

The New Rialto Theatre, as it was renamed, opened November 20, 1919, with Cecil B. DeMille's "Male and Female, Created He Them." Grauman introduced long runs for films playing in this theater, in contrast to the one-week runs at the Million Dollar. He was able to do this through careful selection of the films, extensive publicity, and the relatively small seating capacity. In addition to staging prologues designed around the feature film, the less complex productions at the Million Dollar were moved to the Rialto since films playing at the Rialto tended to be more intimate and romantic than those at the Million Dollar.

 

In order to stage the prologues, Sid Grauman hired William Lee Woollett, who had also been involved in the design of the Million Dollar, to remodel the theatre. A thrust stage, large enough to hold 30-50 people, was added and the orchestra pit rebuilt. Stage exits were widened. A green room and dressing rooms were built in the basement. The lobby entrance was widened, and the exterior brickwork was covered with stucco. The theatre was now billed as "the most beautiful little theater in the world." That statement may have been an exaggeration, but business was good and the theatre was in its heyday; it was claimed in 1924 that the Rialto hosted more world premieres than any other theatre in the world. Many of the elements that have become attached to movie premieres - searchlights, stars, social and industrial leaders, and politicians - started at the Rialto.

In 1924, the theatre was again closed for renovations. By 1926, neighborhood theaters, with full fly lofts and the ability to stage any type of show, were offering competition to the Downtown movie palaces. Sid Grauman shifted his attention to Hollywood, and the Rialto began to be advertised with the Paramount Publix Theatres. The marquee was modified in 1930 and has become the single most important feature of the theater today - the longest still in existence in Los Angeles. The theatre briefly screened X-rated films and enjoyed a more extended showing of Mexican films before eventually closing. The interior has subsequently been gutted. (Victoria K. Steele, courtesy of L.A. Historic Theatre Foundation www.lahtf.org). 
 

 

 


 












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