South Pasadena, California
The Rialto Theatre is at 1019-1023 Fair Oaks Ave. in South
Pasadena, CA. It ceased regular movie showings some years
ago, and now hosts only special events or screenings.
The Rialto Theatre is one of a
dwindling handful of Pasadena’s grand theatres from the early
20th century. Fortunately, it is also one of the best preserved.
Completed in 1925 and trimmed with Spanish tile, the Rialto
building’s design included spaces for the grandiose theatre,
retail shops, and apartments. Despite minor modifications to the
street-level shop frontage, the original Moorish motif is still
intact and the building remains largely unaltered.
building’s façade is symmetrical with a central projecting bay
containing a recessed entrance and the marquee. Sometime in the
1930s, a larger, three-line, three-face, neon Art Moderne
marquee replaced the original marquee, which was a two-line
reader board featuring white glass and tin changeable letters.
Above the marquee, Moorish-style paired arched windows combine
with vertical elements to mix historical fantasy with the latest
Art Deco influences. On each side of the central bay is a
The interior of the theatre seats 1,300
people and is a lavish example of flamboyant eclecticism.
Multiple rows of crown molding surround the first level of
seating, and below the massive balcony, also finished with
extensive molding, hang chandeliers mounted in
Moroccan-influenced ceiling fixtures. Gilded niches protrude
from the walls; patterned, swirling finishes surround openings;
and at points of emphasis are Egyptian-influenced sphinxes and
Romanesque winged torsos. The entire effect conjures fantasies
of opulent African and Middle Eastern cultures to create a
setting removed from the cares of daily living, a place of
escape where audiences could revel in glamorous surroundings and
immerse themselves in the stories presented on the stage or
screen. During the 1930s, general admission was 30 cents and
children under 12 paid only a dime. Going to the theatre was
worth it. No matter what the audience watched—whether it was
Vaudeville or a motion picture—the Rialto interior was part of
About 30 feet deep, the stage was designed for
live productions. Dressing rooms and an orchestra pit are
underneath the stage. The scenery loft remains intact, although
the theatre has not mounted a stage production since the 1950s.
Today, it hosts events and screenings on special occasions. The
National Park Service listed the theatre in the National
Register of Historic Places in 1978.