Thursday, May 11, 2017

An introduction to the Rialto, Louisville's million dollar movie palace

Looking through the Courier-Journal archives on line, I became nostalgic for the splendid edifice that had been the Rialto Theatre, which when I was a kid in the 60s played many of the big roadshow pictures I yearned to see.  I was only just starting to be a true movie enthusiast when the Rialto closed July 30, 1968 (after a a roadshow engagement of Doctor Dolittle). Just six months later, it fell under the wrecking ball in December.  It's amazing to think that it was only forty-seven years old.

The decision to know it down seemed a bit hasty to me considering just a few years before it had had phenomenal success with an astonishing 64 week engagement of The Sound of Music.  It was, in my opinion, a careless decision by the city to allow such an important building to be destroyed, but that was the era of wanton slaughter of great movie palaces all over the country, fueled by the then 'newer is better' philosophy of urban renewal.  They might have easily spared the Rialto to use as a concert hall (since the city didn't actually have one) like Pittsburgh ended up doing with its Penn and Stanley Theaters (in use to this day). But they didn't.  That these sorts of buildings could never feasibly built again didn't seem to bother anyone at all.

Designed by Joseph and Joseph architects, it opened in 1921 and boasted a white terra-cotta facade.  I always assumed it was white marble, but that was inside. 
(above, Cinema and University of Louisville archives)

For more information and lots of pictures, go to the Preservation Focus website. 

I've not been able to find any photographs of the Rialto that date to the 1960s, but I can tell you that even as child and teenager, I noticed that the theater was well worn.  The windows above the entrance were painted over, the carpets were threadbare, and the masking curtain had a noticeable tear at the top. I'll discuss more of this, such as the many alterations when the Rialto was adapted to use for Cinerama in a later post.  First, the beginning, and next, the end.  Then I'll work backward starting with 1968 with lots of ads as we step back into time.

                                     An announcement  on May 8, 1921 of the impending opening.

                     The Courier-Journal was filled with Rialto hoopla on May 15, 1921.

Articles appeared in The Courier-Journal in 1921 and 1969.

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