Rialto Theater Roof Collapses

Wife Lila was having breakfast this morning with a gaggle of her 1966 classmates when Bill East casually mentioned that he had heard that the roof of the Rialto Theater had collapsed. (She’s the one on the left in this 1966 Girardot ad, by the way.)

I had a hard time believing that because I had been inside the place in March. I was in the Old Town Cape offices trying to convince them that CapeCentralHigh.com would be a great place for them to advertise (they said they were non-profit. I said I was worse than non-profit. I was losing money, but that’s another story).

The Rialto holds special memories for me

I mentioned to Toni Eftink that the building next to their office, the old Rialto theater, had special meaning for me, because that’s where I met my future wife. (You can read the whole story by following this link. It involves Jim Stone, a coin flip and the world’s worst movie.)

Because Jim Stone was dating Carol Klarsfeld, whose mother owned the theater, we had the run of the place. Jim loved popping the popcorn (which had real butter in those days, by the way) and we got to watch the projectionist swap reels on the fly.

First a bell would ring signaling it was getting close to the end of the reel (not every projectionist stayed awake during the whole movie). Then there would be an almost imperceptible flash on the screen. When you saw a second flash, you started the second reel running, stopped the first reel and turned off the carbon arc that shined through the film.

Seats got carted out

Toni said I should have been there last week, when they were carting out the old theater seats because they had gotten  wet and moldy when a sump pump leaked.

I talked my way into the building. It was pitch black. The only light I had was a small pocket flashlight that kept me from tripping over anything. I pointed my camera into the darkness and let flash. I didn’t have a clue what I had taken a picture of until I got back home. That’s why there are some crazy angles in the photos.

Looking back toward the projection booth, lobby entrance and bathrooms

The place was pretty much gutted. The projectors had long been removed, but you could still see where the concession stand had been.

Decorative mirrors still there

Walking toward the theater, you passed a mirrored wall, then had a choice of the left or right side of the seating.

The outside of the Rialto looks nice

The exterior of the building looks as nice today as it did in this photo shot in October 2009. I drove completely around the building looking for any evidence of damage, but didn’t see any.

Just before I dismissed the tip as some kind of Bill East caffeine-induced fantasy, I decided to check the buildings on either side of the old theater. The Old Town Cape folks were out doing whatever Old Town Cape folks do, because their offices were dark and locked.

The sky (or roof) IS falling

I walked into the business on the other side and asked for the Person in Charge of Rumor Control to quash a rumor that the roof of the Rialto had collapsed.

The rumor – apologies to Bill for doubting him – was true. I asked if there was any way I could get a photo of it. Nice Rumor Control Lady said the only way to see it was to go upstairs and stand on her desk.

I did.

Blame it on a storm

The roof collapsed around 1 p.m. on June 17, possibly as a result of a storm with high winds and heavy rain. No one was injured and the adjacent buildings weren’t damaged.

Lots of palm sweat in that place

Now that I think back on it, not only did I meet my future wife at the Rialto, I think my first real high school date took place in the theater. I’ll have to check with Shari Stiver to confirm that. (I’m sure it was less memorable for her than it was to me.)

If every other adolescent male was like I was, it’s no wonder why the sump pump failed after all these years. It must have pumped a Mississippi River of palm sweat from nervous high school boys.

Gallery of photos

Here’s a collection of photos over the years. Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left of right side of the photo to move through the gallery. I’d have written more, but I’m already an hour and 13 minutes late to the class reunion.

Homecoming parade passed in front of the Rialto

You can see the front of the Rialto in its heyday in these photos of the 1964 SEMO Homecoming Parade.


14 Replies to “Rialto Theater Roof Collapses”

  1. Now I understand . . . my first theater date was NOT at the Rialto (it was The Ten Commandments, a VERY long movie, maybe at the Broadway) and my date held my hand so long and so hard it lost circulation. He must have thought I’d try to escape!

  2. I was holding court many years ago in Marble Hill and the guy smoking the cigarette above was in the audience.

    Since he wasn’t a party or a witness, I went up to him after court and said, “You look very familiar. How do I know you?”

    He laughed and told me who he was and what he did. He said it was common for people to come up to him and ask him the same question.

    He’d probably been seen by thousands and thousands of people, but if he wasn’t in the theater, no one knew who he was!

  3. Update: someone posted photos on Facebook of the Rialto being demolished September 19, 2010.

    Looks like another parking lot in the works.

    Question: if all the buildings are torn down, why would you need a parking lot?

  4. That’s too bad to lose such a historic building like that. Your photographs will chronicle its passing. Thank you!

  5. Ken,
    Haven’t heard from you in awhile. Again the links to the photos and your comments on the Rialto were fantastic. I know that times change but you can still love and appreciate the beauty of the old theatre projected in your photo collection as opposed to the newer nondiscript front. Really sad to hear about the roof collapse. Are there intentions to repair the old lady or will this mean a demolish is ahead for her? The same thing happened to one of my favorite old neighborhood movie palaces in St. Louis, the Granada. The rear roof over the stage house was destroyed by a really bad storm. The Granada was still in operation at the time but the city condemned the building and was eventually demolished. A preservation firm saved the front facade of the Granada to use maybe in future construction.
    It is always good to hear what is going on in other cities or town in Missouri with the old Movie Theatres and I appreciate all that you contribute. Keep in touch.

    1. Chuck,

      Everything of the theater except the front of the building and the lobby has been demolished. They were structurally sound enough to save.

      It’ll never open as a theater again. There’s just enough room left for a storefront business.

  6. Ken,
    I am curious about the first photo. It is three young people standing in what looks like the concession stand. Do you know who they are. The young man in the suit looks like my husband’s cousin. His mother and step dad managed(????) the theater later. His step dad was Truman Putz. The face looks so like him. I was wondering if that could be him. Have many fun memories of the Rialto. My first date with my husband was there and after the movie we went across the street to “Tony’ Pizza”.

    1. Hi, Wilma.

      I’m Lila, Ken’s wife, and I am the short girl in the white blouse in the picture. I worked at the Rialto for about 4 years while Truman Putz was the manager. His wife’s name was Jewel.

      I know the faces of both of the other people in the picture, but I can’t remember their names. I do know the red-haired, freckle-faced boy was, indeed, Putz’s stepson. The boy’s name might have been Bruce. It sticks in my mind. Wish I could have been more helpful.

  7. Just found this site about the Rialto. I worked and then managed the theater from 1972-1974 coming from the Star Vue Drive-In theater. It was a wonderful opportunity for me. Working as the manager my grades dramatically improved and so did my social life!

    I used to have “private parties” weekends after the last show with fraternity bros and other friends. There used to be a hotel next to the Rialto that was long closed but the first floor was rented out for parties. The fraternity would rent it and after the theater closed for the night I opened the back door to let those that wanted to come in and watch the movie. I ran the projector those nights and would go down and check to be sure that everyone respected the premises. I didn’t care what else they did while watching.
    I hired a great crew to work concessions, ticket taking, and cleaning.
    The Broadway Theater was owned by the same company and during my last year the “Town Plaza Cinemas” opened on Williams St and I was the manager when Steve McCanahan had his day off.
    Great memories of these years and most importantly that I was trusted in the position of management as a student!

    1. Thanks for the memories. I met my wife at The Rialto. She was working as cashier, and my buddy and I flipped a coin to see which of us would be the one to ask her out. I won the flip, and the girl. We were married in 1969.

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