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.


1964 SEMO Homecoming Parade

This is a collection of photos from the 1964 Southeast Missouri State College Homecoming Parade. Bands from a lot of local schools, Including Central marched in it. Since it was a presidential election year, there are several political floats.

NOBODY could step out like Ruth Ann Seabaugh

Ruth Ann Seabaugh, Toni Grose and (I think) Nancy Swan strut past the Rialto Theater.

Gallery of Homecoming Parade Photos

Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the photo to move through the gallery.

I just discovered more film from this parade. I think I have all of the Central students in this selection, so I’ll save the rest of the the pictures for another day.

Walther’s Becomes Discovery Playhouse

Volunteers were busy converting the old Walther’s Furniture Store and Funeral Home at 502 Broadway into the Discovery Playhouse when I was home earlier this spring. It opened April 22.

It looks like it’s going to be a great place for kids to cool off during Cape’s hot and humid summer.

Playhouse starting on the ground floor

The Playhouse is a two-story building, with an attached section that rises to three floors. All of the work is concentrating on the first floor at this time, with the other floors to be developed as funds become available.

Landmark sign to stay

I was told that the landmark Walther’s sign will remain, although it will be changed somewhat. I don’t know what those changes are.

The old parts of the building and the views from the windows fascinated me more than the playhouse in progress.

1916 was a big year

A Missourian roundup on Dec. 31, 1916, said that “1916 is prominent for the number of fine business houses erected, among them being the new home of the Buckner-Ragsdale, ‘Quality Corner Store,’ a handsome structure, the upper floor of which is occupied by the Cape Girardeau Business College; Walther Brothers Furniture Store, one of the largest in Missouri outside the three largest cities; the I. Ben Miller ice cream and candy factory, declared by State Dairy Commissioner Bennett to be the finest in the State of Missouri; the Meyer-Suedekum Hardware Company’s building and others.”

That’s a lot of landmark businesses in year. Meyer-Suedekum (now Meyer Supply) is the only one that has survived.

501-503 Broadway

Looking to the south from the second floor of the building, you can see 501 and 503 Broadway across the street. Hinchey-Greer Merchantile company occupied 501 Broadway around 1906. Alvin Cotner modified the building in 1919 or 1920 to house the Auto Parts Company, which was there until 1957. Cape Paint and Glass occupied the property from 1958 through 1991. An interior connection between the two buildings was made somewhere between 1908 and 1915.

Mural sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church

A mural, sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church is on the west wall of 503 Broadway. It reads, “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” That’s probably fitting to be across from the Discovery Playhouse.

It’s easy to get lost in old newspaper stories

While researching the Walther’s history, I got sidetracked with stories of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic and accounts of local boys going “over there” to fight the “huns.”  One thing that surprised me on the front page of the May 13, 1921 Missourian, was a pair of obituaries.

The first was three paragraphs giving an account of the funeral of Allbright Walther, retired furniture dealer of Cape Girardeau. It contained very little personal information.

Directly under it, was one headlined, Sam Randol, Ice Dealer Is Dead; Long Illness Fatal to Colored Man.” It went on to say that “Sam Randol, well-known colored ice dealer, died at his home…following a long illness with dropsy. It listed his relatives and the organizations he belonged to and some funeral arrangements.

It concluded by saying that “Randol was among the better colored citizens of Cape Girardeau and stood high both among the people of his race as well as among the white citizens. He had been in the ice business here since a young man and was known by most every family in the city.”

I would never have expected the second obit to have been given such prominence in that era. He must have really been an exceptional person.

Walther’s was the city’s oldest retail store

A business column announcing the closing of the furniture store in 1984 said it had been open continuously for 120 years, making it the oldest retail business in town.

Gallery of photos from Walther’s Furniture / Discovery Playhouse

Here is a selection of photos taken of the Discovery Playhouse renovation and views of the neighborhood. As always, click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the photo to move through the gallery.



School Board Moves Safe

Virtual friend and photo colleague Fred Lynch ran a Frony picture of the Erlbacher building at 1105 Broadway in his Missourian blog this morning. I encourage you to follow the link to f/8 and Be There. It’ll save me a bunch of typing.

I never knew the uniquely-shaped bookend buildings had a name, nor did I know the fascinating history of them until reading his piece.

You can read more about the buildings by downloading the National Register listing. It’s a huge file, so the best thing is to right-click on the link and chose Save Link As, then open it in Adobe Acrobat.

Cape School Board

What I DID recall was that I had taken a picture of a large safe being removed from the building when it ceased being used for the Cape Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools at the end of 1966.

Follow this link to see how the photo was played in The Missourian Dec. 13, 1966. The photo was used to illustrate a story about “Hopes for Early Bid on $775,000 School Bonds.”

One of the ironies was that some of the bond money was going to be used to renovate May Greene and Washington Schools, both of which have been abandoned by the system. Washington School was recently torn down.

Gallery of photos

Here’s a gallery of photos of the safe move on Dec. 12, 1966, plus some photos taken Oct. 28, 2009. The buildings look remarkably the same. I’m pretty sure the window treatments haven’t been changed in all those years.

Click on a picture to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.