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August 21st, 2007

The Rialto is gone

L.A.'s movie culture suffered a serious blow on Sunday, as the historic and beautiful Rialto in South Pasadena finally closed its doors. It was one of the last of the grand old movie palaces, and I think the only one that hadn't been extensively remodeled or renovated. Yeah, it felt kind of shabby and rundown; the seats were creaky, the parking could be tough, and the balcony hadn't been open for a while.

But it still had authentic art nouveau trim and design; there was nothing as fun as watching a movie there and seeing that big carved face with the glowing red eyes sitting just above the screen. There was a classic separate ticket booth, and the drinking fountain in the lobby was gorgeous, set into a small alcove with archway and blue, green and yellow tile.

Many people know the Rialto from its appearance in Altman's The Player, but I know it from dozens of wonderful moviegoing experiences. In their obituary in the LA TIMES, the Rialto's manager mentioned that there were entire days when not a single patron bought a ticket. The Rialto was a bit of a drive for me, but I never thought twice if a movie I wanted to see was playing there (and if I was only mildly interested in a film, seeing it at the Rialto was more than enough inducement to sway me). I'm really saddened to think that future generations of moviegoers will never know the experience of seeing a movie in anything but a cookie-cutter multiplex.

I saw dozens of movies at the Rialto; I suspect we even went there during my childhood, since it was only a short distance away from where I grew up in Pasadena/Arcadia. The last thing I saw there was the terrific Russian fantasy Daywatch, which will now hold a special - and melancholy - significance for me.

R.I.P. The Rialto.