The Friends of the Rialto is an advocacy group founded in 1983 by Escott O. Norton, and is dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of the beautiful Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena, California.
The Rialto Theatre was built in 1925 and designed by Lewis A. Smith, designer of dozens of movie Palaces in Southern California. From the beginning the Rialto presented a combination of movies and live vaudeville, and still has a fly-gallery, dressing rooms and a green room. The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ was removed after a fire in the 1970’s, although the organ console has recently returned home to South Pasadena and is on display at the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation’s museum.
While the Rialto remains in remarkably original condition, it has fallen into a state of disrepair. A few years ago the lease-holder stopped continuous operation and only rented it for special occasions. It was closed to the public about 5 years ago. In early 2015 the Rialto was purchased by a new owner, who intends to restore the exterior and find good tenants who will renovate the interior spaces. At this point no leases have been signed so Friends of the Rialto will continue to advocate for the best use of the Rialto Theatre building.
Friends of the Rialto’s mission is to advocate for preservation of the Rialto, and to be a part of negotiations for any future revitalization. We are not the owners of the building, just local residents, theater lovers and preservationists who want to see this beautiful theatre brought back to life, and once again be a cultural and social center for the community. Whoever takes on the lease of the Rialto, we will continue to speak out for appropriate renovation and protection of the historic elements of the theatre.
There are many options for the Rialto. Historic Theaters have been saved from worse fates all over the country, and are now successfully operating. Each success has it’s own story, and we are exploring them all to find the best fit for the Rialto.
At this point we have not seen the perfect use for the Rialto come forward, so Friends of the Rialto has put together a team of experts and interested individuals. We’ve created a unique and innovative plan to reactivate the theatre involving multiple artists and production companies. Operating as a non-profit, we believe that we can reopen the Rialto once again as a cinematic and performing arts center, a true multi-use venue that will support and nurture artists of all ages and provide quality entertainment for the community. If you would like to be a part of the process in any way, please join us on Facebook or e-mail us at FriendsoftheRialto@gmail.com
Through our Fiscal Sponsor, the Pasadena Arts Council, we are able to accept tax deductible donations of any amount. Your donations support our advocacy efforts, will fund the creation of our business plan, and eventually will help fund restoration of the Rialto itself. CLICK HERE to make donation online. If you would be interested in pledging a large donation and would like to find out about naming opportunities, please contact Escott Norton at FriendsoftheRialto@gmail.com