New plans for South Pasadena’s long-closed Rialto Theater were unveiled last night at a meeting of the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission. The building was sold late last year to downtown developer Izek Shomof, who has restored several historic structures including the Alexandria Hotel and Title Guarantee Building.
The drawings represent a preliminary design concept by Vintage Cinemas, owner of the Vista and Los Feliz Cinemas, who would like to bring first-run movies back to the movie palace (which has been locked up since 2007). Shomof and Vintage owner Lance Alspaugh are working towards an agreement that presently calls for the conversion of the single-screen house into a fourplex. “We intend to restore and renovate the look and feel of the venue,” Alspaugh said, “and will not remove anything unless it is required by law or if it requires replacement or replication.”
The new auditoriums would be created from space under the existing balcony, much in the same way an enlarged lobby and concession stand replaced a few rows at the back of Hollywood’s Chinese Theater in 2002. Seats, sound, lighting, and projection would all be upgraded to 21st century standards. Historic plasterwork and murals would be restored, and missing fixtures would be replicated. The experience from the balcony and the front half of the auditorium would be unchanged.
Alspaugh and his team brought new life to Coronado Village near San Diego four years ago when they restored The Village, a shuttered neighborhood movie house dating to 1947, and I have great faith in their ability to bring back the Rialto. There are still plenty of details to work out (that LED marquee is not going over well with the historic crowd), but I’m a regular at the Vista and love it.
Thanks to a neglectful previous owner and the efforts of the Friends of the Rialto, the building has survived some close calls. “The venue is shuttered,” Alspaugh said at the meeting. “And unless someone has a better proposal for a first run operation, time is ticking away.”
I know and trust Lance and think he is the perfect operator to resurrect this 90-year-old theater. I can’t wait for flickering images and the aroma of hot buttered popcorn to fill this spectacular and long-neglected landmark.