We were stopping along Fair Oaks Avenue near Oxley Street in South Pasadena to get some duplicate keys made. Despite seeing the plastic clock sign that hung inside the door with the hands turned to fifteen minutes into the future, our mind didn’t actually register this straightforward message until we clicked on the door handle and felt resistance. Heading back to the car, strategizing errands so that we could swing back before closing time, we noticed (and registered) that new boards had been erected around the ticket kiosk and behind the glass entrance doors of the old, crippled Rialto Theater. Seeing a worker, we stopped to ask what was happening.
It’s getting remodeled, he said. What? What! It’s been years (six years and six months since The Simpson Movie was the closing show on August 19, 2007). It’s been years of meetings, public pressure, city pressure, dead-ends, failed negotiations—and disappointment after disappointment. And over all these years, the Rialto has become increasingly tattered, frayed around the edges, and with a crumbling façade that even chicken wire can’t hold back. The Rialto: it’s an eyesore, an ache in the heart, and a wellspring of memories.
But, “Yes, Ma’am,” we were told, the who’s who and muckety-mucks were on site this morning, talking the nuts and bolts. The worker said that as far as he knew, the plan is to restore the Rialto while also updating and modernizing it. He indicated that there would be plush seating, dining and drinking, all while movie-viewing. He had no idea of the timeline, but we will keep a look out for progress and anyone else we can subject to questions.
So do we owe thanks to the Jebbia family (the theater was placed in patriarch Dominic Jebbia’s trust in 1950 and is managed by Wells Fargo Private Bank)? And are we to thank Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and Landmark Theaters (that has a lease on the building until 2024) for finally coming to terms and starting the restoration of the Rialto Theater? We sent an email to and left a message for South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez, as we did for Friends of the Rialto in hopes that we may corroborate the news we heard today.
Update: This afternoon, we spoke with a woman who works in close proximity to the Rialto and we asked about the renovations. She said the new boards were not because of renovations. She’d been told that there had been a break-in and the boarding was due to that, and the boarding along the side outdoor staircase was due to kids climbing up to the top (at least 2-stories high) to take pictures and the City deemed it unsafe.
Feb. 17th, 5:30 p.m.: We just spoke with Escott Norton from Friends of the Rialto. He is in close contact with the City of Pasadena and he has not heard of any progress in the restoration of the Rialto, we are sad to report. He believes that the boarding of the ticket kiosk and the glass entrance doors is being done by Landmark Theaters to preserve these elements from further damage. He did tell us that Scott Feldman of the Chamber of Commerce has another meeting regarding the Rialto this coming Wednesday, February 19th, and he said he would be in touch the minute any news of progress exists.
We hope they don’t disturb the ghost that’s rumored to be in the bathroom…