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Downtown Decoded: Rialto Theater

Welcome back to our “Downtown Decoded: The Amazing History of our beloved DTLA Theater District” series. This month we celebrate the Rialto Theater, who recently turned 117 years old!

"Quinn’s Rialto"

The Rialto Theater was known by a few names throughout its existence, but it was born "Quinn’s Rialto" on May 21, 1917, after its owner, John A. Quinn (also known for his involvement with the Superba and Garrick theaters). Its first major screening was the first of three film adaptations of Robert Hichens’ 1904 novel, “The Garden of Allah”. 


Credit: Los Angeles Public Library
  • 1917: Originally constructed; owned by J.A. Quinn

  • 1919: Sid Grauman takes over the theater, remodels it, and renamed it "Grauman’s Rialto". The theater operates under his direction until 1924, showing feature length films and “prologues” or reviews based on the subject matter of the proceeding film

  • 1921: Grauman enters into an agreement with Paramount Pictures to screen its films

  • 1924: Grauman divests his interest in the theater and passes them to Paramount

  • 1926: New York and Pacific Amusement corporation take over ownership

  • 1970’s: For a time, the theater focuses on Spanish language films, including those starring Latin movie legends such as Cantinflas 

  • 1987: The Rialto closes as a functional theater, with Metropolitan Theatres as its final operator

  • 2013: The theater is acquired by Urban Outfitters and renovated into a retail space

Credit: USC Digital Library

Style Switch

When it was originally constructed in 1917, The Rialto was designed by Oliver P. Dennis

Fun Fact: Oliver P. Dennis was also the designer of the home, once known as the “Holly Chateau”, which would eventually become the Magic Castle as we know it today 🪄

Dennis was known to favor Beaux Arts and American Colonial Revival aesthetics, with his design of the Rialto also incorporating Greek Revival elements, as evidenced by the three sets of arched windows and pediment above the theater’s front exterior. 

William Lee Woollett (architect for the 1923 remodel). Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

Following its first acquisition, only a few short years after its original opening, Grauman hired William Lee Woollett in 1923 to redesign the building, who incorporated a more Georgian style facade, a simpler, less ornate look than that of Oliver P. Dennis’ original design. Over the years, the theater actually underwent several remodels to accommodate new technologies, style and evolving uses of the theater. 

It was in the 1930’s when the Rialto got its spectacular Art Deco neon marquee and arguably its most recognizable feature. It was eventually recognized as the longest neon marquee in the Broadway National Register Historic Theatre District. 

Fun Fact: The Rialto marquee can be seen briefly in the action packed car chase sequence in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (released in 2003). 

Credit: Columbia/ Sony Pictures

The Rialto Today

Sadly, the Rialto Theater in its original splendor is no more. In 2013, it was acquired by Urban Outfitters, who undertook a massive renovation and unfortunately did not preserve elements of the previous interior. It is worth noting that prior to the remodel, the interior had suffered some irreparable damage as a result of 1994’s Northridge earthquake. 

On a brighter note, upon acquisition of the structure, Urban Outfitters did pledge and complete restoration of the theater’s marquee (pictured above), which is now a staple sight for those cruising around the district. 

While the Rialto in its original splendor is no more,  store visitors with a discerning and nostalgic eye may be able to pick up a few subtle, if unintentional, nods to the grand movie palace that once stood-  lighting fixtures reminiscent of stage lights; bare brick walls, stairs and rafters; frames made of natural materials, all echoing of the sights one might have seen backstage at the theater, once upon a time. 🎭✨


Want to be part of the movement to bring your DTLA theater district back to life? Check out our master plans to learn about how you can help restore DTLA to a vibrant district, uplifting theater and invigorating our local economy by 2028!


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