Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Rialto Theater, South Pasadena, Ca

Located five blocks south of the 110 freeway, on Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena, the Rialto Theatre is now closed and endangered. The Rialto Theatre opened for vaudeville and movies on October 17, 1925, with Ray Metcalfe playing the 2 manual, 10 rank Wurlitzer pipe organ and with the Rialto Orchestra accompanying the world premiere of Universal’s “What Happened to Jones” starring Reginald Denny. A Franchon and Marco stage show included Trapeze artists and vaudeville acts. Admission was 30 cents. The Rialto Theatre was one of the last theatres to be designed by noted theatre architect Lewis A. Smith, who died the following year. It is decorated in a mix of several styles, mainly Moorish, but there are elements of Egyptian, Spanish Baroque and Classical features too, all contributing to the Jazz Age charm of this theatre.-Howard B. Haas

During its long history, rumors of the theater being haunted have been consistently circulated. Tales abound of people having died there, particularly a girl who allegedly slit her wrists in the bathroom before making her way up to the balcony and bleeding to death. Another story tells of a man who went insane in the projector booth.
In any event, staff and visitors allege that the stalls in the girl’s bathroom have been known to start shaking of their own accord. In the theater itself, the apparition of an older man has often been sitting in various seats, as well as walking up and down the balcony stairs. Could this be the man who went insane in the projector booth?  
Others say that the theater is also haunted by a cat. In its early days, the theater’s mascot was a cat who roamed the old movie house, brushing up against customers’ legs and often walking in front of the screen. According to some tales, the cat continues to move stealthily through the theater and produced an eerie red light when the phantom walked in front of the movie screen.
Another visitor reported the image of a dark figure gliding down off the stage, making his way toward the theater seats, before disappearing into the lobby.
Other "normal” paranormal events have also been reported such as abnormalities in photographs, uneasy feelings people experience in various areas of the theater, especially in the women’s restroom, and whispers that are sometimes heard.
Paranormal groups who have investigated the theater agree that it is most likely haunted. -legends of america

Having visited the Rialto Theater, I really enjoyed walking around looking at every nook and cranny of the exterior through the lens of my Nikon. The feeling of wonder and old Hollywood is evoked by its majestic facades and charm. The faded days long past are seen and evident in the emotional response to the building. I hope someday someone will take the time to bring this Historical Landmark back to life. I felt the theater had a presence from the minute I walked up to the front doors. The main bottom floor is fine, but the stairs leading upstairs to the balcony section, had an ominous shadow figure moving around. I will be posting the enhanced photograph soon. Stand from the front by the doors, and you might capture some evidence as well. That's if, you really want to see it. happy hunting!


  1. Cool post and photos! I have spent many hours in the Rialto, both when it operated as a theater and in off hours doing work to restore it back in the 1980s. It was and is a beautiful place inside and out with tons of history, and many friends have felt that it was haunted. I personally never felt afraid, but definitely like I was not alone! I have a group dedicated to preserving and restoring the Rialto. If your readers are interested, they can check out my website and facebook page. Lot of recent and old photos there too!

  2. Thank you very much Escott! That's awesome that you have had a good amount of time inside the theater working on its restoration in the 1980s! I just went and liked your facebook page, posting an additional link to this post. Do you know if they ever have any interior viewings of the old theater or let the public in? I'd love to explore/shoot more photographs. Thanks Jason

    1. Jason, as soon as I can arrange "hard hat" tours I will let you know via the Facebook page and newsletter. I can't wait to show people what a treasure it is!

    2. That would be awesome, please let me know!