History of The RTC
Over ninety years of history awaits you at the historic Rialto Theater.
From its beginnings as a silent movie theater to its current status as the premiere performing arts venue in Loveland, the excitement of show time and the tantalizing aroma of popcorn have been a part of the theater on an almost nightly basis for almost a century.
Construction on the Rialto Theater began in 1919. Built by local businessman and Bank of Loveland president William C. Vorreiter and designed by prominent Denver architect Robert K. Fuller, the theater was touted as the “…the finest theater north of Denver.” by the Loveland Daily Herald. The grand opening of the theater was on May 26, 1920 and featured the silent film Zane Grey’s Desert of Wheat and, as second billing, the comedy The Dew Drop Inn. Admission prices were inflated for this special event to 55 cents for adults, 25 cents for children and a whopping 85 cents for VIP tickets. Subsequent ticket prices that year better reflected the times at a modest 10-35 cents.
At its opening, the theater contained 1,014 wooden seats as compared to the more comfortable 446 seats today. A Wurlitzer organ was added in 1927, eliminating the need for a full orchestra at every silent film showing and providing fun sound effects like horse hoof-beats and train whistles. In addition to showing movies, the Rialto gave Loveland a seating area and stage large enough to host traveling vaudeville shows and meeting space for recitals and graduations.
Gibraltar Enterprises, Inc. took over the theater in 1935 and truly ushered in the “talkies” age to Loveland as well as providing the first renovation of the theater. The remodel changed the wooden benches to 700 upholstered chairs, added chandeliers and a cooling system (a big draw on hot summer evenings!). Gibraltar hired Ted Thompson to manage the theater—he and his wife Mabel were clever marketers and made the Rialto an important part of Loveland entertainment. The Thompsons were so enamored with Loveland, they purchased a restaurant on Lake Loveland after Ted retired from the theater and were instrumental in promoting the Loveland “Valentine Re-Mailing Program” prompting them to become known as Loveland’s Sweetheart Couple.
The Rialto Theater changed hands several time through the 60s and 70s and attendance began a downward spiral as large multiplexes became the rage. In 1977, the theater hosted its final night as a movie theater with a showing of Disney’s The Rescuers. After the closure, the space was converted to a retail mall with a café on stage, shop areas on the main floor and offices in the balcony. Eventually, the mall failed and the building fell into disrepair.
Loveland’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA), under the direction of Felicia Harmon, purchased the building in February 1987 and the process of restoration began in 1989 with volunteers providing most of the labor for the demolition work in a series of “work parties”. These dedicated volunteers continued their work for fourteen months until the theater was gutted. Fortunately, each work party brought new and exciting glimpses of the old theater to keep the volunteers’ enthusiasm high. The original 1920 murals were unveiled early in the process; the balcony, which had been covered with drywall, was also surprisingly intact. One of the most exciting moments was the discovery of the original leaded glass transom window in the lobby. This beautiful detail had been hidden behind cardboard and paneling for more than half a century.
Work began to restore the exterior façade of the theater to its 1920 beauty. Brick columns and aluminum fronts were removed, along with 12 layers of paint. The original terra cotta panels and medallions depicting medieval villages, knights on horseback and sailing ships were uncovered and restored. In 1988, the Rialto Theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The review committee described the theater as “…a little gem…a wonderful example of Main Street America’s movie places.”
In January 1995, the Loveland City Council allocated $500,000 to purchase the Rialto so the restoration could be completed in time for the Rialto’s 75th Anniversary. The City leased the theater back to the DDA for $1 per year and the newly formed Friends of the Rialto, operated the theater until June 1998. At that time, the DDA turned the operation of the theater over to the City of Loveland. The Rialto Theater is a City of Loveland facility and part of the city’s Cultural Services Department.
Today, the Rialto Theater is a facility of the City of Loveland and is once again a place where the community comes together. The performance hall is alive with music, theater, film and community events. It boasts 446 seats, additional disabled seating, state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment and a corps of over 100 volunteers. The Rialto hosts nationally touring performers, local performing arts groups & musicians, and business meetings. In keeping with tradition, the Rialto shows independent films monthly and twice yearly, features silent films with live music accompaniment. The Rialto Theater continues to provide new and unique experiences for its patrons and is an important part of the Loveland community.