Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Rialto Theater


Researching Tulsa's old movie theaters is something I've been attempting to do for a few years now; originally for an educational presentation and then for my own interest. I love a good mystery, and the Rialto proved to be one. It is challenging enough that the original vaudeville theaters changed names, owners and addresses very often. Then, as moving pictures arrived on the scene, things got even more complicated. Thankfully the photos from the Beryl Ford Collection help prove locations at certain times. However, there has been a lot of information lost over the years and misinformation spread around as fact. Recently I happened upon some more information about the Rialto as I was helping get the new exhibit (on theaters) ready at the Tulsa Historical Society and I believe I finally have the Rialto's history straight. If not, I have no doubt I will be informed quickly!
Here's how I see it:

*The original Empress Theater (vaudeville) moved into the former Tulsa World Building at 15 W 3rd around 1914.

In 1916, the Empress is listed in the city directory as being (next door) at 7 W 3rd. My guess is the owner, Mr. Smith, decided to remodel the 15-13 building and also owned this building as well.

*In 1918, the "New" Empress moved back into a newly remodeled 15 W 3rd (again as a vaudeville theater) and the Rialto was opened (as a moving picture theater) next door in the 7-11 building.

In 1919 the name of the New Empress was changed to the Orpheum; it appears for the first time in the city directory in 1920 at this address. Here you can see both theaters next door to each other:


In 1924 the Orpheum opened in a new building at 12 E 4th

and the Rialto moved into it's old home at 15 W 3rd, making room for the new Kress building in its old spot.
The Rialto remained here until it's closing and demise in the 1970s.

*I obtained the above information from this wonderful artifact:

It is between this and the city directory listings that I have made my assumptions.

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The new exhibit at the Tulsa Historical Society features the Rialto and 8 other theaters in photos. Also, statues from the Ritz and Orpheum are on display. The Historical Society is located next door to the Tulsa Garden Center; hours are 10-4 T-Sat.

5 comments:

GreenEyes said...

It's always amazing how quickly history can be mixed up and rumors become fact. Thanks for working so hard to straighten this all out.

Tulsa Gentleman said...

I didn't realize that the theaters were such moving targets. The 3rd photo down is interesting for the old cars and a horse drawn wagon. I wonder when the last horses were used downtown? The theater exhibit sound interesting. If you are in the office when I stop by I will let you treat me to a coffee.

DrillerAA09 said...

There were some great movie houses in Tulsa when I was a kid. There was the Rialto, Orpheum, Ritz mentioned here. There was also the Delman out on 15th and about Utica and the Will Rogers over on 11th and Pittsburg. Then there was always the Book in Brookside. The Will Rogers may have been my favorite. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

tulsamom said...

The Rialto was a beautiful theater, I saw the movie Oklahoma there in 1958. It is terrible that places like that have disappeared.

James Hickerson said...

Tulsa Will Rogers' Class of 1962 is having a 50th reunion gala this June at the DoubleTree at Warren Place. We would love for you to attend.

As many of our graduates went to Jr. High together, Nathan Hale plans their reunion at the same time.

Please visit our Facebook site... Will Rogers High School Class of 1962.

bridge4333@aol.com