Rialto Theatre – Montreal Then & Now
By Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
The Rialto Theatre is a former movie palace and one of the most iconic buildings in Montreal, and designated a national historic site of Canada in 1993.
Constructed for the United Amusements Corporation Limited in 1923-1924 and designed in the Beaux-Arts style by Montreal architect Joseph-Raoul Gariépy, who specialized in theatre and hospital projects, the Rialto was inspired by the Neo-baroque-style Paris Opera House. The Louis XVI style interior was designed by Emmanuel Briffa, a famous artist, responsible for over sixty cinema interiors of Canadian movie houses.
The Rialto was distinguished from contemporary cinemas because of its interior plan created for a variety of functions. It was the first Montreal cinema to place the axis of the auditorium parallel to the façade, and the first to provide rooms for other functions like a dance hall, skittles and billiards rooms, and a roof garden. Features associated with traditional theatres from the turn of the century included its rich interior décor, the steep pitch of its balcony and the use of theatre boxes.
The interior is of exceptional quality and preserves many original features, including paintings, mouldings, plaster relief work, artificially illuminated panels, diamond-paned, leaded-glass transoms over arched window and varnished wood door frames with pilasters and decorated with garlands and diamond motifs.
Surviving original operating features include the cinema screen, the asbestos curtain with its operating mechanism, the sound system, and the projection booth at the back of the balcony.
The Rialto ceased operation as a cinema in 1990. It underwent many changes since 2000. All the theatre seats were removed and attempts were even made to convert it into a steakhouse. After nearly thirty years of ownership the owner, Louis Calogeras, was finally able to sell it in March 2010 to Le Groupe Merveilles Inc., and its owners Ezio Carosielli and Luisa Sassano. They have indicated the intention to act as custodians of The Rialto Theatre for the community at large and having a responsibility to restore and protect its unique architecture.
Today, the Rialto is back in business, as a center for the performing arts, giving a platform to the emerging artists of the Montreal area.
The Rialto Theatre is located at 5723 Park Avenue, Montréal.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Rialto Theatre Productions Inc.