Celebrating the Rialto Theater's 100th Year

Renovation and Innovation bind history and community together

Many know the Rialto Theater Center (RTC) as the beautifully restored venue located in the heart of downtown Loveland. Situated among picturesque boutiques, restaurants, and robust downtown life, the Rialto Theater is a pillar in the community. The 100 year history of the theater has been one of ups, downs, and a series of transformations. The Rialto has its origins as a silent movie theater with a grand opening that dates all the way back to May 26, 1920. The Rialto was built by William C. Vorreiter, a local businessman and former president of the Bank of Loveland. The architect behind the Rialto’s design was the talented and ambitious Robert K. Fuller of Denver. 

As the Cultural Services Director for the city of Loveland, Susan Ison has had a lot of involvement with the Rialto Theater over the years. Susan, who moved to Loveland in 1977, remembers going to the theater  before it closed later that same year due to a decline in admissions. This was partially the fault of the rising popularity of large multiplexes. After the Rialto closed its doors, the theater was converted into a mini retail mall. The mall was not a successful venture, and eventually the building was abandoned.

Other than the marquee that was constructed and removed years later, not much has changed about the Rialto’s facade. The restoration prioritized a return to the theater’s original 1920s aesthetic, whereas the marquee was not an original design element. As with anything that has lived for a century, the RTC has had a life filled with transformations, renovations, and restorations. Many of the theater’s early elements have been restored or uncovered, such as the front stained glass window and the large murals painted on each side of the stage, two of which are complete originals.

Susan admits that the Rialto brings her waves of nostalgia. That is part of the reason she and so many others have fought diligently to keep it alive. 

“The renovation of the Rialto was a cooperative effort. People in the community really came together to see it through successfully,” Susan says.

The building was purchased by Loveland’s Downtown Development Authority in 1987. Renovations began in 1989, mostly through the help of volunteers who labored for months to gut and uncover the building’s original details. In 1995, the city of Loveland provided for the final steps of the process by purchasing the theater for $500,000. This allowed for renovations to be finished in time for the Rialto’s 75th anniversary.

While it was important to preserve and restore the theater to its original beauty, there was also a need for additional space. The addition allowed for a large green room and space for VIP ticket holders to mingle with performers.

“Whenever we add anything, we want to maintain the historic structure of the theater,” Susan explains. “The addition was a big deal because the use of the theater changed to accommodate more and more traveling performers.”

The addition was necessary because there wasn’t enough green room space in the building. Before the addition, performers that needed a green room would have to rent the buildings behind the Rialto and run up and down the alley between sets. 

“It was not ideal- especially when it was snowing or raining,” Susan recalls.

Loveland went through a recession that left downtown with many empty storefronts. Once the renovations were completed on the theater, other businesses and restaurants began to pop up nearby. While the RTC does a lot to honor and maintain the history of the venue, they have evolved into primarily serving as a performing arts theater. 

“We get artists who play all over the world. They really like our theater because it’s an intimate size and the acoustics are incredible,” Susan says. “The Rialto has really brought a sense of community to downtown Loveland again.”

Due to COVID-19, shows and events have been cancelled indefinitely. “The Rialto is a community gathering place, which of course is something that we are missing terribly now,” Susan says.

Unsure what the immediate future will bring, the decision was made to postpone the RTC’s 100th anniversary celebration for a year. While this decision was a difficult one to make, Susan believes that it is the right thing to do. 

“As people get older, they often take the attitude (at least I know I certainly do) that they should get to celebrate their birthday for longer than a day,” Susan says. “I think that after 100 years you should be able to celebrate for the whole year!”

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