Monday, May 16, 2016

Kerrville's Rialto Theater

Kerrville's Rialto Theater, in the 600 block of Water Street.
"Virginia City" was released in March 1940, so the photo is from around that time.
In the parking lot between our print shop and Grape Juice there once stood a movie theater called the Rialto.
A few weeks ago a kind person gave me some photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County, and among them were three photographs of the Rialto Theater. I'd only ever seen three other photographs of the Rialto, so now I know of six different photos of the place.
The Rialto opened on February 11, 1938, and showed "Hollywood Hotel," starring Dick Powell and Frances Langford as its first feature.
A front-page story in the February 10, 1938 Kerrville Mountain Sun offered this schedule for the theater: "One-day runs will be shown on Saturdays, and the theatre will offer four bills each week, three of them on two-day schedules. The first of a regular series of Saturday night matinees is set for 11:30 pm Saturday."
I checked up on that late time -- 11:30 -- and it appears to be accurate.  I thought Kerrville, in the late 1930s, would be all buttoned up and asleep at that time, but I was wrong.
The Rialto was owned by Hall Industries, headed up by Henry W. Hall of Beeville, which also owned the Arcadia Theater a block away on Water Street, and the Rio Theater, one block farther. (The Rio Theater was originally named the Rialto, but when the new Rialto in the 600 block of Water Street opened, its name was changed to Rio. This Rialto/Rio theater was in the 800 block of Water Street. Another theater was there before the Rialto/Rio: The Dixie Theater.)
I believe Henry W. Hall is from the same family of Halls which own the Rio 10 Theater in Kerrville today.  (Yes, I noticed today's movie theater has the same name as one from the 1930s.)
There were a lot of movie theaters here in the late 1930s!
In fact, the businesses in the 600 block of Water Street took out an ad to celebrate the new Rialto Theater. "The Theatre District is Extended into the 600 Block on Water Street. The following firms Welcome the Modern, New Rialto Theater: F. F. Nyc (public accountant), Miesch Optical Co., Norge Appliance Co., Roland Insurance, Campbell's Lunch Room, the Modern Beauty Salon, Kerr County Motor Co., the Cone Car Co. (and service station), the Sunshine Laundry, and Peterson's Garage (and service station)."
I mention this because the 600 block was once filled with businesses. Now it's just us two, really: Grape Juice and Herring Printing.
Some remnants of the Rialto Theater still exist. Grape Juice's northwest wall (the wall closest to the print shop) is actually a wall of the theater. If you stand in the parking lot and look at the Grape Juice wall, you'll see several smooth places in the plaster: these are hints of the stairway to the movie theater balcony, and the risers of the theater's balcony.
Likewise, some remnants of the other businesses in our block also remain: our print shop offices are in the building that once housed the "Modern Beauty Salon," and a sign for "Campbell's Lunch Room," which was originally painted on an exterior wall, is now an interior wall in our building. I think the Voelkel's building might have been the Cone Car Co., or perhaps its service station.
The three photographs new to my collection have movie names on the Rialto marquee: "Edison the Man," "Virginia City," and "Northwest Passage." All three were released in 1940, and from the amount of promotional signage, apparently during the heyday of the Rialto.
The Rialto was empty for many years, though for a brief time in the late 1960s it was a sort of dance/ music venue called the Casket. My memories of the building are from this period, when it was empty. We neighborhood children found a way to get inside the place and explore; it was dark and spooky in there.
The Rialto Theater was eventually torn down in the 1970s by the Charles Schreiner Bank, and the land was used to construct a parking lot. In 1990, my family purchased the parking lot from what was left of the Charles Schreiner Bank after it failed.
I'm thankful to the kind person who shared these photographs with me (and with you, Gentle Reader).
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is said to have once locked his sister in the empty Rialto Theater, or at least that's what she remembers. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 14, 2016.


  1. Ann Talbert RuizMay 16, 2016 at 7:42 AM

    Wow Joe...I remember when the Chas. Schreiner Bank 'changed hands' but had no idea that it 'failed'... BTW, enjoyed the pictures of the Rialto.

    1. Joe, Several years ago you published a downtown parade picture from the early Forties showing Co D, 36th Inf Batt Texas Defense Guard marching in front of the Rialto (the marquee is barely visible on the left). You get a great view of the opposite side of Water Street with most of the businesses clearly identifiable. I tend to remember Kerr County Motors and Cone Car Company being the same. The area directly under the visible Kerr County Motors sign was the show room that held a max of two Fords. Just past the showroom was the entrance to the service department and a Texaco Service Station just passed that. I remember the Voelkel Building, across Clay Street housing, at one time, a small restaurant that specialized in fried chicken. At the other end of "The Main Drag" I remember both the dirt floor Dixie Theater and the Rio. I don't believe they existed at the same time. I remember the Rio being in a separate but adjacent building just east of where the Dixie had been. I don't remember the Rio being named the Rialto. Really a neat place to grow up in.

    2. It did change hands, but the new owner was the FDIC.


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