Rialto Theatre, West End

These hidden cinemas of Brisbane are iconic pieces of architecture and living reminders of weekend trips to the “pictures”.

They are the buildings you walk past every day. Maybe you see them on your daily commute, pick up takeaway from the place next door. You’re aware of them but you’ve never given them much notice.

Then, one day you notice an unusual detail. A peep hole window. A particular floor pattern. An ornate ceiling.

It dawns on you: this used to be a cinema!

What started as one simple discovery for me, here at the old Rialto Theatre, led to an epic treasure hunt around Brisbane, tracking down clues to find any old suburban theatres still standing.

Of course, this might not sound exactly groundbreaking to some of you… many people still have fond memories of visiting places such as the Rialto, which closed almost 20 years ago. But there is an entirely new generation of cinema-goers whose sole movie-watching experience has been at the multiplex, not the local picture theatre. Others still might only have known their local theatre, not the ones from the other side of town.

Our imaginations went running wild: could other old buildings be brought back to life? The only problem is, Brisbane doesn’t have many old cinemas standing around anymore, operational or otherwise. Losing the Regent on the Queen St Mall was a major blow to our cultural heritage. Ditto the Dawn Theatre at Chermside… the list goes on and on.

While very few do still exist in their original form and still show movies – the Hawthorne, the Regal Twin, the El Dorado, soon the Village Twin – luckily, a few others have managed to survive, whose facades still remain even if their cinematic purpose does not.

Here is the first in our series: the Rialto Theatre, West End.

Rialto Cinema (Photography: www.cinemazzi.com)

Rialto Cinema (Photography: www.cinemazzi.com)

Rialto Cinema (Photography: www.cinemazzi.com)

Rialto Theatre (Photography: www.cinemazzi.com)

Rialto Cinema (cinemazzi.com)

Rialto Cinema - cinemazzi.com

This is a building I had not only driven past many times, I had eaten at many times (the Vietnamese dude is a particular favourite of my friends on the southside). Also I had sat down at practically all of its neighbouring restaurants over the years.

And yet… I had never bothered looking up. Had never noticed the word “Rialto” emblazoned in neon lights on the bright blue facade. Or if I had, I stupidly didn’t think anything of it.

Rialto Theatre

 Image via Lost Brisbane

Rialto Cinema 2014 - Kristina Childs for Cinemazzi.com

Not having grown up in the area, I’m ashamed to admit I had no idea until recently this had been both a cinema and live theatre venue since the 1920s. (I’ve since learned the Rialto Theatre was built in 1924, by the owner of South Brisbane’s original Lyric Theatre if I’m not mistaken.)

In the pictures above and below you can see the original peep hole circle windows still remain on the front facade and down the sides, while add-ons over the years have kept true to style.

Later the Rialto also served as a venue for recording major radio programs. It was only in 1995 that these theatrical pursuits stopped, once the theatre lost its roof in a violent summer storm. Today it is a popular suburban landmark for locals, currently being used as a restaurant and office complex.

Rialto Theatre 1969

Rialto Theatre 1969 (Image: Steve Malone)

Rialto Theatre corner - Kristina Childs for Cinemazzi.com

 

UP NEXT: Paddington Antique Centre

I’d love to know any of your other favourite old cinemas in Brisbane! Leave us a note below if there’s one you want us to find out about 🙂

* Photography: Kristina Childs for Cinemazzi.com

 

THE HIDDEN CINEMAS PROJECT

Once used as cinemas, these iconic pieces of architecture are living reminders of weekend trips to the “pictures”.

Part 1: Rialto Theatre, West End

Part 2: The Plaza, Paddington

Part 3: Beverley Theatre, Rosalie

Part 4: Planet Cinema, Camp Hill

Part 5: Triumph Theatre, East Brisbane

Part 6: De-Luxe Theatre, Burleigh Heads

Part 7: Kings Theatre, Rose Bay

Part 8: Victory Theatre, Blackheath

the author

Marie C

Feature writer by trade, movie maniac by night, Marie-Christine grew up watching films from the projection booth at the local drive-in and now she's lucky enough to write about them.

15 comments

  1. I really enjoyed looking at your old and new photographs of former movie theatre architecture. I know some others you may like to pursue: The “Rivoli” – open-air cinema at cnr Kent and Brunswick sts., New Farm(diagonally opp. Brunswick St Hotel) and Building at cnr Devon St & Ipswich Rd Annerley (houses Lucas Dance School)

    1. Great suggestions Kathleen! I did have the Rivoli on my list (I love the “R”s in the windows on that building) but the other one at Annerley I don’t know about, I am looking into it right now, thank you!!

        1. The Boomerang was still there and working in the 90’s, I am pretty sure. Also there was the Dawn at Chermside and the Gaythorne theatre. Crystal at Windsor. One way to find other names would be to look at the Courier Mail , the page that showed what movies were on.

          Nimbin had a fantastic art deco cinema. I was there last in the 80s.

  2. There used to be a cinema at grovely/keperra that closed in the late 60’s early 70s. (not the drive in, but a proper cinema). It was in Gilston Street, near Dallas Parade. It isn’t iconic looking like most of the others, but when you drive past, you can see the wide front on the Gilston ST side. Do you have any information on it?

    1. I’m opening a café in the same spot the Grovley Picture Theatre stood in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. On Gilston St Keperra. I would love a picture to display in the café but cannot find one anywhere. Could you please help?

    2. The Keperra ‘pictures’ was only built in the very late ’50s (opened in 1959 or early ’60) after the local population increased dramatically with availability of newly built housing commission housing on the old army camp site from the mid ’50s. It was austerity in style, with a plain functional brick frontage and concertina framed glass doors typical of construction of the time. Floor in 1960 was bare brushed concrete. You could smell the freshly poured concrete back then.

      Unfortunately for the owners, its opening coincided with the initial arrival of TV in Brisbane with QTQ channel 9’s first transmission in September 1959. By the mid 1960’s, few homes didn’t have a TV set, and by the end of the decade a car too, spelling the death knell for the need or convenience of the local suburban ‘pictures’. I remember the Keperra pictures well. I don’t remember it having a theatre name. When it opened it provided a whole new world of entertainment to a 5 year old thereafter regularly attending its Saturday matinees. At the time it seemed large, smelled and looked new and very modern through those eyes. We left the suburb in ’61 moving to Chermside where the “Dawn” became my local and regular matinee haunt. In May 1961 it cost 1/- (10c) admission for kids for the matinee double feature.

      I revisited Keperra in about ’76 or ’77 or might have been ’74, and pretty sure the theatre was still operating, just. I went there to see a movie and noted how my perspective had changed with the years as much as the theatre. It seemed very small, and although individual swanky seating had been long since fitted, the whole atmosphere and feel of the place was dated and decrepit. As I recall within a couple of years of that visit, I had occasion to be in the area again and noted it had ceased operating as a theatre with the frontage redeployed as an “everything $1” type store. The Chermside “Dawn” lasted the longest on the northside, even the Crystal (Windsor) and Imperial (Lutwyche) succumbing by the late ’80’s or early ’90s.

      1. Wow Kerry thank you so much for the insight, nobody else seems to know much about this cinema at all! Great to hear all the detail, and rough dates as well. I too used to go to the Dawn at Chermside, was my favourite local, apart from the Aspley Drive-In of course. I didn’t see the Crystal or the Imperial, but I do love seeing the street art of the Windsor Picture Palace painted on the underpass, near where the Crystal theatre used to stand, I pass it every single morning. 🙂

  3. I loved going to the Rialto – I was friends with the people who ran it in the 60’s and I was there quite a bit. It used to do the yearly Scouts ‘Gang Show’. It had proper stage facilities and dressing rooms. It had a small balcony and also a sound proof recording studio at the back of the balcony with a glass front. Underneath the stage there were some dressing rooms and also some dressing rooms off to the side of the stage but up higher. There were old steep wooden steps between all the levels backstage. I can’t remember what colour the main curtains were but backstage, they also had green curtains and red curtains for stage productions. I used to love watching the live shows from backstage and looking out between all the sets of curtains and masking. Great memories are flooding back now, just thinking of it all. Cheers.

    1. So sorry not to reply earlier Graham, I must have missed this comment along the way! Wow, thanks so much for sharing those amazing details, I did not know that about the dressing rooms underneath the stage, that sounds quite unusual! Would have loved to have been in there to watch a live show 🙂

  4. I was in a play at the Rialto in the early 80’s called next stop west end. It ran for seven nights I think. At the end of the show was breakdancing and the finale was I stood on the shoulders of my brother and we danced. It was on the front page of the newspaper. I think I was 10 at the time and I have never been able to find that photo. Three years later I was sent to a foster family, and then joined the Navy when I was sixteen. The cinema was packed every night it was amazing.

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