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Route 66 News

Church will operate South Pasadena’s Rialto Theatre

The historic Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena, California, will be operated by the popular Mosaic church in nearby Los Angeles.

Escott O. Norton, founder and president of the Friends of the Rialto preservation group, confirmed in a Facebook post this week the church is “leasing the entire building including retail spaces and the old apartments above.”

Norton wrote:

Friends of the Rialto has presented the Mosaic Church team and the Rialto’s owners with a proposal to consult with them during the restoration phase, and to help program the theatre on days and nights when the church is not using it. Our goal is to ensure the Rialto is protected and restored as accurately as possible, and eventually used for public events as much as possible.

While I admit to being sad that our plan did not receive the major financial support we had hoped for, we are VERY grateful to the donors who gave what they did. Your donations will be held for future restoration projects at the Rialto. Each and every one of you is a special Friend of the Rialto. Thank you.

The South Pasadena Review newspaper reported the church took out a 20-year lease with theater owner Izek Shomof, who bought the property in January 2015.

The New York Times in 2015 published a profile on Mosaic:

Mosaic, a church that counts thousands of young people among its congregants, offering sermons rife with pop-culture references, musical performances that look like Coachella, and a brand cultivated for social media. (Church events are advertised on Instagram; there’s a “text to donate” number).

The Rialto Theatre, at 1023 Fair Oaks Ave., remains part of the original 1926 alignment of Route 66. Built in 1925, the theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Closed in 2011, the theater deteriorated enough that part of its marquee nearly fell off, endangering motorists and pedestrians.

At one point in 2014, it appeared famed director Quentin Tarantino was going to buy the theater, but he backed out of the deal. Tarantino owns Los Angeles’ New Beverly Cinema, which is known far and while for its creative programming.

4 thoughts on “Church will operate South Pasadena’s Rialto Theatre

  1. Eric Hayman

    What are the implications in a church operating a public theatre? Will it decide what can and cannot be performed in the theatre?

  2. Escott O.Norton

    Eric, as the lease holder, Mosaic can dictate everything that happens in the Rialto. However, I am hoping that my group, Friends of the Rialto, will be allowed to program shows and events when the church is not using it. If they do allow us to program I would like to think we will be free to program things the entire community would want.

  3. Eric Hayman

    Many thanks, Escott, for your reply. Knowing how powerful religious groups are in the USA – can you imagine an atheist US president? – I feel the church will want a strong say in what is put on in this “community” theatre.

    Conversely, in the UK town where I live there is a council-owned theatre that puts on live shows, live music, plays and films. It can also screen all manner of shows – film, ballet, opera, etc – via its own satellite dish on the roof. Will the Rialto have a satellite dish to do that?

    However, on Sunday mornings an evangelical church pays for the use of the theatre for its church service. I see no problem there – it brings in money at a time when the theatre would otherwise be shut.

    I hope the Mosaic church does not end up having control on what is put on at the Rialto. Any community or neighbourhood is made up of disparate groups. South Pasadena is, I am sure, such a town. And if the building belongs to the town, then any group should be able to use it if they pay for that use.. The question is what does the lease say.

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