Published : Monday, June 8, 2015 | 4:30 AM
An historic landmark that has captured the hearts of so many, opened its doors to the public last Saturday afternoon to a crowd of about 300 looking to the day when the Rialto Theatre is restored to its brilliant self when it opened Oct. 17, 1925.
The occasion was the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation’s annual meeting, which zipped through some routine business matters, including the naming of the newest officers, before turning its attention why the event drew so many – a final glimpse at the venue as new ownership makes plans for an extensive transformation scheduled to take place in the months ahead.
Among those in the crowd at Saturday’s event were Preservation Foundation members, civic leaders and Friends of the Rialto, a dedicated group that has long looked to the day for its revival, headed by Escott O. Norton.
In preparation for Saturday’s event, Preservation Foundation board members were busy cleaning up the theater over the past two weeks, a major effort especially after discovering the place had been vandalized.
“We rolled up our sleeves and took it from really unbelievable conditions, where paint has splattered (from vandalism), and we found broken glass everywhere,” explained Stamps, “and cleaned it up enough where everyone I think can appreciate how good it looks under the circumstances.”
One of those signaled out for his efforts in seeing the structure sold in January to new ownership led by Izek Shomof was Scott Feldmann, former president of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. “Scott, along with the Chamber of Commerce board really kept the torch going and encouraged a lot of potential buyers during the time it was getting ready to being sold, to get people to come in and see how great the old building was” said Stamps, who didn’t go into details for what the theater will become, whether it’s a multiplex, a concert hall or a combination the two, or neither one.
City officials say they hope to hear Shomof’s internal efforts to revive the theater in the near future. Norton would like to see the theater restored to its original state, “which means I would like to go to the very top of the balcony and watch a show on this screen,” Norton told audience members before receiving an ovation. “I’ve always dreamed about this being a multi-use venue. I could mean you have a movie one night and a play the next. I could mean you have dinner theater one night and a jazz concert the next. A multi-use venue to me means you have a vibrant living building with different things happening every night. The idea of the multi-use is not every movie is not going to appeal to everyone in South Pasadena, but if you keep a rotation and different things showing on the screen and stage, you’re going to appeal to a wider range of people. The South Pasadena community is going to be better taken care of as people will bring business dollars to the city.”
Norton added he’s been working with theater professionals to come up with “a really exciting plan for the Rialto,” he said. “It may or may not happen, but I hope it does. Activating the stage and activating the screen and giving you a choice is what our management team is trying to put together.”
The concept will be introduced to Shomof, explained Norton, noting that the new Rialto owner is a fan of restoring historic buildings. Shomof is on the board of the Historic Core Business Improvement District for downtown Los Angeles. He helped to transform the 600 block of South Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles with the redevelopment of four properties. He also is leading a group of investors to resurrect the King Edward Hotel and the Baltimore Hotel, along with repositioning the Sears Tower in Boyle Heights, a former major distribution hub for the retailer.
“When the owner toured this building he was really looking at the details,” said Norton. “Someone who looks at the details as closely as he did really has my attention. We hope that our management idea of this theater strikes with not only the community but with the owners. We really want the community to really be a part of this theater.”
Shomof and his team acquired the Rialto from Wells Fargo Private Bank’s Real Estate Asset Management group, as corporate trustee for the Jebbia Family Trust. NGKF Capital Markets represented the sellers in the transaction. Matthew Dobson, a managing director with NGKF Capital Markets, represented the seller along with NGKF senior managing directors, Josh Levy and Hook McCullough. “Wells Fargo, on behalf of the Jebbia Family Trust, was sensitive to the building’s significance when selecting a buyer and wanted to ensure the asset would transfer to a group with a track record of renovating and owning national landmark assets,” said Dobson.
The Rialto is two blocks from South Pasadena’s Mission Street shopping district and mixed among recently restored 1920s era buildings.
“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the new ownership to revive one of the city’s most recognizable buildings and appreciate the process the Jebbia family and their advisers went through to find an appropriate buyer that is respectful of the building’s history,” said South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez at the time of the sale.
During Saturday’s event, Odom Stamps, president of the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation, encouraged those on hand to have a good look around because the next time the theater is open to the public “it will be amazingly transformed, renovated and restored.”