The Rialto Theater in downtown Searcy is an iconic, unique movie theater that was built in 1924 and then remodeled in 1949 to reflect the art deco style that dons its front today.
Main Street Searcy, a non-profit devoted to downtown Searcy, is currently working toward “reviving” the Rialto and giving it a fresh, user-friendly renovation. The first phase consisted drawing up an engineering plan and itemizing the renovation details.
“Once we have our projects and phases established, we’ll begin a capital campaign so we can begin work on the interior,” Amy Burton, Main Street Searcy manager, said.
Burton said the exterior of the theater is complete, and the city has made some improvements to update the inside of the theater and make it more comfortable for movie-goers. Main Street Searcy recently worked with local architecture firm Hoffmann Architectural to do a condition assessment of the building. Grants were received to bring in specialists to develop a master plan.
“It is very rewarding to see the small pieces of history coming to light,” Steven Gifford, Rialto manger, said. “I find the most rewarding part of the theater are the people. Each week, I hear story after story of the first movie that was seen there. There is excitement of bringing kids and grandchildren back to a place that was enjoyed years ago.”
There are still large tasks at hand regarding the Rialto renovation. There are no dates for the upcoming phases set in stone since the process comes down to money and fundraising efforts.
“One of the difficult things we face is do we make the new Rialto like it was in the 40s and 50s, or do we add some [modernity] to it?” Mike Parsons, director of Searcy’s Parks and Recreation Department, said. “It has been amazing to hear the stories that have come from the public about their experiences with the Rialto.”
The estimated cost of the Rialto revival is $2.3 million, and the revival comes with more challenges than one might think.
“It has been difficult finding original colors and design,” Gifford said. “The task of remodel is a huge undertaking. The time and money it will take is hard to comprehend with a project of this magnitude. Just like all projects, once started, there are so many unseen issues that will need to be addressed as well.”