Hidden Beauty of the Rialto Theatre

Original Jester Embellishment
Last Friday night my husband and I accepted an invitation to take a closer look at the hidden beauty of the Rialto Theatre. We met Co-owner Ezio Carosielli on the balcony, and he gave us a brief history of the movie palace and some of the details that few people know about.

The Rialto was built in 1923-1924 by Montreal architect Louis-Raoul GariƩpy, but the interior design was the work of Emmanuel Briffa, who designed 60 other Canadian movie palaces in the Louis the XVI style. Montrealers may remember more of Briffa's artistry at the Snowden, the Seville Theatre, the York and Cinema 5.

Asbestos on the Original Curtain
The gold embellishment throughout the Canadian Heritage building is made of plaster rather than wood as a safeguard against fire. In the 1920s, the film used in cinemas was highly flammable, as were the projectors, which used powerful lamps and produced intense heat. Now if you consider that the theatre could accommodate 1,330 people at a time, with 630 seats on the balcony and 700 on the main floor, a fire could cause a major calamity. When I was taking pictures of the Images de Femmes, I noticed the word "Asbestos" on the curtain. Ezio explained that this was the original curtain and that asbestos was used for its flame-retardant qualities.

Stained Glass Ceiling and the Original Colours
Carosielli pointed out the various panels of angels on the sides of the balcony and said that, as they peeled back years of previous owners' renovations they expected to find many more cherubs. He also showed us a plaster wall in one of the box seats that they had uncovered after taking out another wall.

Angel Panels on Balcony
Carosielli and his partner Luisa Sassano have found themselves in a genuine treasure trove. They recently discovered  that the initial lighting system used to illuminate the stairs of the balcony had been filled in. When they dug out the light beds, they discovered that the original electrical wiring was still intact and were later able to find outer brass coverings. I asked how they managed to change lights behind the stained glass in the ceiling. Our tour guide said that there were upper passageways leading to every light fixture. He also told us that below the theatre, there was 10,000 square feet of unused space, where they had future plans to create a 125-seat venue for more intimate performances.

The mandate of Carosielli and Sassano is to restore the theatre to its original colours. There are apparently 16 different shades of green and beige to replicate, and unfortunately, there is no cheap and easy way to do this. The pair is busy taking reservations, while pursuing renovation plans, one stage at a time.

After witnessing the beauty and acoustics of the Rialto, we have no doubt that in the near future it will once again become the venue of choice for Montrealers.

For further reading on the Rialto's history and future plans click here.

Other Mile End related posts:
Images de femmes at Rialto Theatre
Guerrilla in the Midst
Bagel Conundrum
Mile End's Ring of Fame
What it is by Lynda Barry
The True Gender
Almost a Visit to Gender
St-Viateur: the Polish Bazaar
The Mile End Buzz Around Beekeeping
For the Love of Vinyl
Airing Our Dirty Laundry



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