O! Wherefore art thou, Rialto?

Yesterday’s post about the fates of several area movie houses, whose owners have taken their financial grievances public in the quest to scrape up serious coin for affording high-quality digital projection systems, might not have left you with the most positive vibes. Yet, their resilience points towards agreeable futures in comparison to today’s post which talks about places given little or no chance at survival. You’ve probably heard many variations of this never-ending story called “The Death of the Local Cinema,” based on a popcorn kernel of truth, and here we offer our own retelling.

Whereas the Avon, Normal, et al, still entertain their respective communities, many others continue on only as memories or shells of their former selves. It seems like we’ve already forgotten the loss of the Lorraine Theater in Hoopeston back in March, while last year’s shuttering of the Gemini Cinemas in Villa Grove barely registered a radar blip in Champaign-Urbana. The long-standing structure which once housed the long-closed Wings Theater in Rantoul was finally reduced to rubble in September, while citizens continue to discourage such a fate for the decrepit Fischer Theatre in Danville by transforming its lobby into a local performing arts museum and conducting tours through its auditorium.

Closer to home, only the Art and Virginia theaters remain open and used for their original purposes, while the Co-Ed and Lyric theaters and Twin City and Widescreen drive-ins are lost and the Illini, Orpheum, Fox, Princess, and Rialto theaters persist in spirit with their spaces repurposed as a night club, a children’s science museum, a bank, an art gallery, and a photography studio, respectively. The has-beens have been woven into our culture more thoroughly than you might realize, dearest readers, and we must believe a next generation of upgraded screening rooms and operating concepts a la the Art Theater Co-op will emerge to carry on the tradition of communal cinema in the C-U, if not also the cities beyond.

This brings us to a coda illustrated with video nostalgia discovered by your humble editor during the summer. Created by one TXMSquare, the following collage remembers the Rialto which presented first- and second-run Hollywood for decades before closing in the early Eighties. Eagle-eyed architecture buffs might have recognized its gutted interior, located in the building right across Church Street from the Art, as the underground night club setting in the feature LEADING LADIES.

~ Jason Pankoke

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