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Report - - Former Rialto Cinema, York (Pics from April 2003) | Theatres and Cinemas |

Report - Former Rialto Cinema, York (Pics from April 2003)

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cinema salvager

Following the positive response I got from you all on the Odeon York posting I've done a similar report on the former Rialto cinema, which used to stand in Fishergate in York. The pictures go back to April 2003 and were taken shortly before demolition commenced.

This super cinema opened on 25th November 1935 and replaced an earlier cinema which had burnt to the ground in April the same year. It was owned and operated by Mr J. Prendergast, father of the world famous film score composer John Barry, who incidently first started out on the stage here with the John Barry Seven.

Able to accommodate 900 patrons in the circle, and 650 in the stalls on seating specially designed by Mr Prendergast, the cinema was opened on Monday the 25th of November 1935, by B. Seebohm Rowntree, supported by the Lord Mayor and Sheriff. The opening film was “Gold Diggers of 1935†starring Dick Powell, whilst Hal Sherwin played the Compton organ.
From the very beginning Mr Prendergast sought to bring the best in entertainment to the inhabitants of York both of the film and live variety. Many famous people “Played†the Rialto, including Louis Armstrong, Frankie Vaughan, Gracie Fields, Johnny Mathis and The Beatles.
The Rialto was also the first venue in the North to be fitted with electricty controlled machinery for the projection of three-dimensional films, although this was a short lived craze.
It was in 1961 that it was finally announced that the Rialto had been sold to the Mecca organisation for use as bingo hall and the cinema closed with “The World of Suzie Wong†on the 15th of October. The following year the company severed the last cinematic connection with the building, when it sold off the mighty Compton to a Bradford enthusiast for £80.

Bingo continued until Mecca were able to build a brand new purpose built club on an adjacent site and put in an application to demolish the Rialto for car parking:( The site was also used for a new housing development.

Although Bingo was the saviour for many old cinemas in our towns and cities, the trend for new purpose built clubs coupled with the smoking ban means that more and more former cinemas are now under threat of redevelopment.

Anyway enjoy the pictures.

Demolition of a structure at the rear of the site in 2002 revealed these posters for the big acts that 'played the Rialto'

The front of the former Rialto with the newly built Mecca club to the left.

The massive Art Deco proscenium arch. Originally this was lit with Holophane colour changing lighting.

Looking towards the rear of the auditorium. This was taken days after the old bingo club had closed down and everything had been left as it was. A bit like the 'Marie Celeste'.

A view of the former Circle foyer area.

Another view of the former Circle foyer area.

The side staircase. Under the wallpaper, the torn bit at the bottom, was part of a 1950's painted mural depicting the history of York. Sadly, as I was only there for a day I had no chance of uncovering it or the matching panel on the opposite stair.

The interior was limited to the streamlined style but these leaping gazelle motifs decorated the stairways into the circle.

Looking forwards from the back of the Circle, where all the original seating remained.

Side wall and proscenium.

The original seating, specifically designed for the cinema by the owner, and including the double 'love-seats'. Examples of these were rescued for posterity.

Remains in the projection rooms. All rooms on this level had subsequently been turned into offices for the bingo operation.

Up on the roof, looking towards the Minster.

Another shot from the roof looking down Fishergate.

Proscenium Grille-work detail.

Behind these grilles were the original speakers and sound horns. Sadly they were too big to remove.


Remnants of the original screen curtaining and not sure if the metal plating might have been the old safety curtain? The building had full stage facilities for live shows.

The scaffolding goes up on the facade.

And its goodbye to the Rialto forever.

Looking towards the back of the circle.

The huge girder that supported the circle.
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Mini nut

My local and favourite, gone.
I know this is yonks old but a great report nonetheless. Sad too, another art deco gem bites the dust. They must run out of them to pull down soon.


28DL Member
28DL Member
How come the lights are on? Looks like a great place to visit, shame it got demolished
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