During the last 100 years, the Rialto theater operated in both public and private capacities. Despite a century of revolutionary cultural change, the Rialto is fortunate to remain an historic community theater - a sentimental jewel beloved of Montanans.
Built in 1908, the Rialto was originally constructed as a United States Post Office. It sat on the first commercial block of Bozeman's developing downtown, housing retail shops on the second story. In the late 1920s, acclaimed Bozeman architect, Fred Willson was contracted by the owners to re-purpose the building's design, transforming the Post Office into a community theater. By c. 1934, the new movie house provided a significant contribution to the Art Deco collection of United States cinemas, characteristic of the heyday of Depression-era theaters. Built in small towns and cities all over the United States through the 1930s and early 40s, these cinemas were named after famous Italian cities and hosted audiences for both silent films and "talkies," alike. Despite revolutionary social changes created by television and other broadcast alternatives, through the mid to late 20th century, the Rialto remained a valued community venue for both first and second run films. And, through the 1980-1990s, local arts and entertainment organizations supported the theater's evolving niche as a showcase for Montana
arts, culture - especially independent film.
The Rialto was last commercially operated by
Carmike Cinemas, which officially closed the theater's doors in 2005. The building was ultimately
to a real estate development group that intended to transform the theater into
condominiums and retail shops - much to the chagrin of the wider Bozeman community. The economic downturn of 2008 prevented the project from
becoming reality, and it remained dark until 2013. After the condominium repurpose failed, the
theater sat empty and gutted and neglected for more than five years. During this
time, it was one of the few abandoned buildings in Bozeman's beautiful
and vibrant downtown.
were understandably saddened to learn the Rialto had been set for
demolotion in association with the failed condo project. In the mid 2000s, newspapers, blogs and journals reported a consensus (among long-time residents and newcomers alike), that the Rialto should remain a community theater. For many, the earlier building damage had disturbed happy memories of a theater they feared was gone
for good. Many had fond memories of the Rialto as a special place to enjoy film with family, friends, and/or on a date. Some even recall having their
first kiss while in the audience at the Rialto.
2010, the building was purchased with a new vision to restore the Rialto as a community theater with a focus on showcasing regional musicians, singer songwriters, authors and artists of all kinds. During the last 24 months, SRO MONTANA leased the building while engaging the Bozeman business community to sponsor a renovation project. Bozeman businesses were overwhelmingly supportive expressing a clear desire to restore this intimate theatrical venue to its original purpose as place to showcase arts and entertainment. After eight years of darkness, SRO MONTANA opened the theater's doors, receiving its official certification of occupancy from the City of Bozeman on April 26, 2013. As a restored community gathering place, and as a regional mecca to showcase independent film, musical entertainment, artist exhibitions, and book signings, Bozeman businesses continue to back ongoing restoration with special sponsorship opportunities.
its historic integrity reinvigorated, the theater is now undergoing a second phase of historical restoration while SRO MONTANA plans an upcoming show schedule. Gallatin Valley residents will soon have their very own local theater to enjoy a wide array of arts and musical entertainment.