Rialto Theatre (2nd)

17 W. Third Street,
Tulsa, OK 74103

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Additional Info

Architects: John Adolph Emil Eberson, Leon B. Senter

Firms: Boller Brothers

Styles: Streamline Moderne

Previous Names: Empress Theatre, New Empress Theatre, Orpheum Theatre

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Rialto Theatre (2nd)

The Empress Theatre was opened around June 1913 and was designed by noted theatre architect John Eberson. It was renovated and reopened on January 20, 1918 as the New Empress Theatre. It was owned and operated by W.M. Smith. It was renamed Orpheum Theatre until around 1923 and when the adjacent Rialto Theatre was torn down to be demolished and a S.S. Kress store was built on the site, the Orpheum Theatre was renamed Rialto Theatre. It showed first-run films. It was still opened in 1955, but had closed by 1956. It was reopened and continued to operated until its final closure in late-1970 when it was demolished.

Contributed by Lauren Grubb

Recent comments (view all 36 comments)

seymourcox on May 17, 2007 at 7:48 pm

Rialto Theatre shot taken shortly before the building came down -

Architect L. B. Senter must have also designed Palace Office Supply over on Sixth & Boston Ave.
Note similarities between the two structures -

raybradley on June 4, 2007 at 11:14 am

Around 1912 the World Newspaper Building was converted into Tulsa’s first Rialto Theatre. After the World Bldg. was demolished to make way for a high rise Kress five and dime store, Rialto signage was moved next door to rename the Orpheum Theatre. From the Tulsa Library/Beryl Ford Collection comes this 1905 image of the World Bldg -

JohnMcConnel on October 18, 2007 at 10:30 pm

According to the opus list in the Wurlitzer Pipe Organ book, Opus 691 was born as a 2/6 “D” Special. On 9/23/1924, three ranks of pipes were added, and it became a 2/9. In 1926, it was moved from the Rialto to the Orpheum.

A 4/11 Robert-Morton was then installed in the Rialto, to give the Rialto an organ with a console comparable to the 4-manual console at the Ritz, which was a competing theatre at that time.

The book doesn’t tell this, but after the Wurlitzer underwent many hours of donated early-morning and late-night maintenance, it was quietly removed from the Orpheum one weekend. It was taken to a home in the Dallas area, where it remains, and is currently playing.

OrpheumDennis on September 4, 2010 at 1:08 pm

The Wurlitzer Opus 691 was purchased in 1969 by a business associate of Alex Blue, the Orpheum Building’s owner, and moved to the man’s home in Dallas. This happened without the knowledge of Bill Roberts, Dorothy Smith and Phil Judkins, who rebuilt the organ in the early 60s. Several years later, that man bought a larger instrument and the Orpheum organ went to his son’s home in a suburb of Austin. The pipes are still there, but he added a 3 manual console and additional pipes. The two manual console of Opus 691, through an odd chain of events, is sitting in my basement “speakeasy” and screening room in Chicago and will soon play with digital samples. It was the first theatre pipe organ I ever played (when it was still in the Orpheum) and I worked as an usher and assistant manager at the Orpheum (also, occasionally, the Rialto) while I was in college. It’s my understanding that the organ was enlarged with a kinura, clarinet, and salicional celeste in 1924 and was moved to the Orpheum for the theatre’s opening in November of that year. At that time it became a two chamber installation, with chambers on both sides of the proscenium. It had been in only one chamber in the Rialto.

raybradley on March 28, 2011 at 12:09 am

If you want to see a c1910 shot of the Rialto Theatre then go to below site and type in
“tulsa 3rd street looking east"
View link

missmelbatoast on March 29, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Wonderful historic shots on that link, cosmo. The Rialto must have had the very first V shape marquee angled to catch the eye of motorist.

OrpheumDennis on September 19, 2012 at 3:42 am

That’s correct Kewpie. Across the alley to the west was the first Orpheum, which was originally called the Empress. When the new Orpheum opened on the south side of 4th Street, between Main and Boston, the old Orpheum was renamed the Rialto and the building shown in the post card was torn down. The S. S. Kress store was built on that site. It was an L shaped building, I believe, which wrapped around what later became the Holly Shop on the corner of 3rd and Main. Kress' had entrances on Main Street and 3rd Street.

OrpheumDennis on October 2, 2012 at 7:35 pm

I really hope they don’t delete the photo. I think it helps historians clear up some of the mysteries about conflicting addresses. The Rialto name simply moved across the alley when the first Orpheum vacated the building and the new Orpheum opened on 4th Street. The photos should be labeled First Rialto (on the east side of the alley with the name on the marquee) and Second Rialto (on the west side of the alley with the name on the vertical sign). My Wurlitzer pipe organ console from the Orpheum was originally installed in the Rialto in 1923 and I always thought it was in the building on the west side of the alley, the Rialto I remember. Only recently, when I uncovered all of this history, I found out it was originally installed in the FIRST Rialto. The first Rialto was torn down and they built Kress' on that site, of which I have many fond childhood memories.

OrpheumDennis on June 27, 2021 at 1:31 am

You’re right, Katz. I was recently looking in the Ebersen archive and discovered the Rialto WAS designed by him in 1913 as the Empress. That makes three Ebersen houses in Tulsa, including the second Orpheum in 1924 and the Ritz in 1926.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 12, 2021 at 8:10 pm

Here is a bit of confusion provided by the January 12, 1918 issue of Exhibitors Herald:

“Tulsa, Okla.— W. M. Smith will remodel the present Empress Theatre for a moving picture house to be known as The Rialto. A contract has been let for the installation of a $14,000 pipe organ. Frank H. Cassil is manager.”
One explanation I can think of is that the first Rialto could have opened in 1918 and snatched the name before Smith could slap it on the remodeled Empress, so he settled for calling it the New Empress. But our page for the first Rialto doesn’t give its opening date, so I can’t prove that surmise.

The Empress is not listed in the 1914-1915 American Motion Picture Directory, so it was most likely still exclusively a vaudeville house at that time. Does anyone know if it was a Sullivan & Considine operation? Empress was that circuit’s favorite theater name.

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