112 years! That's how long Aitkin has had a movie theatre. The Rialto has been a theatre for the largest part of this legacy. It has been the best theatre in the Northlands, a great way to escape from the world and be entertained, and a way to look into the past. The Rialto Theatre has been a significant constant in Aitkin's history for 73 years.
The Rialto Theatre was built by Charles E. Lyons. He originally owned the Moveum which was a "silent" theatre where The Office Shop is today. This was not enough. Movies with sound were becoming prevalent and the entrepreneur C.E. Lyons had to be part of it. So, he made a modern theatre that was capable of hosting sound movies. (Petterson) But he first needed to build it.
The building of the Rialto Theatre started in fall 1936. The process started with digging the basement. The men used simple tools to do this task, such as shovels and scrapers dragged by teams of horses. The building of the Rialto also helped the economy by having locals do a lot of the work. The building process also left some memories. Ken Lyons, Charles' son, remembers how the 50 foot beams were transported. They were put on the beds of two trucks, one driving forward and one in reverse (Petterson). The building process was just the beginning of this superb theatre.
A "Movie Palace", that is what the Rialto was called when it was first built. It was a modern theatre and of great quality, making it the best theatre in the Northland. It had the Art Deco interior, which is an elegant design composed of geometric shapes in a "streamline" fashion. It was also equipped with a "smoke room" for men, and a "powder room" for women, and a "crying room" for families with young children who could watch the movie without disturbing the audience. It only cost 25 cents to buy a ticket, with a total of 612 seats (Petterson). It was perfect, for that time.
In the 50's, however, a wider screen was put in due to the use of wider movies, lowering the seat number to 480, according to Cinema Treasures. But that is not the only major change that happed in the 50's. According to Kirk Peysar, the current owner, the use of television, was rising, so the theatre had to "lure" people in. To do this they added the concession stand, which is something we take for granted these days.
A new screen and a concession stand are not the only things that have changed. It has had a variety of owners. Charlie Lyons built it. He then gave it to Ken, his son. Ken ran it for a few years and then rented it out. Lloyd and Lora Bellefeuille rented it until 1970, when they bought it. They sold it to their son and his wife, Mark and Pat. After that, the Sands owned it for 6 years. Kirk Peysar started working there in 1975. He then went on to buy it in 1986 and still owns the Rialto today.
The Rialto has not changed a lot since it was built. Besides putting in a new screen and adding the concessions during the 1950's, it is basically the same. Also the concessions were remodeled 5 years ago. In the auditorium, the murals on the walls are original from the day it opened. The upstairs is still used for apartments, just like when the Lyons lived there, but there was an addition built on the roof that juts out on top.
The Rialto is able to get some movies right when they come out. In an interview with Kirk, he said that He only needs to contact one person between him and the producer to get a movie. He then receives a set of round metal cases filled with 2-3 miles of rolled up film. The film is then set up on a "platter" system. This is a way of running the film. It lies on a wide, flat, metal pan which is called a platter. The film unwinds from the middle and runs in front of the "lighthouse." The "lighthouse" has a 2,000 watt bulb inside it, and shines through the film to show the image on the screen. The film goes across the lighthouse at 100 feet per minute. In those 100 feet, there are 1,600 cells, or pictures. That is almost 27 cells a second. Once the contract for the use of the film is up, then it is sent off and a different movie is shown.
The Rialto has been very special throughout the years. It was a brand new "Movie Palace," which evolved into the Rialto Theatre of today through the hard work, entrepreneurism, and dedication of the past and present owners. This has given us a glimpse into the past and the present. Aitkin will always be special because of it.
"Brainerd Movie Theatres". Brainerd Lakes Vacationland. Midwest Captions, Inc. n.d. Web. 24 March 2010.
Fillips, Kevin. Cinema Treasures. N.d. web. 23 March 2010.
Petterson, Connie. "Early History of the Rialto" Newshopper 1 July 2006. Print.
Petterson, Connie. "The Rialto Theatre- the dream of entrepreneur C.E. Lyons" Newshopper 24 June 2006.
Peysar, Kirk. Personal interview. 2 April 2010.
A special thank you to Tyler Michaletz for writing this history of the theatre.