Rialto Community Arts Center

Rialto Community Arts Center

What to know

Located in the small town of Morrilton, Arkansas, the Rialto Theatre has a rich history stretching over nearly 100 years. Guy O. Vail opened what is now the Rialto in 1911.  This was the first motion picture theatre in Morrilton and remained Vail's until the spring of 1925 when it was sold to I.W. Nance of nearby Conway.  After Nance’s purchase, the theatre was renamed The Grand Theatre.  Two years later Arkansas Amusement Enterprises, Inc., a subsidiary of Malco Theatres, Inc., purchased the theatre and officially renamed it the Rialto Theatre.

R.W. VanHook took over as manager of the Rialto in September 1928. Despite an initial lack of interest, “talkies” officially arrived in Morrilton late in 1929. In preparation for their debut, the Rialto was again remodeled and acoustically treated to accommodate the new innovation. On February 16, 1930, the first talking movie, Fast Life, was shown.

In July of 1952, M.S. McCord, who had previously served as the vice president of Malco Theatres, purchased the Rialto for his new company, United Theatres Corporation. McCord had the theatre remodeled again, dismantling the entire old structure.  Over the course of four months, new concrete walls, a new concrete floor, a steel roof, and a steel balcony were installed. The building was extended twenty feet, and a new large projection screen measuring 15’ by 20’ was installed. The seating capacity was enlarged to over 700 cushioned seats, including 175 seats in the balcony.  The Rialto had become one of the South’s finest theatres. Rialto manager, Clarence L. Hobbs, who took over in February of 1952, welcomed patrons at the grand opening on October 29, 1952 with the movie Lovely to Look At, which starred Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton, and Howard Keel.

Following the purchase of the theatre by the United Artists theatre chain, the Rialto was once again renovated. In 1981 the main hall was converted into three separate theatres. The theatre was in operation until 1987 when United Artists closed the building.  

The city of Morrilton acquired the building in 1995 after years of decay. The Rialto Community Arts Center was formed in December of 1996 as a subsidiary of The Arts Council of Conway County. The Board of Directors agreed to begin renovation to return the Rialto to its former glory by reconverting the theatre into one open area with balcony and seating for 400. Initially, the center walls that divided the theatre into three screens were removed. The roof was repaired and the lobby restored. The exterior was re-tiled and a sidewalk brick fund raiser helped with the outside restorations. Seats were installed in the theatre and the marquee was returned to its 1950s glory. A new stage was built to go along with new sound and lighting equipment. Later the former Massey Hard­ware store next door was purchased and converted into an art gal­lery. This purchase also enabled the theatre to strengthen its backstage area with the renovation of men’s and women’s dressing rooms.
In 2006, a kitchen was completed in the back of the gallery to meet the needs of the facilities. That same year, a new proscenium was installed around the stage. A year later, a new high definition projector and state of the art screen were installed, bringing movies back to the Rialto when the Rialto Players hosted the first movie day in January 2009.
215 East Broadway Street
Morrilton, AR 72110