A final detail in the restoration of South Pasadena’s treasured Rialto Theatre is the installation of more than 150 Batchelder tiles, which have been carefully reconditioned or rebuilt and are currently being installed on the south and west sides at ground level.
Made famous by Pasadena’s Ernest A. Batchelder, the handmade tiles became staples of the local arts and crafts movement that exploded in the 1920s.
“They are distinctive by their muted colors and natural materials,” said Escott Norton, a self-avowed lover of vintage showplaces.
Norton established Friends of the Rialto, a nonprofit that declares itself on its website to be “an advocacy group dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of the beautiful Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena, California.” Norton assisted in identifying the tiles, many of which were broken or covered by paint, brick or both. He then farmed out the project to Clifford Douglas, a contractor, who has painstakingly removed and restored each of them by hand.
Contractors are currently going about the assiduous process and the tiles will soon be grouted into place.
Izek Shomof, a Los Angeles developer who specializes in the revival of historic structures, purchased the Rialto in 2015. Since January, workers have busied themselves both inside and out of the 1,200-seat venue, which was built in 1925 and has been purposed in various capacities, including use as a single-screen theater that dated back to the era of silent movies, a locale for vaudeville acts, the site of a mighty Wurlitzer organ and the occasional on-location filming site. Locals also recognize the main floor seating arrangement from 2016’s award-winning film “La La Land.”