Restoration of Projection System Underway at Rialto

Friends of the Rialto is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to preserving the Rialto Theatre as an artistic and cultural venue in South Pasadena. James Atkins, above. Photos by Escott Norton

Friends of the Rialto has been working for the last few months on restoring the long dormant 35mm projection system in the Rialto Theatre.

With the support of Mosaic Church and the expertise of projection specialist Tom Ruff, the organization is working to bring back proper 35mm projection capabilities to South Pasadena. 

A little history. When the Rialto opened it had two 35mm projectors, used to show shorts and features by switching back and forth.   

In the 1970s, one of the projectors was removed and a “platter system” was installed in the projection booth. This allowed the projectionist to splice a feature film and all of the trailers and shorts onto one large reel, or “platter”.

Friends of the Rialto President Escott Norton says he is working with Mosaic Church to coordinate film showings open to the community. Photos by Escott Norton

These Platter systems are no longer used because the studios do not want their films cut and spliced every time they are rented.  Now, two working projectors electronically connected with a “Changover” system  are required.

Over a series of late night work sessions, original equipment stored in the Rialto’s dressing rooms has been discovered, hauled up to the projection booth, and begun to be carefully restored.

In December of last year, Friends of the Rialto reached a milestone. Both projectors are now running smoothly! The organization still has a lot of work to do: installing a new “cinema sound” system behind the screen, running new speaker cables from projection booth to stage, and restoring the lamp housing on the second projector.

There is no hard deadline for the project’s completion, as it an all-volunteer effort, but Friends of the Rialto Director Escott Norton hopes it can be completed by the end of summer.

Norton would also like to thank Mosaic Church for its assistance.

“The church has been very supportive of the project, some members of the church have even helped by carrying pieces of heavy equipment from the Rialto basement all the way up to the projection booth!” Norton said.

Friends of the Rialto was formed in 1983 as a committee of the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. Its current advisors include theatre professionals, artists, historians, film fans, and interested residents of South Pasadena and surrounding communities. Friends of the Rialto is a 501(c)3 non-profit designation.