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Rialto Theatre sign could fall, South Pasadena fears

This post has been changed. See the note below.

Rialto signThe signature blade sign that hangs above the marquee at the entrance to the landmark Rialto Theatre  has South Pasadena officials worried.

As a severe weather system approaches, city building inspectors say they fear the Rialto blade sign may have been weakened in the recent windstorms and could present a danger to passing pedestrians and cars.

Michael Krakower, a structural engineer hired by Rialto owner Landmark Theatres, will offer the city a report on Monday, recommending either that the sign be saved or that it must go.

The theater, which opened its doors in 1925, screened its last film in 2010. It has remained closed since then. Efforts by local preservationists and the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce to revitalize the site on Fair Oaks Avenue have so far failed.

Pat and Stan Friar want the sign saved.

As they carefully stepped around the orange cones and yellow caution tape, they recalled how they had gone to the Rialto on some of their very first dates, more than 50 years ago.

"It's such a shame," Pat Friar, 69, said. "They should definitely do something to save the sign. It used to be so cool, so neat looking."

Those pushing for revitalization say they will see loss of the sign as a bad omen.

"There's a perception that things are happening negatively if the sign comes down," said Escott Norton, project director of the Friends of the Rialto.

Norton said he spoke with Krakower after the sign was inspected. Though Krakower offered no conclusions, Norton was hopeful the sign may stay up.

"He felt there was definitely going to be a way of securing the sign to the building and relieving the safety concern," Norton said. "Now the challenge is, he needs to convince the city."

Interim City Manager Sergio Gonzalez said the sign's weakness came to the attention of South Pasadena building officials last week. They promptly inspected it and closed off access.

"They were concerned that the Rialto sign had possibly been shifting," Gonzalez said. "We don't know if the windstorm added to the instability or had any effect. We just wanted to be sure and be safe."

The sign is considered a defining feature that qualifies the Rialto for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

"Any modifications to the building would affect its historical designation, that's how important and significant it is that the sign stay up," Gonzalez said. "I'm optimistic that the sign can remain up. But if it's a public safety issue, we certainly have no choice."

Norton is also concerned that taking the sign down could damage it.

The Rialto began to lose its luster several years ago, and at the time building inspectors closed it in 2010, it no longer was showing first-run films.

Stan Friar, 70, said the movies on the screen never mattered when he took Pat to the Rialto in their younger days.

"You don't go to the movies to see the movie anyway," he said with a smile.

For the record, March 16, 11:37 a.m.: An earlier version of this post said the marquee was the problem, rather than the blade sign positioned above the marquee.

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-- Adolfo Flores, Times Community News

Photo: The sidewalk in front of the Rialto Theatre is closed to pedestrians. Credit: Raul Roa / Pasadena Sun

 
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