Searcy's historic Rialto theater in need of restorations

Restoring an old, historic theater in Searcy

SEARCY, Ark. (KTHV) – An old and historic movie theater in downtown Searcy holds almost a century's worth of memories inside its walls, but most of the building needs to be restored.

The Rialto Theater was built back in 1923 and many of its original structures still stand. City council members met Tuesday to take a look at the build and assess what needs to be done.

“So many people in the community have such fond memories. This was the only theater in town for many, many decades,” Executive Director of Main Street in Searcy Amy Burton said. "First kisses and you know first movies, there's just a lot of sentimentality about this theater."

Burton said the building was handed over to the city in December 1993, when other owners struggled to keep it open.

“We do have some water that has come in on some of the sidewalls. We have to look at plaster repairs and structural repairs,” Burton said. “Definitely need upgrades on plumbing on electrical because the wiring on this building, a lot of it is left from the early 1900's.”

The city allowed Victor Richard Weber to lease the building 23 years ago.

"The city, the Mayor then, calls me up and wants me to come over and run it. He said, 'I think you'd make money,' and I said, 'I think I would to,'” Weber said.

Well, Weber went on to make money, showing a movie at the theater every single night since the 1990's.

"The guy out at Cinema 8 said I'll have him out of business in 6 months. Well, I've been here over 23 years and that's a little longer than six months,” he said.

Owning a movie theater is Weber’s passion, but he said it is time to retire and hand over the building.

"I still got my finger in the pie as they say. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'll find something,” Weber said.

Burton said the city has a grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program that will allow them to do a condition assessment of the building.

“We’ll know what needs to be done, so that we can develop a master plan and decide what steps to take to preserve the interior of the theater,” Burton said.

While Weber plans to retire at 87-years-old, he said running the Rialto Theater was a dream come true.

"It's been a wonderful, wonderful life. I have literally lived in paradise all of my life,” Weber said. “I have always said, if you get a job that you love, you won't have to work a day in your life."

Burton said she hopes the assessment will be done by Spring 2018. She said the city of Searcy is accepting tax deductible donations from the community to help with the construction costs on the building.

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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