Raising the Roof on the Rivoli

James Kelly knows people have heard that the rescue of the Rivoli Theatre on East 10th was imminent, only to be disappointed when nothing seemed to get done. This time, he says, it’s different — positive change is happening, and momentum is building.
As Board President of the Rivoli Center for the Performing Arts, Inc., which owns the building, he should know. Currently, a new roof is being placed over the auditorium and stage, to the tune of $350,000. “We’re right now in the process of working with the East 10th Street Civic Association, and others, to move forward,” he said. What it comes down to, he noted, is money.
There have been fundraisers to raise the cash necessary for repairs and stabilization of the building, which was built in 1927 by Universal Chain Theatrical Enterprises, the theatre division of movie-maker Universal Pictures. At one time, the Rivoli was one of the most beautiful of the neighborhood theatres, boasting leaded glass, ornate plasterwork, a spectacular dome, and two organ chambers. The Rivoli was used for movies, and for theatrical productions and live concerts. There were two storefronts facing 10th Street, plus four apartments upstairs.
“A lot of people don’t know about the apartments,” said Kelly, “but they were there.” He explained that one of the goals is to get a roof over the apartments soon.
The theatre was sold by Universal, and operated as a movie theatre and stage for decades. Notables that played the stage in the 1970s include the band Kansas, Golden Earring, and Lynyrd Skynyrd; in 1974 silent film star Gloria Swanson lead a discussion of her 60 year screen career and introduced a showing of her film Queen Kelly (1929).
However, the theatre saw less stellar days in the 80s, when it became an adult movie venue, then closed in 1992. The Rivoli fell into serious disrepair, and was in danger of being condemned until a group of concerned citizens decided to rally around and fight for the future of the building. Since 2007, the Rivoli Center for the Performing Arts organization has been raising awareness and funds to save the building.
“The structure is solid,” Kelly said. “But the plaster, anything inside has been destroyed by water damage. Getting a roof on it was the first big hurdle.”
Once the building is ready, they have lots of plans arts programming in the building, including training in dance, music, acting, and other arts. “Lots of people are interested in using this space; but first we have to have the space for them.”
And it takes money to create a new future for the Rivoli. Kelly noted that he’s been writing grants and working hard to raise money for the building for years, but they still need more help.
On February 5, the board will meet at 7 p.m. on the second floor of the John H. Boner Community Center, 2236 E. 10th St. to talk about their next steps and work on fundraising. The public is invited to attend to see what’s going on — and how they might do their part in keeping a part of the east side’s culture alive and well.