Historic Casper Theaters For Sale With Legal Stipulation They Can't Be Theaters Again

The Rialto and the America, historic theaters in downtown Casper, aren’t likely to be theaters ever again. A stipulation in their sale is that they can’t show movies for 25 years.

RJ
Renée Jean

July 01, 20234 min read

The America theater at 119 S. Center St. in Casper.
The America theater at 119 S. Center St. in Casper. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

CASPER — The historic Rialto and America theaters in Casper are not only for sale, but with a stipulation that says neither can ever show movies again.

The stipulation is the same one the Fox Theater at 150 W. Second St. was sold under last year. It is now home to Frontier Brewery.

The three theaters were owned by Randy A. Pryde, part of the trio that also own the Movie Palace theaters, which includes Craig Hosey and Mike Ito. 

The sale of the America and the Rialto is being handled by BrokerOne Real Estate.

No one from the theater group or the real estate company responded to either a phone message from Cowboy State Daily or emails requesting more information about the sale.

Someone with knowledge of the situation we’re calling Mary, who asked not to be identified, told Cowboy State Daily that Pryde owns several theaters in Wyoming in whole or in part, including one in Cheyenne, and that changing economics are the main reason Casper’s downtown theaters were put up for sale.

“It’s harder and harder to make single stream theaters like this profitable,” she said. “You can only show that one movie at a time, so you know, you’ve got overhead, and you’ve got staffing and everything else, but you’ve only got that one movie playing.”

That dynamic is one reason that four more screens were recently added to the theater in Cheyenne, she said. That theater now has 16 screens.

COVID Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to many small theater houses throughout the country, and the Rialto, Fox and Americaa were no different. They were all closed for a time during the pandemic before re-opening again for a brief period of time. 

Getting enough movies just after the pandemic was problematic. 

“(The owners) spent a lot of time putting in new seats and sort of renovating the buildings,” Mary said. “If they hadn’t owned them over the last 20 years, I don’t know if somebody else would have owned and operated them as theaters (for this long).”

The Fox Theater, 150 W. Second St. in Casper.
The Fox Theater, 150 W. Second St. in Casper. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Blow For Downtown

The stipulation not to show movies at the locations for 25 years isn’t sitting well with everyone, however.

“I love going into downtown, grabbing food, then going to the theater and getting a nightcap afterward at the brewery,” local resident Copper Mack told Cowboy State Daily. “And now we don’t get to have that.”

To Mack, the stipulation is something that fundamentally changes the character of Casper’s downtown in a way she believes is unfair to the community. So much so, she’s stopped going to the Movie Palaces that lie on the outskirts of town.

“This is our downtown,” she said. “And downtown is something that they’ve been trying to revitalize and bring back to life. So, it’s a blow, and I’m really irritated that, like, my family doesn’t get to see movies because of it.”

The Rialto, 100 E. Second St. in Casper.
The Rialto, 100 E. Second St. in Casper. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

National Registry

All three of the Casper’s downtown theaters are historic places, but the Rialto in particular was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.

The Registry doesn’t place any restrictions on private property owners at the federal level, however, when it comes to the use, development or sale of such properties. Wyoming also does not have any added restrictions for such properties.

The Rialto, located at 100 E. Second St., started life as the New Lyric Theater in 1921, the era of the Flappers, with 800 seats. Henry Brennan sold the theater a year later to E.J Schuler, who remodeled it before reopening it in 1922 with the silent movie “Nice People,” a William C. DeMille movie.

In the early days, the three theaters were part of a vibrant, cultural scene downtown that included other theaters, such as the Iris and the Rex. The latter was demolished in the 1960s, while the Iris was sold in 2012 to a local group as a civic auditorium. 

The America Theater, located at 119 S. Center, was built in 1917, while the Fox was built in 1998 by Movie Palace as a second-run theater. 

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter