CASPER — The historic Rialto Theater began in 1921 as a community spot for performing arts and events. More than a century later, a trio of local residents have bought the downtown landmark with a mission to take the theater back to its origins.
The building at 100 E. 2nd St. was owned by the Movie Palace group and the sale stipulates that movies can’t be shown there for the next 25 years. But that doesn’t mean it can’t again become the city’s go-to entertainment spot.
Casper natives John Trost, Pete Maxwell and Jake Bigelow closed on the property, which also includes storefront space now leased by a soda fountain, barber and jeweler Nov. 29.
“All three of us are pretty big on preserving the downtown history and bringing more things for local people to enjoy,” Trost said. “We are going to be doing comedy acts, musicians, magicians, and kids’ events and bring life back to the downtown.”
City of Casper Downtown Development Director Kevin Hawley said he “couldn’t be more thrilled” about the plans for the building, which in 1993 was put on the National Registry of Historic Places.
“We’ve seen what the arts can do in terms breathing new life into these historic properties,” he said. “It’s exciting to see the next generation step up and go do this in the community.”
Trost said plans call for renovation of the theater, and the group recently got a liquor license from the city. Plans call for transforming the theater’s concession area into a bar. A doorway to access the adjacent soda fountain to allow for food sales during events is also planned.
There is no firm date for opening, but the partners hope for early spring.
“That is to be determined,” Trust said. “Remodeling is starting this week.”
A website promoting the theater is offering a discount on annual memberships. The first 150 people to become members will receive a ticket to every future event for the year and more. Trust said they have already sold half the discounted memberships, which are priced at $299.
The annual membership will begin when the theater opens.
Built In 1921
The theater was built in 1921 as the New Lyric Theater as a vaudeville venue, according to the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. It was sold in 1922 and started showing silent films. The first movie was “Nice People” by William deMille accompanied by the Chicago Orchestra.
“The Rialto soon became the premier movie house in Casper with an elaborate exterior and first-run movies accompanied by a women's orchestra,” according to the state Historic Preservation Office. “The Rialto is significant because of the important role the theater played in the city's recreation and entertainment industry.”
In 1928, “talkie” movies took off and the Rialto became a place for special times with a date or family.
In 2004, ownership did extensive renovations in the interior, Trost said. When the pandemic hit in 2020, the theater closed for a year and after that was not able to recover.
On The Market
The theater was initially listed for sale this past May and caused a stir among some locals who were upset about not seeing a movie in it again. One resident told Cowboy State Daily then that she was going to stop going to the Movie Palace theaters on the outskirts of town because of the noncompete language that was part of the sale.
Trost said the trio just want to make good use of the venue.
“We wanted to make sure there was not another bar or restaurant or gambling casino going to go into the building,” Trost said. “We wanted to bring more kids activities for people to enjoy.”
Trost said the trio plans to start posting events for the theater in the near future on the website.
“We will start rolling out events for (next) May and June,” he said. “They will be posted in the next couple of weeks. We are working on that.”
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.