Adventures in California real estate: helping decide the fate of the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena

Aside from connecting the many dots for the German American Maritime Institute, during this visit, we are also taking care of our clients in California. We work closely with one local real estate corporation and this time we were called on to conduct due diligence on the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena, one of the grand houses from the early days of cinema.

Grand opening?

Grand opening?

With room for 1,200, a balcony and a single movie screen, not to mention a flywheel system and orchestra pit for Vaudeville performances, the Rialto Theater (built 1925) is truly a fossil from a bygone era; its sister, the Ritz Theater, was demolished in the 1960s. 

The balcony is above the chandeliers.

The balcony is above the chandeliers.

However, the charming building is full of elements that would be unaffordable today: the facade has beautiful plaster elements and the entryway has both an elegant, intricate mural and fancifully tiled drinking fountain. As industrial materials and high technology become cheaper and cheaper, the work of artisans and craftsmen seems sadly out of reach.

Breathtaking artwork awaits the eager movie-goer.

Breathtaking artwork awaits the eager movie-goer.

The Rialto is begging to be converted into a multi-purpose venue. Drama companies, comedians, musicians and cinema could easily share the enormous space. Just look at the aforementioned flywheel system, which only needs a little attention to be brought back to its former days of glory, moving sets and scenery across the stage from act to act.

Made in USA.

Made in USA.

The front of the Rialto has four retail units, one of which is open, even though the theater was closed due to concerns regarding fire safety. Upstairs is an office suite which was converted from apartments in the 1940s. The entire floor exudes the suave charm of that era, with bookcases mounted into the walls and original bathroom fixtures...

No running water, but the rent is cheap!

No running water, but the rent is cheap!

However, as well intentioned as any investor may be, and as tempting and delightful as it would be to revive the Rialto and see it once more in its former (and future) glory, a host of permitting and regulatory compliance issues are lurking in the shadows.

I'm from the government and I'm here to help you.

I'm from the government and I'm here to help you.

California has relatively strict (and high) standards of environmental, consumer and fire and safety protection, along with high taxes - we embrace all of this as the cost of doing business, but when it comes to a building as old as the Rialto, that cost can become an insurmountable obstacle. For example: modern buildings have sprinkler systems to deal with fires, while the Rialto has two firehoses contained within the main theater. To bring the Rialto up to code, the plaster would have to be broken out and piping would have to run through the floorboards throughout the building so the equipment could be installed.

"I want to top expectations. I want to blow you away." - Quentin Tarantino (center)

"I want to top expectations. I want to blow you away." - Quentin Tarantino (center)

Of course, being on the National Register of Historic Places, the Rialto is bound to draw some heavy fire when it gets drawn out into the open. There were a number of potential investors, contractors, brokers and architects at the viewing. Director Quentin Tarantino, along with his entourage, seemed piqued by the decaying Venetian charm of the Rialto.

A very special honor.

A very special honor.

We have no doubt that the Rialto will be saved.  

The only question in our minds is what the final package will look like: an owner-and-manager combination with a major entertainment group, an owner who commercially rents out the Rialto to a variety of tenants or, perhaps, even a non-profit entity providing the space as a community arts center for the people of South Pasadena. Either way, the architects we spoke to today indicated that the bare minimum cost for a renovation would be $2 million; although, in reality, a more likely figure if it is to be done right is around $10 million.

PS:  Wir schicken sonnige Grüße aus Los Angeles nach Cuxhaven!

cuxhaven

Standing at the edge of the earth

Attorney fees under German law: a courtesy summary for English speakers and/or expats living in Germany