Rialto John Gilbert Part 5

rialto John Gilbert

Rialto John Gilbert Report Part 5

by John Gilbert,  contributing essayist Columbus Georgia Online

Rialto Theater Part 1Rialto Theater Part 2 | Rialto Theater Part 3 | Rialto Theater Part 4 | Rialto Theater Part 5 | Rialto Theater Part 6


rialto-new3COLUMBUS, GA. — I wondered how I was going to load my Peerless lamphouse into the bed of my Dodge truck from the movie trailer all by myself. I had backed the truck up to the trailer but I can’t lift the lamp up 3 feet to the truck bed. As I stood studying the problem, my gaze came across an extension ladder laying beside the house. There was my answer. I opened the tailgate, laid the ladder from the tailgate to the trailer, and simply slid the lamp up the ladder and into the truck. After loading the rectifier, carbons, and a few other odds and ends into the truck, I kissed Melanie goodby and drove the 100 miles to Columbus, GA.

What ever it takes

Rialto and my projector
Well, I got it here.

I admired the new facade on the Rialto Theater as I pulled into a parking space in front of the theater. It was 11 AM and no one was there to greet me. I unlocked the door and the stale, musty smell of the long-closed building assaulted my olfactory. Nothing had changed since I was here last week. Construction materials used to build the facade still littered the lobby. I found a 5-gallon pail to prop the door open just as my new friend Brandon Marsh pulled up in front of the Rialto. After the usual greetings, I unloaded my toolbox and we set to work opening the water meter cover in front of the theater. There’s still no water in the theater and I was determined to find out how to get it on. With the cover open, we found the main valve closed. I opened it but still nothing. There was no rush of water nor did the dials move. I dashed into the ladies room, which is nearest to the front door, and turned on the faucet. Still nothing! We replaced the cover and moved to the basement to once again trace out the water lines. I traced one line down the length of the basement towards the back of the theater. I speculated that the water may come from the street behind as it does for the Bradley Theater 2 doors down. That would have to wait. We heard footsteps above us and someone calling “Hello.” It was Reynolds Bickerstaff, the Rialto’s owner.

We met Reynolds in the auditorium and he was carrying an armload of cleaning supplies. He had brought brooms, trash bags, breathing masks, and best of all, light bulbs. After surveying the supplies, I grabbed a box of bulbs and headed for the attic. Once again I climbed over the old air duct with my flashlight only this time armed with bulbs. I made my way along the dusty old catwalk made of 2 X 10’s supported in the middle by a thin metal strap. This time I did pluck the strap as I
passed it. It twanged like a loose guitar string. I passed the 1st lamp that I had replaced the week before and made my way to the second one. I noticed that the old glass reflector was broken. Carefully I lifted it and but one broken piece fell through the opening. I saw it getting smaller as it fell, hitting the floor below and shattering. I removed the old bulb and screwed in the next one and it came to light. On I went along the rickety catwalk replacing bulbs until I had finished the right side of the auditorium. It was now noon and I could feel the effect of the sun beating down on the black tar roof. I turned my feet around and in the beam of my flashlight, made my way back to the attic entrance.

I was hot and tired as I made my way back into the auditorium but there it was, a full row of lights beaming into the once dark room. The left row would have to wait for me to rest and cool off for a while. Brandon was sweeping the lobby and we could actually see the old red tiles on the floor. I held the dust pan as he swept. Reynolds had a push broom and was sweeping the auditorium. He was sweeping the dirt down the sloping floor and into the open area where we had torn out the rotten
flooring. I thought that was a great idea! He needed no trash bags.

While I was helping Brandon sweep the lobby, one of Reynold’s friends came in. After introductions, he offered to help bring in the lamphouse and rectifier. We sat the two pieces in the lobby and made plans on how to best get them up to the booth. We grabbed the rectifier and hauled it up to the balcony and into the booth we went. This would be the first rectifier in the Rialto’s booth. The old motor-generators, that supplied power to the old arc lamps, were still in their places outside the booth. I have no idea if they would still work and there’s probably no one alive today that could get them working. They are an abandoned technology in a day of microprocessors.

When we got back to the lobby we were all thirsty. I had forgotten that we’d need liquid refreshment as we worked in the hot and dusty building. Brandon and I jumped into my truck and we headed across the river to the Piggly Wiggly in Phenix City, Alabama. There I bought water, an ice chest, ice, and snacks.

“Hey Reynolds,” I called as we walked back into the theater. “Look what I bought. RC Colas and Moon Pies!”

Now you have to be Southern to appreciate this most southern of all snacks. There’s even a song called “RC Cola and a Moon Pie.” I grew up on Moon Pies. They were 5 cents back in the day and that was a lot of money. And the Rialto sold RC Cola products so these were probably the first RC Colas to grace the lobby in 35 years.

We iced down our colas and water and went back to cleaning. I decided that it was time to tackle the left side of the auditorium lights so back to the attic I went. Again it was hot and dark but this time I had a bottle of cold water with me. Down the left catwalk, I went slowly changing bulbs as I went. Most of the glass reflectors were broken on this side and I had to be very careful with them as I changed the lamps. As I made my way to the last fixture, in the faint light I noticed something on the air duct. I reached for it and it turned out to be an old popcorn box from many years ago. “Fresh hot Popcorn,” it read with the Martin Theaters logo, Marty Mart, the Martian Man, a little character made from film smiled up at me. I dropped the box through the open lamp fixture and watched it float to the floor below. I replaced the fixture and made my way back down the catwalk and down the ladder. When I climbed back the balcony, the transformation was amazing. The entire auditorium was lit as I remembered it from years ago. I dashed down the stairs where Brandon and Reynolds were in the lobby. I called them into the auditorium and we all stood there taking in the moment. Reynolds turned off the work light and for the first time in 3 and a half decades, the room was filled with its own light.

“I’ll replace the ones over the screen,” said Reynolds as he picked up a package of bulbs and started for the ladder behind the screen. I could see his flashlight as he worked in the area over the screen but alas! There was no power to these fixtures. He left the bulbs in their fixtures against the time that we can find the problem and get the power on.

When Reynolds got back to the lobby it was nearing time to leave and we decided we’d better take the lamp to the booth. The 3 of us picked it up and wrestled it to the top of the balcony stairs where we took a brief rest. In another moment we started for the booth. There was a lot of grunting and straining but we finally got it into the booth and onto the pedestal. It looked huge in comparison to the little Orcon 1000 lamp that I had used but I needed the Orcon in the movie trailer and the Peerless would do fine for testing.

Soon Reynolds had to leave and Brandon soon followed. Before I left I had to strike up the old carbon lamp. I’m sure I’m an electrician’s worst nightmare. I popped the cover off the breaker box to get at the 220 volts. I rigged up a contraption out of some wire I found in a drawer and hooked up the rectifier. Humm… Nothing. I worked at it for several minutes but I got no results.

By now I was tired and I had a long drive ahead of me. I gathered my tools and began to load my truck. With that task finished I walked back into the large and empty auditorium. I lay down on one of the carpet runners that once divided the center rows from the side rows and stared for a long while at the ceiling. There was a warm glow in the room from above. No more garish work lights casting long shadows. The Rialto was alive again, glowing with her own light. Slowly I got back onto my aching feet and made my way to the breaker box in the lobby. I really didn’t want to turn the lights off but with the flip of a switch, the
auditorium was returned to its accustomed darkness. “There’s so much to do,” I thought as I locked the front door, “But I love this old theater because with each new task, comes a new adventure!”

Report 6-13-09

I wondered how I was going to load my Peerless lamp house into the bed of my Dodge truck from the movie trailer all by myself. I had backed the truck up to the trailer but I can’t lift the lamp up 3 feet to the truck bed. As I stood studying the problem, my gaze came across an extension ladder laying beside the house. There was my answer. I opened the tailgate, laid the ladder from the tailgate to the trailer, and simply slid the lamp up the ladder and into the truck. After loading the rectifier, carbons, and a few other odds and ends into the truck, I kissed Melanie goodby and drove the 100 miles to Columbus, GA.

I admired the new façade on the Rialto Theater as I pulled into a parking space in front of the theater. It was 11 AM and no one was there to greet me. I unlocked the door and the stale, musty smell of the long-closed building assaulted my olfactory. Nothing had changed since I was here last week. Construction materials used to build the façade still littered the lobby. I found a 5-gallon pail to prop the door open just as my new friend Brandon Marsh pulled up in front of the Rialto. After the usual greetings, I unloaded my toolbox and we set to work opening the water meter cover in front of the theater. There’s still no water in the theater and I was determined to find out how to get it on. With the cover open, we found the main valve closed. I opened it but still nothing. There was no rush of water nor did the dials move. I dashed into the lady’s room, which is nearest to the front door, and turned on the faucet. Still nothing! We replaced the cover and moved to the basement to once again trace out the water lines. I traced one line down the length of the basement towards the back of the theater. I speculated that the water may come from the street behind as it does for the Bradley Theater 2 doors down. That would have to wait. We heard footsteps above us and someone calling “Hello.” It was Reynolds Bickerstaff, the Rialto’s owner.

We met Reynolds in the auditorium and he was carrying an arm load of cleaning supplies. He had brought brooms, trash bags, breathing masks, and best of all, light bulbs. After surveying the supplies, I grabbed a box of bulbs and headed for the attic. Once again I climbed over the old air duct with my flashlight only this time armed with bulbs. I made my way along the dusty old catwalk made of 2 X 10’s supported in the middle by a thin metal strap. This time I did pluck the strap as I passed it. It twanged like a loose guitar string. I passed the 1st lamp that I had replaced the week before and made my way to the second one. I noticed that the old glass reflector was broken. Carefully I lifted it and but one broken piece fell through the opening. I saw it getting
smaller as it fell, hitting the floor below and shattering. I removed the old bulb and screwed in the next one and it came to light. On I went along the rickety catwalk replacing bulbs until I had finished the right side of the auditorium. It was now noon and I could feel the effect of the sun beating down on the black tar roof. I turned my feet around and in the beam of my flashlight, made my way back to the attic entrance.

I was hot and tired as I made my way back into the auditorium but there it was, a full row of lights beaming into the once dark room. The left row would have to wait for me to rest and cool off for a while. Brandon was sweeping the lobby and we could actually see the old red tiles on the floor. I held the dust pan as he swept. Reynolds had a push broom and was sweeping the auditorium. He was sweeping the dirt down the sloping floor and into the open area where we had torn out the rotten
flooring. I thought that was a great idea! He needed no trash bags.

While I was helping Brandon sweep the lobby, one of Reynold’s friends came in. After introductions, he offered to help bring in the lamp house and rectifier. We sat the two pieces in the lobby and made plans on how to best get them up to the booth. We grabbed the rectifier and hauled it up to the balcony and into the booth we went. This would be the first rectifier in the Rialto’s booth. The old motor-generators, that supplied power to the old arc lamps, were still in their places outside the booth. I have no idea if they would still work and there’s probably no one alive today that could get them working. They are an abandoned technology in a day of microprocessors.

When we got back to the lobby we were all thirsty. I had forgotten that we’d need liquid refreshment as we worked in the hot and dusty building. Brandon and I jumped into my truck and we headed across the river to the Piggly Wiggly in Phenix City, Alabama. There I bought water, an ice chest, ice, and snacks.

“Hey Reynolds,” I called as we walked back into the theater. “Look what I bought. RC Colas and Moon Pies!”

Now you have to be Southern to appreciate this most southern of all snacks. There’s even a song called “RC Cola and a Moon Pie.” I grew up on Moon Pies. They were 5 cents back in the day and that was a lot of money. And the Rialto sold RC Cola products so these were probably the first RC Colas to grace the lobby in 35 years.

We iced down our colas and water and went back to cleaning. I decided that it was time to tackle the left side of the auditorium lights so back to the attic I went. Again it was hot and dark but this time I had a bottle of cold water with me. Down the left catwalk, I went slowly changing bulbs as I went. Most of the glass reflectors were broken on this side and I had to be very careful with them as I changed the lamps. As I made my way to the last fixture, in the faint light I noticed something on the air duct. I reached for it and it turned out to be an old popcorn box from many years ago. “Fresh hot Popcorn,” it read with the Martin Theaters logo, Marty Mart, the Martian Man, a little character made from film smiled up at me. I dropped the box through the open lamp fixture and watched it float to the floor below. I replaced the fixture and made my way back down the catwalk and down the ladder. When I climbed back the balcony, the transformation was amazing. The entire auditorium was lit as I remembered it from years ago. I dashed down the stairs where Brandon and Reynolds were in the lobby. I called them into the auditorium and we all stood there taking in the moment. Reynolds turned off the work light and for the first time in 3 and a half decades, the room was filled with its own light.

“I’ll replace the ones over the screen,” said Reynolds as he picked up a package of bulbs and started for the ladder behind the screen. I could see his flashlight as he worked in the area over the screen but alas! There was no power to these fixtures. He left the bulbs in their fixtures against the time that we can find the problem and get the power on.

When Reynolds got back to the lobby it was nearing time to leave and we decided we’d better take the lamp to the booth. The 3 of us picked it up and wrestled it to the top of the balcony stairs where we took a brief rest. In another moment we started for the booth. There was a lot of grunting and straining but we finally got it into the booth and onto the pedestal. It looked huge in comparison to the little Orcon 1000 lamp that I had been using but I needed the Orcon in the movie trailer and the Peerless would do fine for testing.

Soon Reynolds had to leave and Brandon soon followed. Before I left I had to strike up the old carbon lamp. I’m sure I’m an electrician’s worst nightmare. I popped the cover off the breaker box to get at the 220 volts. I rigged up a contraption out of some wire I found in a drawer and hooked up the rectifier. Humm… Nothing. I worked at it for several minutes but I got no results.

By now I was tired and I had a long drive ahead of me. I gathered my tools and began to load my truck. With that task finished I walked back into the large and empty auditorium. I lay down on one of the carpet runners that once divided the center rows from the side rows and stared for a long while at the ceiling. There was a warm glow in the room from above. No more garish work lights casting long shadows. The Rialto was alive again, glowing with her own light. Slowly I got back onto my aching feet and made my way to the breaker box in the lobby. I really didn’t want to turn the lights off but with the flip of a switch, the
auditorium was returned to its accustomed darkness. “There’s so much to do,” I thought as I locked the front door, “But I love this old theater because with each new task, comes a new adventure!”

Report 6-13-09

I wondered how I was going to load my Peerless lamp house into the bed of my Dodge truck from the movie trailer all by myself. I had backed the truck up to the trailer but I can’t lift the lamp up 3 feet to the truck bed. As I stood studying the problem, my gaze came across an extension ladder laying beside the house. There was my answer. I opened the tailgate, laid the ladder from the tailgate to the trailer, and simply slid the lamp up the ladder and into the truck. After loading the rectifier, carbons, and a few other odds and ends into the truck, I kissed Melanie good-by and drove the 100 miles to Columbus, GA.

I admired the new façade on the Rialto Theater as I pulled into a parking space in front of the theater. It was 11 AM and no one was there to greet me. I unlocked the door and the stale, musty smell of the long-closed building assaulted my olfactory. Nothing had changed since I was here last week. Construction materials used to build the façade still littered the lobby. I found a 5-gallon pail to prop the door open just as my new friend Brandon Marsh pulled up in front of the Rialto. After the usual greetings, I unloaded my toolbox and we set to work opening the water meter cover in front of the theater. There’s still no water in the theater and I was determined to find out how to get it on. With the cover open, we found the main valve closed. I opened it but still nothing. There was no rush of water nor did the dials move. I dashed into the lady’s room, which is nearest to the front door, and turned on the faucet. Still nothing! We replaced the cover and moved to the basement to once again trace out the water lines. I traced one line down the length of the basement towards the back of the theater. I speculated that the water may come from the street behind as it does for the Bradley Theater, 2 doors down. That would have to wait. We heard footsteps above us and someone calling “Hello.” It was Reynolds Bickerstaff, the Rialto’s owner.

We met Reynolds in the auditorium and he was carrying an arm load of cleaning supplies. He had brought brooms, trash bags, breathing masks, and best of all, light bulbs. After surveying the supplies, I grabbed a box of bulbs and headed for the attic. Once again I climbed over the old air duct with my flashlight only this time armed with bulbs. I made my way along the dusty old catwalk made of 2 X 10s supported in the middle by a thin metal strap. This time I did pluck the strap as I passed it. It twanged like a loose guitar string. I passed the 1st lamp that I had replaced the week before and made my way to the second one. I noticed that the old glass reflector was broken. Carefully I lifted it and but one broken piece fell through the opening. I saw it getting
smaller as it fell, hitting the floor below and shattering. I removed the old bulb and screwed in the next one and it came to light. On I went along the rickety catwalk replacing bulbs until I had finished the right side of the auditorium. It was now noon and I could feel the effect of the sun beating down on the black tar roof. I turned my feet around and in the beam of my flashlight, made my way back to the attic entrance.

I was hot and tired as I made my way back into the auditorium but there it was, a full row of lights beaming into the once dark room. The left row would have to wait for me to rest and cool off for a while. Brandon was sweeping the lobby and we could actually see the old red tiles on the floor. I held the dust pan as he swept. Reynolds had a push broom and was sweeping the auditorium. He was sweeping the dirt down the sloping floor and into the open area where we had torn out the rotten flooring. I thought that was a great idea! He needed no trash bags.

While I was helping Brandon sweep the lobby, one of Reynold’s friends came in. After introductions, he offered to help bring in the lamp house and rectifier. We sat the two pieces in the lobby and made plans on how to best get them up to the booth. We grabbed the rectifier and hauled it up to the balcony and into the booth we went. This would be the  first rectifier in the Rialto’s booth. The old motor-generators, that supplied power to the old arc lamps, were still in their places outside the booth. I have no idea if they would still work and there’s probably no one alive today that could get them working. They are an abandoned technology in a day of microprocessors.

When we got back to the lobby we were all thirsty. I had forgotten that we’d need liquid refreshment as we worked in the hot and dusty building. Brandon and I jumped into my truck and we headed across the river to the Piggly Wiggly in Phenix City, Alabama. There I bought water, an ice chest, ice, and snacks.

“Hey Reynolds,” I called as we walked back into the theater. “Look what I bought. RC Colas and Moon Pies!”

Now you have to be Southern to appreciate this most southern of all snacks. There’s even a song called “RC Cola and a Moon Pie.” I grew up on Moon Pies. They were 5 cents back in the day and that was a lot of money. And the Rialto sold RC Cola products so these were probably the first RC Colas to grace the lobby in 35 years.

We iced down our colas and water and went back to cleaning. I decided that it was time to tackle the left side of the auditorium lights so back to the attic I went. Again it was hot and dark but this time I had a bottle of cold water with me. Down the left catwalk, I went slowly changing bulbs as I went. Most of the glass reflectors were broken on this side and I had to be very careful with them as I changed the lamps. As I made my way to the last fixture, in the faint light I noticed something on the air duct. I reached for it and it turned out to be an old popcorn box from many years ago. “Fresh hot Popcorn,” it read with the Martin Theaters logo, Marty Mart, the Martian Man, a little character made from film smiled up at me. I dropped the box through the open lamp fixture and watched it float to the floor below.   I replaced the fixture and made my way back down the catwalk and down the ladder. When I climbed back the balcony, the transformation was amazing. The entire auditorium was lit as I remembered it from years ago. I dashed down the stairs where Brandon and Reynolds were in the lobby. I called them into the auditorium and we all stood there taking in the moment. Reynolds turned off the work light and for the first time in 3 and a half decades, the room was filled with its own light.

“I’ll replace the ones over the screen,” said Reynolds as he picked up a package of bulbs and started for the ladder behind the screen. I could see his flashlight as he worked in the area over the screen but alas! There was no power to these fixtures. He left the bulbs in their fixtures against the time that we can find the problem and get the power on.

When Reynolds got back to the lobby it was nearing time to leave and we decided we’d better take the lamp to the booth. The 3 of us picked it up and wrestled it to the top of the balcony stairs where we took a brief rest. In another moment we started for the booth. There was a lot of grunting and straining but we finally got it into the booth and onto the pedestal. It looked huge in comparison to the little Orcon 1000 lamp that I had used but I needed the Orcon in the movie trailer and the Peerless would do fine for testing.

Soon Reynolds had to leave and Brandon soon followed. Before I left I had to strike up the old carbon lamp. I’m sure I’m an electrician’s worst nightmare. I popped the cover off the breaker box to get at the 220 volts. I rigged up a contraption out of some wire I found in a drawer and hooked up the rectifier. Humm… Nothing. I worked at it for several minutes but I got no results.

I love the Rialto

By now I was tired and I had a long drive ahead of me. I gathered my tools and began to load my truck. With that task finished I walked back into the large and empty auditorium. I lay down on one of the carpet runners that once divided the center rows from the side rows and stared for a long while at the ceiling. There was a warm glow in the room from above. No more garish work lights casting long shadows. The Rialto was alive again, glowing with her own light. Slowly I got back onto my  aching feet and made my way to the breaker box in the lobby. I really didn’t want to turn the lights off but with the flip of a switch, the
auditorium was returned to its accustomed darkness. “There’s so much to do,” I thought as I locked the front door, “But I love this old theater, the Rialto because with each new task comes, a new adventure!”


“Rialto John Gilbert”,  by John Gilbert,  contributing essayist Columbus Georgia Online

Rialto Theater Part 1Rialto Theater Part 2 | Rialto Theater Part 3 | Rialto Theater Part 4 | Rialto Theater Part 5 | Rialto Theater Part 6

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