Save The Rialto Theater Report Part 3

Save the Rialto Theater

Save the Rialto Theater Report 3-19-09 Part 3

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


Save the Rialto Theater Melanie Sweeping COLUMBUS, GA. — My wife Melanie is a brave soul. When I was planning what to do next to save the Rialto Theater, she said that she wanted to tackle the Ladies Room. Because I had to work Wednesday evening, we left Stockbridge early and arrived at the Rialto about 10:00. I was very pleased to see that the façade was nearly complete. We unloaded our tools and cleaning supplies. Inside the auditorium I found several workmen tearing out the rest of the rotted floor that Reynolds Bickerstaff and I started several weeks ago. They had carried the wood that we had torn out and had already filled a dumpster. As I set to work setting up a light in the lady’s room, Melanie started scrapping loose plaster from the balcony walls. Reynolds had told me that the water meter had been put in place in front of the theater and I went to check it out. Sure enough, there was a new meter in its box. I looked to see if there was a valve to turn the water on like the meter at home but I didn’t see one. “The valve must be in the basement,” I thought. I got my flashlight and again descended the stairway to the dark cellar. There was a maze of pipes running overhead but which one was the water pipe? I followed several pipes into one dark and cramped room to what must have been the head end of the sprinkler system. There were large black iron pipes with pressure gauges all pointing “0” on their dials. There was a large red wheel where the pipe came out of the wall. I wondered if that had something to do with the water system so I tried to give it a turn. I heaved with all my might on the wheel but it wouldn’t budge. After a few tries I abandoned the wheel and tried a few smaller valve handles on other pipes. They were all to tight to turn. 35 years had taken its toll on all the valves in the basement.

“Do we have any water yet,” Melanie asked as I climbed up from out of the darkness.

“I can’t figure out how to turn it on,” I answered.

I can usually figure most anything out. My mother was a very clever woman. If she wanted a bookshelf or a laundry chute, she would build it. My father had good mechanical skills. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t fix, except the toaster. For years I heard the toaster story where my father tried to fix the toaster and he wound up having to buy
a new one. I always figured I got my cleverness from my mother and my mechanical ability from my father so this was very puzzling to me. Why couldn’t I figure out how to get the water on?

“I need some gloves and water if I’m going to work on the lady’s room,” Melanie continued.

I went to the finance company next door and asked where the nearest store was. I was told there was one just across the 13th St. Bridge in Phenix City. I purchased the things Melanie needed, including a gallon of water, and in a moment I was back in the basement. I quickly discovered the pipes that ran to the bathroom and traced them back.
They all ran into that large black iron pipe! This was maddening! Again I tried the large red wheel but with no success. I’d finally had enough. There would be no water this trip.

Next I went to the car. I had brought a 300 watt per channel stereo mixer amp. I hefted the heavy amp up the stairs and into the projection booth. I guess I’m getting too old for this kind of stuff. I had to stand there and huff and puff for a few minutes before I found a place for the amp. I set to work disconnecting the little PA amp I’d been using and put the larger amp in its place. After I had everything hooked up I plugged in a microphone.

“Check, Check,” my voice boomed through the theater.

Save the Rialto Theater

The workers stopped and looked towards the booth. If the mic sounded so good, I wondered how the projector would sound. I plugged the sound cord into the amp and flipped my finger through the exciter lamp beam.

Rialto John Gilbert peeking while saving the Rialto Theater“Thump, thump,” came a sound from the speaker as my finger broke the beam. I grabbed a reel of film and threaded the projector. I turned the projector on and the soundtrack filled the auditorium. I ran into the booth to listen. Boy! The sound was so much better than the little PA amp. I dashed back into the booth and struck the lamp and focused the picture onto what’s left of the screen. I ran back onto the balcony to have a look. The workmen saw the picture and turned off their work light.

“Hey, a free movie,” someone yelled.

We watched a few minutes of the film before I was satisfied that everything looked and sounded good and then I turned it off. The workmen went back to their jobs and I looked at the time.

“I need more water,” Melanie said as I walked downstairs.

“It’s about time to pack it in,” I answered. I’ve got to be at work at 6:00.”

I looked at the ladies room and got a real shocker. Melanie had not only cleaned the fixtures but was wiping years of grime from off the walls. The walls were looking really good. Melanie’s not too tall and I could see where she had stopped at the top of her reach. I’ll have to get her a ladder next time.

We gathered our things and left the theater to the workmen and headed for home. Once again I was happy with what we had accomplished and happy that my sweetheart was working by my side to save the Rialto.


“Save The Rialto Theater Report Part 3”,  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

About John Gilbert 46 Articles

John Gilbert is a terrific story teller and “Save The Bradley” is historic, funny and entertaining! John’s special talent is to awaken the child in us all, this is why the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckle Berry Finn were so popular. John’s easy style, descriptive details, humor and just plain nice guy attitude makes John, without question, our modern day Mark Twain. Read one of John’s stories and see if you agree?

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