Owners: Rialto (Bebington) Ltd.
Date Opened: 27th July 1933.
Seating capacity: 1274.
First film shown: “Tell Me Tonight” starring Jan Kiepura and Sonnie Hale.
John Compton 2Manual/5Ranks organ installed & opened by Albert E. Askew.
Date closed: Mid 1961.
Final film shown: “Payroll” starring Michael Craig.
The population of Bebington on the Wirral was approximately 28700 at the time the plans were put forward to build the Rialto cinema, which was to be positioned on a corner site of Bebington Road and Alma Street, so the capacity of 1274 seats was considered sufficient for this modern cinema.
The frontage was well proportioned with a warm red toned brick used for the majority of the facing, with a dado of light stone at street level and a corresponding band of stonework topping off the full width of the facade. This also had a wide central stone work feature that supported the name Rialto in large letters.
Centre to the front of the building was a deep metal canopy which gave cover to the steps that led up to the main entrance doors. Above this canopy were three tall, arched windows that had ornate stone work bordering the framework and a stone balconette which ran across the sill of the three windows. Very high windows that stretched more than 50% the height of the facade were positioned left and right of the canopy. A separate entrance and cash desk was provided at the side for front stalls patrons.
On entering the lobby, customers found an elegantly designed curved and centrally placed cash desk, with sets of double doors to the left and right that guided them into the stalls waiting lounge. To the immediate sides of these doors were the two staircases that led up to the balcony foyer. Illumination in the entrance lobby was by a large glass octagon shaped metal framed light fitting. Similar fittings provided the lighting in the main auditorium.
The balcony lounge was luxuriously fitted out with a modern pattern deep pile carpet, drapes and matching pelmets on the three windows and an array of leather settees and chairs. The ceiling had three deep recessed rectangular bays, each containing a large light fitting.
The balcony did not overhang the stalls area, so avoided a claustrophobic feeling that sometimes was experienced by rear stalls customers. The auditorium’s barrel ceiling was formed by series of recessed rectangular panels with the centre banks featuring four huge metal framed glass light fittings, whilst the side banks contained ornate ventilation grills. More illumination was provided by light fittings on the side walls and under the ceiling perimeter overhangs.
On the splay walls were sumptuously decorated arches with bold borders forming apertures around them. The splendid stage draperies were pleasing to the eye. With a rich velvet and bordered pelmet that complemented the house tabs (curtains). The several sets of screen curtains completed the stage dressing. The proscenium was a respectable 40′ in width.
A small John Compton 2Manual/5Ranks organ with an illuminated console was installed. The console was not on a lift, so the stage barrier was designed so that there was an unobstructed view of the organist by the audience. Organist Albert E Askew opened the Rialto organ.
The projection suite was equipped with Kalee Eleven projectors with HML automatic fed arcs. Western Electric sound system and Kershaw’s C lenses fitted.
A large 100 space free car park was provide at the rear of the building.
The Grand Opening took place on Thursday 27th July 1933 when the first film shown was the British musical comedy “Tell Me Tonight” starring Jan Kiepura and Sonnie Hale. The Compton organ was opened by organist Albert E Askew.
The Rialto enjoyed good business in the heyday of cinema during the 1930s & 40s. However, in line with hundreds of other UK cinemas in the 1950s, the Rialto suffered with the steep decline in audience numbers. Customers were disenchanted with poor product, and turned in favour to television. Independently run cinemas like the Rialto suffered from product starvation due to the large cinema circuits stopping them from showing films until they had run the business out of them.
The Rialto became an early casualty of cinema closures playing it’s last film “Payroll” starring Michael Craig in mid 1961. The building was then used by several businesses including a storage facility for a removals company. In the late 1980s it became a “Breaks Snooker Club”.
The building has since been demolished.