Working to restore Beeville's historic Rialto Theater

Mark Parsons of the Hall-Rialto Preservation Association has called Beeville his home since 1978. He moved in at the tail end of the era of the once grand Rialto Theater.

CORPUS CHRISTI (KIII NEWS) - For residents of Beeville in 1922, when it was just a small farming town struggling to survive, going to a movie theater was a great way to escape the daily grind.

Now, a once thriving movie house from that time is poised to make a comeback, but first they have to raise some money to rebuild it.

Mark Parsons of the Hall-Rialto Preservation Association has called Beeville his home since 1978. He moved in at the tail end of the era of the once grand Rialto Theater.

"So many people have wonderful memories, you know, of the Rialto Theater," Parsons said.

For the last 20 years, Parsons made it a mission to help restore the once ornate movie house into as close as to its original state as possible.

"It is a historic theater," Parsons said. "It's one that was done by John Eberson after the fire in 1935. John Eberson, who's done the Majestic Theater in San Antonio and Houston, he was the architect that redesigned the theater here."

Built in 1922, the Rialto Theater was an escape for residents. It was the first building in the community to have air conditioning. At the height of WWII, movie stars like John Wayne, Chill Wills and even Babe Ruth stopped by promoting the sale of war bonds.

"It was always ahead of its time," Parsons said. "It actually had a radio station that was there too, years and years ago when it first opened."

The theater was the flagship for more than 30 others in the Coastal Bend owned by the Sid Hall family.

The Preservation Association has already invested a lot of money to bring the structure up to code.

"A lot of infrastructures has been done," Parsons said. "We have most of the electrical work completed. The air conditioning duct work. We have two large air conditioners that are already mounted on the theater, ready for the final connection. All the electrical work has been done. Plumbing has been done. We have a fire suppression system. Fire extinguishers all in place with that."

Still, there is much to be done, mostly cosmetic.

"The original curtains are there and so we want to see if perhaps we can get those redone by somebody out there," Parsons said.

The Association has raised $1 million but more is needed. They are hopeful someone out there -- a generous donor perhaps, or even someone in the entertainment industry -- might be interested in helping restore the theater back to its grandeur. They hope to complete it in a year-and-a-half.

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