"tucson underground"
Navigation border corner


The Rialto


places / rialto

318 East Congress
Tucson, AZ 85701
Phone: (520) 740-0126

The Rialto's motto is "Dedicated to the idea that the place where you have an event is as important as the event itself." This motto suits the Rialto, where its history is as colorful as the bands that play there. The Rialto is Tucson's oldest performance theater and manages to adapt to the times by hosting a wide variety of acts. It seems like everyone and anything has been at the Rialto: The Ataris, Insane Clown Posse, the Sex Worker's Art show and a whole slew of local bands. Tucson owes a lot to the Rialto, who helped put a sleepy western town on the nation's cultural map.


Who you'll see there depends on who booked the theater. Depending on who's playing, you could find yourself among anything-from a horde of face-painted ICP fans, to zoot suited swing dancers, or even die-hard fans of a local band.


Yes, they serve booze! The selection is limited to what comes in bottles, so they have longnecks at fairly reasonable prices. For the 21 and under crowd, they also have sodas.


Get tickets in advance! They do run out of tickets for more popular shows!


Apart from architecture that you won't find in another building, the walkway outside the Theater deserves mention. Anyone who donated $100 or more to the Rialto Foundation (see Management) got to inscribe a message on a brick in the walkway outside the theater. Take a few seconds to read them; you'll see the names of a few local legends, alongside some witty comments.


You could write a college dissertation on the history of the Rialto. The Rialto was constructed way back in 1919. Back then, the Rialto's stage was the largest in the Western states, and was by far the most elegant playhouse west of the Mississippi.

In 1948, the Rialto changed its name to the Paramount, but a decade later the theater degraded into a porno palace known as the Cine Plaza. In 1978, the theater decided to attract a different clientele and switched to show first-run Spanish-language films. A fire ravaged the theater in 1981 followed by a boiler explosion in 1984. These two disasters forced the theater to close once more. Unused for a decade and in disrepair, the Rialto was scheduled for demolition. The current management, who actively sought to preserve such a historic structure, bought up the property.


Paul Bear and Jeb Schoonover are the current directors of the non-profit Rialto Foundation, responsible for longevity and preservation of this unique theater.