Big Changes Slated for Rialto Theatre | Owner Reboots Delayed Repairs, Grants Mosaic Long-Term Lease

Originally published Friday, December 12, 2019 | Years of disrepair have left the local theatre in partial dilapidation; after much pressure by many in the community and several roadblocks in development, the current owner has reached an agreement to immediately begin on the long-awaited renovations

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | "This is Progress

Under new arrangements worked out between the Shomof Group, owner of South Pasadena’s historic Rialto Theatre, and its current tenant, the Mosaic church group, Shomof will take charge of and shortly begin significant restoration work on the building’s exterior while Mosaic will remain in charge of interior restoration.

Building owner Izek Shomof also told the South Pasadenan News that Mosaic will get a new 20-year lease for its weekend religious services. In exchange, his organization, in addition to taking over the exterior work that it can do much less expensively than Mosaic, will also be hired to complete some of the interior work and reclaim the right to lease the building’s two storefront retail spaces.

“We’re going to bring livelihood back into that space,” Shomof told the South Pasadenan News Wednesday. He predicted exterior work would be completed within four-to-six months and that new retail leases would be signed by mid-2020.

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“We are excited that this historic resource is getting some attention and will be available for the community,” said Joanna Hankamer, South Pasadena Planning and Community Development Director. She said the city is supporting the work by helping both Shomof and Mosaic secure the necessary permitting authorizations.

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | “This is Progress

Renovation work at the theater was set to resume pursuant to a conditional use permit Mosaic received in December 2017 when it sought to occupy the building. But the church group’s work has lagged, requiring multiple permit extensions. Doubts about Mosaic’s ability to follow through spiked in September when it began negotiating with the South Pasadena Unified School District to move its services to a District facility, a proposal the District ultimately abandoned.

But now Shomof Group, which bought the building five years ago for a reported $2 million, is working with the city to prepare an application for a pedestrian safety permit. That will allow Shomof to erect scaffolding on the sidewalks around the 94-year-old theater at the corner of Fair Oaks Ave. and Oxley St., enabling workers access to the building’s exterior walls and roof.

Shomof’s contractors “are standing by to start work as soon as the building permit is issued,” according to a city staff report presented last week to the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission. Once the permit is granted, Shomof will have 36 months to complete the work though, as noted, he says it will be done well before that.

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | The historic Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena on Fair Oaks Ave will finally be seeing some much needed repairs

The proposed work includes 46 specific items grouped into 13 areas including repairs to damaged concrete and stucco walls; cast stone and plaster repairs; repairs to windows, doors, roofing, stairs, railings, copings and flashing; extensive work on the existing storefront, including restoring the marquee, blade sign, and the cracked or missing tiles in the pavement at the building’s entrance.

The Cultural Heritage Commission was pleased to see the work is slated to be consistent with architectural exterior treatment recommendations flagged in the very exhaustive, 318-page Historic Structure Report (HSR) prepared for Mosaic by Pasadena’s Architectural Resource Group. The report, dated September 5, 2017, was filed pursuant to Mosaic’s December 2017 conditional use permit.

The CHC reviewed the HSR and a work plan on March 15, 2018 but asked for separate review of the exterior work, which is what was presented last week. The CHC was especially pleased to learn that the owners would take the lead on the exterior work.

Under the CUP, Mosaic promised to repair the second-floor bathrooms, which it has, and to build ADA-compliant bathrooms on the first floor, work which is still not done. Shomof said his group will be engaged by Mosaic to finish the downstairs bathrooms.

Mosaic also agreed to restore the building for weekday use by the community as a theater with a capacity of up to 700 people. But meeting the terms of the HSR would have been very costly.

Shomof told the South Pasadenan News that the slow pace of the work Mosaic was accomplishing accounted for “a little bit of the reason” for the new arrangements.

Working with the city has “not been bad at all,” he said, especially as new people have come on board who “want to see improvement and want the city to get better, unlike the previous people who used to be there.”

If the city is “going to be tight and tough, then that postpones” improvements, he added. “We are trying to beautify that theater and are hoping the city will compromise and work with us.”

Erwin McManus, founder and lead pastor of Mosaic, declined to provide details about the new arrangements. However, in a statement sent to the South Pasadenan News, he wrote “Mosaic and the owners continue to partner together and restore the Rialto. This is an extensive project and will require years of love and attention as well as financial commitment. We hope the city of South Pasadena will see this as a gift to the community and extend to us cooperation and goodwill. We hope the Rialto will be our home for many years to come.”

Mosaic is set to present a free screening of “Miracle on 34th Street” at the Rialto Theatre this Saturday at 6:00 pm.


Ben Tansey
Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle.