by Jenny Sheets, ThinkTank field reporter
Downtown Bozeman has seen the rugged days of “The West,” the flux and fall of gold diggers, several wars, and The Great Depression. Throughout all of it, The Rialto Theatre has stood as a familiar fixture on Main Street. The original space lent itself to political debates, military drills, and vaudeville acts. It was converted to a storefront in 1907, built in the classic Greco-Roman style with large bay windows and partial arches. Not long after, it became the theatre that locals have known for one hundred years, bringing in artistic avant-garde and independent films. The neon-lit marquee invited patrons to gather together, enjoy films, and sneak peaks at the rest of the world through cinema. The Rialto was part of the heart and soul of downtown Bozeman – that is, until time took its toll and the doors were locked in 2005, and the lights went out on Main Street.
But now, thanks to the vision of architects, Erik Nelson and Brian Caldwell from Thinktank Design Group, as well as the support of the city of Bozeman, The Rialto will be revived. Plans were approved by the city in October 2015 for Thinktank to move forward with a restoration that will preserve the historic elements of the theatre, and at the same time, bring much needed upgrades and practical features, such as Black Box and Light Box theatres, a facelift to the entry awning on Main Street, and a beer and wine license in the future.
While Bozeman has an array of new and historical theatres, Nelson and Caldwell hope to create a progressive, vibrant event space for shows, weddings, lectures, conferences, concerts, and more. They see The Rialto as a place for locals and visitors to gather together, as they have for decades, in the spirit of community, culture, and entertainment. And now, it won’t be long before The Rialto lights up Main Street once again.