by Carly McDevitt & Teddy Mebane
We’ve all been there. From endless popcorn to marquee promposals to lines around the corner, the Westfield Rialto is a town icon.
Since opening on Sept. 6, 1922, the Rialto has undergone many changes. After a renovation in the 1960s, one of the first films shown was Gone with the Wind, which played for six months straight. In the 1970s, the theater became a triplex, or three-screen, theater to accommodate major releases of the time, like Star Wars, Jaws and Grease.
In 1996, the “Save the Rialto” campaign fought plans to change the theater into a Banana Republic retail store. Led by 250 volunteers and Main Street Westfield (the former name of the Downtown Westfield Corporation), Mr. Jesse Sayegh, president of CJM Entertainment, purchased the business from its former owners, United Artists, and turned it into a 6-screen, 1,050-seat venue.
Said Ms. Sherry Cronin, executive director of Downtown Westfield Corporation: “Rialto is important to Westfield because it is beyond a good place to watch movies. It has programming that broadens people’s choices among entertainment platforms. And, it brings people downtown.”
In 2011, the theater was purchased by Digiplex Destinations, which owned it until 2014 when it was purchased by Carmike Theaters. On March 3 of this year, AMC announced that it will be purchasing Carmike.
Ms. Doreen Sayegh is the current vice president of alternative programming, a department that hosts special events at the Rialto. Sayegh said the most popular of the special events are video games, which allow players to use the theater screen from their personal devices.
The theater brought members of the community together during “Save the Rialto” campaign and is still a destination for kids of all ages. Sayegh said: “Rialto is my baby. I’ve spent a lot of time here since 1996, and I know a lot of people in the town and their kids, and I’ve felt responsible for both them and the theater. It’s a beautiful building and a beautiful town. It deserves the love it gets.”