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  • Writer's pictureNina Magie

Rialto Marquee Makeover

The marquee of the historic Rialto Theatre is a familiar icon when traveling down Broadway, and now this grand old dame is getting a facelift. According to Kristi Carlon-Strain the marquee needs a bit of refurbishment. In 1997 the marquee was restored to resemble its 1950s appearance. Since that time it has certainly served the community well, but is starting to show her age.

Strain stated the marquee is in the process of being repainted and some neon is being repaired. These updates are being made in conjunction with roof and interior/exterior repairs to both the Rialto and Arts Center buildings.

The Rialto Marquee
The Rialto Marquee is one of downtown Morrilton's most iconic features.

While the City of Morrilton is paying for the Rialto roof, Strain said the funds to perform the additional repairs are coming from grants (including one from Main Street), rental fees of the theatre and arts center buildings, and/or rental of the marquee. Various local fundraisers, a stall at the First Thursday Farmers’ Market, a variety of performances, and private contributions from individuals are also an important source of revenue.

If you or your organization are interested in donating to the Rialto/Arts Center you may:

  • Make a PayPal donation via their website;

  • Mail checks to P.O. Box 176, Morrilton, AR 72110; or

  • Drop by Morrilton City Hall and ask for Shawnna Bowles.


History of the Rialto Theatre

Opened in 1911 by Guy O. Vail the Rialto was the first motion picture theater in Morrilton. In 1925, the Rialto was sold to I. W. Nance and was renamed the Grand Theatre. A short two years later, the Grand was purchased by a subsidiary of Malco Theaters, Inc. and renamed the Rialto Theatre. On February 16, 1930 the first talking movie, Fast Life, was shown.

In July of 1952, United Theaters Corporation purchased the Rialto and conducted a complete remodel including adding 175 seats to the balcony. The theatre was a major entertainment attraction for the next few decades.

In 1981 the United Artists theatre chain purchased the Rialto and renovated it into three separate theaters. Even with those changes, the Rialto could not compete with larger and more technologically updated theaters in cities to the east and west. Sadly the theater was closed in 1987.

After years of sitting idle (and losing a little of her luster), the Rialto was slated to become a parking lot. Enter former Mayor Stewart Nelson and Mr. Lindall Roberts (first president of Rialto Arts Center board). They spearheaded a movement to save the Rialto and convert it into a performance theatre. With the assistance of dedicated community members and various grants, the building was acquired by the City of Morrilton in 1995. The Rialto Community Arts Center (Arts Council of Conway County) was founded in 1996, and they still oversee the building and its use.



“Rialto Community Arts Center: What to Know,” (blog), accessed March 29, 2021,

“Rialto Community Arts Center,” (blog), accessed March 29, 2021,

“Rialto History,” Rialto Community Arts Center, accessed March 29, 2021,

Tim Holder, “Morrilton’s Rialto Theatre Undergoes Epic Transformation Through the Years,” Rockefeller Institute, June 15, 2017, accessed March 29, 2021,

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