A local nonprofit will pay an undisclosed amount to purchase a nearly century-old theater in Westfield that’s been closed for two years, according to an Oct. 25 announcement.
The Rialto Theater, located on East Broad Street, will be purchased by the Westfield Arts Council — a newly-formed nonprofit — and converted into an art center.
Beth Cassie, a Westfield-based consultant and head of the collective, said the redone and newly minted Center for Creativity at the Rialto will be a “community gathering space for creating, experiencing, and enjoying art in many forms.”
“Our vision is to build a creative hub in downtown Westfield where makers, artists, actors, writers, and musicians of all ages and experience can connect, create, learn, and build community,” she continued in a statement.
The downtown theater struggled for decades, as recounted in a 1997 New York Times article titled “What News On The Rialto? A Theater Is Saved.”
The theater opened in 1922 with a showing of “Sonny” with Richard Barthelmess and “Cops” starring Buster Keaton, according to the movie theater guide Cinema Treasures. It was taken over by United Artists in 1966, expanded in 1978 and again in 1997, with ownership changing from Digiplex to Carmike Cinemas, and then NewVision Theatres in 2017.
In August 2019, the Rialto closed abruptly due to a landlord-tenant dispute, according to MyCentralJersey.com
Phase one of work on the theater includes the renovation of the lobby and restoration of one of the theaters. The lobby would be able to hold small gatherings such as author and poetry readings, while the theater could host programs and presentations, film screenings and live performances. Later work calls for renovating the remaining five theaters and office space.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 28.
“This effort brings us a giant step closer to our goal of making Westfield a regional destination for arts and culture,” Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the township and council declined to share the price at which the theater was bought, and to provide a copy of the agreement, saying both were private details.
According to state property tax records, the 250 East Broad Street address, along with 244 to 256 East Broad Street, are all owned by Rialto Holding Company and valued at a combined $5.28 million.