The move to revive one of downtown Beeville’s most prodigious landmarks has been ongoing for nearly two decades.
According to Mark Parsons, president of The Hall/Rialto Preservation Association, more than $1 million raised from individuals and organizations has been spent on the ongoing renovation and restoration of the Rialto Theater.
“We’ve been doing it piece by piece as we get the funding,” he said.
A lot of activity has been noticeable over the past month at the theater on North Washington Street, with construction workers from Beck Brothers on site almost daily. Parsons said Beck Brothers has donated a significant amount of work to bring the movie house back to its former glory, thanks to the company’s owner Robert Beck.
Parsons said, “Robert Beck is on our board. His mother was one of our first board members. She was one of those who got together, went to the bank and got the money to save the building after it had been closed up for quite some time.”
The goal now is to convert the theater into a regional performing arts center to bring more arts and culture to the area, with events such as Ballet Folklorico, the Western Week pageant and more, Parsons said.
“The stage has been enlarged,” he said.
Work also has included a new roof and the repair and replacement of a majority of the building’s infrastructure, such as electrical, plumbing and fire sprinklers. Parsons said a majority of the remaining tasks are “cosmetic,” but a few critical components are needed as well.
“We still need stage lighting and sound equipment,” he said. “Some of the acoustic materials have deteriorated. When the roof leaked some years ago, some were damaged.”
Setting a target completion date depends on available funding.
“If we had all of the funding in place, It would be a 2 1/2- to three-year space to get it the way we would like to have it,” Parsons said. “That would take at least another million bucks. Then again, I’m just grasping at figures because we don’t have people to tell us exactly what we need to do in terms of stage lighting. Things like that make it more difficult to seek funding.”
He made sure to praise the community for its continued support of the project, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic making it more difficult to do fundraising activities.
“We certainly don’t have a surplus to do all the things we’d like to do,” Parson said.
In addition to the main auditorium space being turned into the performance space, Parsons said the preservation association would like to open the wall between the theater and the attached barber shop to have a more space. The fate of the balcony is yet unknown, but he said it possibly could be converted to a membership-type club, offices or a rehearsal space.
All reservation and restoration activity has been performed under guidance from the League of Historic American Theaters and the Texas State Historical Commission.
The Rialto Theater is just one Beeville landmark that history lovers want to save. Michelle Clark Trevino, executive director of Beeville Main Street, believes that future success depends on holding onto pieces of the past.
“Preservation is an economic development booster,” she said. “People are attracted to historic buildings.”
Because preservation is part of Main Street’s mission, Trevino said the organization’s relationship with the state’s historical commission allows the local organization to receive free architectural design advice about how to update the building while keeping its historical integrity in mind. Structures in the downtown area are subject to Beeville’s preservation ordinance that was adopted in 2008.
Preserving buildings like the Rialto help to build a spirit of nostalgia, which Trevino said fosters pride among residents while attracting visitors to the city.
“Historic preservation is economic development,” she said. “It brings people. It unites people.”