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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : blogsold : verde heritage May 26, 2016

Verde Heritage
By Glenda Farley, Cottonwood, AZ
Local historian Glenda Farley guides us on a journey back in time to discover fascinating moments that make up our Verde heritage and history.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013

1923: COTTONWOOD; Rialto Theater, Part 2.

Glenda Farley

"FIGHT FANS EXCITED"

"Judging from the way the tickets are going, there will not be a vacant seat in the new Rialto when it is formally opened with the boxing carnival arranged by the '40 and 8' division of the American Legion post at Clarkdale."

"If Ralph Pena doesn't step out and knock Young Allen's block off at the Rialto Theater, in Cottonwood, next Saturday night, he is going to be a mighty unpopular boy around Jerome, his home town."

"Likewise, if Allen does not send Ralph to dreamland he is going to have to get himself a regular job away from Tom Taylor's smelter; Clarkdale just won't have him."

"Rivalry is running high between the fans of Jerome and Clarkdale over the respective merits of the scrappers. Here on the hill, everybody is touting Pena to win in a walk. It is pointed out that he has fought three or four times around the district, every time against boxers who were far from being duds, and hasn't had his hair mussed yet."

"Down in Clarkdale they admit that Pena has had a pretty easy time of it in his former fights, but they are confident that the cool, crafty, hard-hitting Allen is the man who can remove all pugilistic ambition from Ralph's head and send him back to the muck-stick"

"Altogether it looks as though the fight should be a dandy windup to a wonderful card. The six-round semi-final and the two four-round preliminaries ought to furnish some good sport and get the appetite of the spectators all whetted up for the main event."

(Verde Copper News; Jerome; Tuesday, February 5, 1924; page 1, columns 1-2.)

For Joe Becchetti, managing the Rialto Theater was a family business. His wife and children helped by ushering, selling tickets at the booth, cleaning up after movies, etc. Each of the 5 Becchetti children sang and played an instrument. The Becchetti Family Players entertained the audience when the vaudevilles performed at the theaters. They played for guests in their home, for area picnics and events, and traveled to Phoenix for the Pioneer Picnics and would play on the radio there. After she was maried in 1937, Rachel Becchetti Verretto continued to play her accordion, organ and piano at many community events. (see: The Journal Speciial History Edition; Camp Verde; March 1996; pages 8-10.)

The Rialto Theater was designed with a large entry and foyer with a small shop on the south side of the lobby. This space was often rented out as a clothing store. A canopy was added to the front of the building. Some remodeling was done to the theater when equipment for "talking" movies was installed in 1929, then a larger screen was added in 1930. A new generator room was built and a cooling system was installed.

"JOE BECCHETTI: Grand and Rialto Theaters in Clarkdale and Cottonwood."

"That Joe Becchetti merits the good will and esteem of the thinking people of the whole Verde District for the public-spirited generosity shown in the timely erection of his new Grand Theater in Clarkdale, need hardly be here commented upon. This handsomely appointed, up-to-the-minute amusement house will henceforth enable all classes of people in Clarkdale and vicinity to enjoy the finest and best screen productions that ingenuity and money can procure." ...

"FINE THEATER: The Rialto Theater in Cottonwood, which is also owned and carefully managed by Mr. Becchetti, and members of his respected family, has long served the useful purpose of enhancing the business and social life of the community. Both these splendid theaters are in all respects leading amusement attractions, commensurate with the well ordered indoor and outdoor social life that has long distinguished the widely known romantic physical features of Yavapai county from all other sections of the great Southwest."

"A home-loving, industrious family man, and high-minded patriotic citizen and public benefactor, Mr. Becchetti cannot be too heartily commended for the unselfish part he has already played, and is still playing in furtherance of the best interests of Yavapai county and its people."

(Prescott Evening Courier; June 20, 1936; page 12, column 6.)

Over 100 "Rushes" for movies filmed in the area were reviewed in this theater, bringing Hollywood stars, actors, crews, movie producers and directors to the streets and businesses of Cottonwood. The last "Rushes" were reviewed in 1964, when "The Rounders," starring John Ford and Henry Fonda, was being filmed. "Rushes" were closed to the public, but Josephine Becchetti See remembered seeing the movie stars; John Wayne, Jane Russell, Tyrone Power, Burt Lancaster and others.

The Becchetti family sold their Rialto Theater after Joseph Becchetti was killed in an auto accident on November 1, 1943. In 1960, A. F. Allen, owner of the Rialto Theater in Cottonwood, leased the building to Wes King, who had managed theaters in Cottonwood in 1955 and 1956. (The Verde Independent; "Wes King Leases Valley Theaters;" July 7, 1960.) The business became the Old Town Cinema.

New owners, David and Carolee Austin, named it the Old Town Palace in the spring of 1985. By the 1990's this was the oldest single-screen theater in continuous operation in the United States.

The original building had a Moderne/Streamlined architectural design. As ownership changed, alterations to the exterior and interior were made. The fire on December 8, 1998, left the concrete walls standing. (The Verde Independent; "The Last Picture Show;" February 11, 2008.) After the fire, the Austins sold lot 6, and 4 1/2 feet of lot 5, block 1, Willard Addition, to Patrick Scanlan on December 12, 2000. (Warranty Deed, Book 3798, page 699) Plans were made to restore the building. (The Verde Independent; "Historic Theater to Rise from the Ashes;" January 21, 2002.) Patrick Scanlan sold the property to Eric S. Jurisin on November 25, 2003. (Warranty Deed; Book 4097, page 364) The Rialto Theater was rebuilt with a new architectural style and changes. (The Verde Independent; "Council grants four easements for new Old Town restaurant;" September 13, 2004.) The Tavern, at 914 North Main, still has portions of the historic 1923 concrete walls visible on the interior.

Although the building is located in the Cottonwood Commercial Historic District, it is not considered to be a "contributing element" because the building lost its historic architectural integrity when it was rebuilt. (see: National Register of Historic Places; Historic Propety Inventory Form; 1999 Survey.)




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