As I traveled the Big Sky Country in the first half of this decade and revisited its many historic places and landscapes, one place I worried about was the Rialto Theater in Bozeman. In the early 1984, when I was carrying out the statewide survey for the state historic preservation plan, residents and officials in Bozeman proudly showed off one of the city’s first significant preservation renovations. The Rialto, which was once a 1908 post office from the town’s homesteading boom transformed into a movie theater in 1924, was renovated and updated in 1982. That successful project, we all thought in the early 1980s, proved the power of historic preservation. Then I heard twenty years later, in 2005, that the theater closed. I visited Bozeman in 2006 and looked at the shuttered building but everyone then thought the reopening was just around the corner. I was surprised, and concerned, in 2014 when I returned to Bozeman, and found the theater still closed, but a campaign to save it was underway (see the image above).
I am happy to report that the campaign proved successful. When I returned yet again to Bozeman in May 2018, the theater had reopened earlier in the year. The return of its flashy Art Deco-influenced marquee adds immeasurably to the architecture of downtown Bozeman and its many events help to keep the city’s downtown vibe going strong. Once again, the Rialto is showing residents and visitors how historic preservation makes a difference in one of Montana’s most rapidly changing places.