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Confused about the Rio Theatre? Here’s a timeline.

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A brief history of the Rio Theatre

On Feb. 8, the owners of the Rio Theatre announced that their offer to buy the building that houses the cinema was accepted. The message came via Tweet:

An exact amount wasn’t mentioned, although a cbc.ca story says that the “creative offer” (as the Rio puts it) is “higher than the building’s recent assessment of $4.3 million to match the developer’s offer.” The theatre operators have sixty days to raise the downpayment.

In the meantime, on social media, celebs like Kevin Smith and Elijah Wood have rushed to support the theatre, one of the last independent cinemas in the city.

This isn’t the first time the East Vancouver theatre has been in the news.

There was the 2006 renovation and reopening spearheaded by a Vancouver businessman. Two years later, there was the resale of the 400+ seat theatre to a small consortium of local businesspeople.

In 2012, Rio owner Corinne Lea took on Christy Clark’s Liberal government to fight for the right to serve alcohol. In 2015, a crowdfunding effort helped replace the sign.

Then there have been the brushes with notoriety and celebrity. In 2011, self-proclaimed Hollywood outlaws Randy Quaid and his wife Evi created a media sensation when they screened scenes from their conspiracy-minded documentary Starwhackers. In 2013, while filming The Interview in Vancouver, actor James Franco saw a screening of The Room at the Rio. The famously terrible film inspired Franco to make his 2017 movie The Disaster Artist.

Below is a timeline of the Rio culled from various online articles and newspaper reports. Info on the Rio between 1938-2006 is somewhat harder to find, but in the coming days I’ll attempt to update the timeline with any info I come across.

A Rio Theatre timeline

1938—The Rio Theatre opens on April 7. According to the Vancouver Sun, the first movies screen were James Cagney in Something to Sing About and Ann Dvorak in She’s No Lady. “Ticket prices were 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children.”

Rio Theatre Vancouver history and timeline

2006—After investing $2m in renovations, Mukesh (Mike) Goyal reopens the theatre in May as the Rio on Broadway. The first movie: Mission Impossible 3. Except for brief stints showing Chinese and Indian movies, the Rio had mostly been dark for the previous two decades.

2008—Goyal sells the theatre to a group of investors. According to a story in the Georgia Straight, the new owners are “Watermelon (known for selling pot cookies at Wreck Beach); ‘Mango’ Joe Raguero, Dollhouse Studios’ operations manager; and former Havana restaurant owner and burlesque dancer ‘Shameless’ Corinne Lea.”

2010—Rio owner Corinne Lea applies for a primary liquor license from the province. Rich Coleman is the B.C. minister responsible for liquor policies under Christy Clark.

2011—May. Lea sells the building to Leonard Schein, who founded the Vancouver International Film Festival and president of Festival Cinemas (Fifth Avenue Cinemas, the Ridge Theatre, and the Park Theatre), and Tom Lightburn (also a co-owner of Festival Cinemas). Lea’s company keeps the Rio itself. According to the Georgia Straight, she secures a 20-year lease (“five years and an option”). An upgrade in equipment is announced.

Oct. Lea collects a petition of over 2000 names asking for changes to the province’s liquor laws. Vancouver city council endorses the application.

2012—Jan. The BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch grants the Rio a liquor license with on the condition that the theatre, which had been screening movies for 74 years (when it wasn’t closed), stop screening movies.
Feb. After a public campaign spearheaded by Lea, the province issues a provincial policy directive allowing the Rio to screen movies at certain times, as long as alcohol isn’t served. Lea claims the directive is still too restrictive. The BC Civil Liberties Liberties Association, headed by executive director David Eby, backs the Rio owner.
March. A coalition of independent theatres, performance venues and film festivals join the Rio Theatre’s fight to change provincial liquor regulations.
April The BC LCLB changes laws preventing theatres from selling alcohol.

2013—Lea receives the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Rio Theatre Vancouver history and timeline
Game of Thrones Burlesque at the Rio Theatre, Vancouver, March 28 2014. Just one of the many sensational shows the Rio has hosted since 2008. Patrick Rooney photo for thesnipenews.com.

2015—A crowdfunding campaign helps raise $16k to repair the Rio sign.

2018—Jan. Building owner Leonard Schein lists the property (the theatre is part of a 6,350-square-foot property on a 50″ by 127′ lot, according to the Georgia Straight).
Feb—The Rio announces that its bid has been accepted.

Over the past two decades, most of the city’s single screen and independent movie theatres have shut down. These include the Hollywood, the Ridge, Richmond Centre 6 Cinemas, Van East Cinema, Denman Place Cinema, Collingwood Cinema, the Dolphin Theatres in Burnaby, and Empire Oakridge Cinemas.

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