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Monday, June 11, 2012

Rio Theatre, 140 Parker Avenue, Rodeo, CA

Mid 70's

Capacity 425

Built in 1939 at a cost of $60,000. The owner was S.J. Claeys. The 125x50-foot concrete structure seated 600, including 100 in the stadium-style balcony. The first lessee was Cecil Pace.

Original popcorn machine at the Rio
This was a theater located in the town of Rodeo, on the main street in it's business district.

In 1968-69 this theater was used to host rock shows. I remember seeing Al Kooper, Michael Bloomfield (recall Super Session LP) with Nick Gravenites. With all the seats removed, this was a great underground scene. There was quite a crowd, so I was hoping that this would turn into something like the Fillmore (SF). Too bad the owners could not continue as a rock concert venue.(2)

"While they were up on the top of that structure one or two of the older locals that were around in the original construction days (1939) dropped by and told tales of one of the workers falling to his death "right here" pointing to a spot on the floor right below the scaffolding. Fact or fiction? Don't know but I heard it from more than one of these visitors that often walked in to check on our progress"(4)

Maria Muldaur (Midnight at the Oasis fame) dedicated a song on one of her albums called “rio” as she used to attend this theatre as a child.

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 John Cippolina played the same night that Michael Bloomfield and a stage FULL of other greats.(3)

At one of the Elvin Bishop shows at the Rio Elvin and the sax player (Terry Hanks?) were wireless and walked through the dance floor , up the Isles and up on the bar raising the roof! 

The last movie shown was "Gone With The Wind" and so was The Rio Theater as a movie theater maybe forever.

Here is an article from the Oakland Tribune dated 2/9/76:
Two young men with unbridled optimism and a fondness for fantasy
plan to reopen the Rio theater here, probably on Friday night. But the Rio, closed for more than three years, will not be just a movie
house, according to Peter Van Kleef and Steve Levine. It also will present live entertainment, lectures and educational programs.
Van Kleef also wants to hold music programs at the 430 seat Rio “because it’s the ideal situation for small concerts”. The Rio has been closed since December 1972, when its last operator died.
The theater was built and opened in 1940 and flourished through World War II and into the 1950s before the advent of Interstate 80. There is no movie theater in west Contra Costa north of El Sobrante, Levine noted. He believes the Rio’s variety of offerings will attract people from as far away as Vallejo. Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill.
Lobby, Rio Theater

The interior is not the same anymore, white washed out, the beautiful mermaid murals were all painted over
Closed for good in 1980, a few members of this group have gone to the old Rio Theater location to discover that it is a Church these days. It has been a church for a few years and will not be a night club again until some time after the second coming.(1) Today, the theater is used as a church while there are many vacant storefronts in the surrounding area.
Getting a new look.

Jerry performed here on
8/10/69 Sons Of Champlin

I went to the Rio theater once back in the late 60’s to see The Sons of Chaplain, a great rock group. Jerry Garcia was onstage with them, it was a good concert. It was a small theater the stage had pretty red draperies and gold tassles hanging down on the sides. I remember when Larry Singleton was paroled to Rodeo, the residents stirred up a furor, and the news showed the Rio marquee and it said “get out”(6)

3/11/79 Reconstruction
4/6/79 Reconstruction
6/8/79 Reconstruction
7/20/79 Reconstruction
1/24/80 Jerry Garcia Band

 1.)^Ellsworth, Jim, 2012-04-10,
2.)^Moore, Mike, 2012-01-06,
3.)^Ellsworth, Jim, 2012-02-16,
4.)^Ellsworth, Jim, 2012-03-12,
5.)^Ellsworth, Jim, 2012-01-25,
6.)^celaniasdawn on March 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm, cinema treasures.


  1. The 68 to 69 rock group venue timeline is mistaken

  2. The 68 to 69 rock group venue timeline is mistaken

  3. I drew the plans approved by the planning department for The Rio Theatre and Dance Club renovation from theater to nightclub and designed and directed stage lighting for many of the shows after opening.
    Dean Brady

  4. I'm pretty sure that the original murals were Indians in the Old West, not mermaids. The lighted wall sconces were a thunderbird design. It was typical Art Deco, although the theater was probably built after the Art Deco era. I used to go to the theater often in the '60s and '70s. They showed a lot of Disney and Elvis movies, usually second-run. They showed "Bonnie and Clyde" during the original release frame, and I later learned that film studio designed the film to roll out in small town theaters first, so it was an exception to the Rio being mostly a second-run house. I was only four or five when I saw it, and I was a bit traumatized by the violence (it was before the era of movie ratings, so my parents did not know it was that violent). The later incarnation also featured second runs of movies. I never did get to any of the concerts.

  5. Thanks for this updated list. Waiting for more sites…
    Aluminium Scaffolding Rental In Pune

  6. I remember seeing the Michael Spears Band and Ranger face each other in a Battler of the Bands in the early 80's at the Rio. Ranger won and got the "contract" and renamed themselves "Night Ranger" and fame soon after. MSB put on a great show (Napa boys like myself...had a rehearsal space next to ours)and Mike, Rhino and Kit were all friends...hated to see them get second place, but Ranger was bad to the bone...well deserved win! Miss Mike much.....long live the memory of those days! =)

  7. I went there to watch movies with my gg when I was a child, and I partied there in 1980. Good times. Bill Graham had financed the reopening of the theatre to so many up and coming artists at the time. The club closed not long after Graham died in a helicopter crash in the Carquinez straights in the early 1980s.