Monument record MYO5228 - Rialto Cinema


Cinema and music hall later bingo hall. Demolished 2003.


Grid reference Centred SE 6070 5105 (61m by 34m)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (2)

Full Description

The cinema opened on 25th November 1935 and replaced an earlier cinema which had burnt to the ground in April the same year. It was owned and operated by Mr J. Prendergast, father of the world famous film score composer John Barry, who incidently first started out on the stage here with the John Barry Seven.

Able to accommodate 900 patrons in the circle, and 650 in the stalls on seating specially designed by Mr Prendergast, the cinema was opened on Monday the 25th of November 1935, by B. Seebohm Rowntree, supported by the Lord Mayor and Sheriff. The opening film was Gold Diggers of 1935 starring Dick Powell, whilst Hal Sherwin played the Compton organ.
From the very beginning Mr Prendergast sought to bring the best in entertainment to the inhabitants of York both of the film and live variety. Many famous people played the Rialto, including Louis Armstrong, Frankie Vaughan, Gracie Fields, Johnny Mathis and The Beatles.
The Rialto was also the first venue in the North to be fitted with electricty controlled machinery for the projection of three-dimensional films, although this was a short lived craze.
It was in 1961 that it was finally announced that the Rialto had been sold to the Mecca organisation for use as bingo hall and the cinema closed with The World of Suzie Wong on the 15th of October. The following year the company severed the last cinematic connection with the building, when it sold off the mighty Compton to a Bradford enthusiast for £80.

Bingo continued until Mecca were able to build a brand new purpose built club on an adjacent site and put in an application to demolish the Rialto for car parking. The site was also used for a new housing development.

Although Bingo was the saviour for many old cinemas in our towns and cities, the trend for new purpose built clubs coupled with the smoking ban means that more and more former cinemas are now under threat of redevelopment

The presence of the cinema, described by the Victoria County History as having shown films as early as 1910
(Tillott 1961, 27). The VCH states that the City Palace, as it was then, was renamed the Rialto, and as such, burnt down in 1935. However, an account recorded as part of the York Oral History Project does not wholly agree with the Victoria County History. Reg Lambert
(YOHP 1988, 15) stated that before the Mecca Bingo Hall that now stands on the site, there was the Rialto cinema, and prior to this, it was the Casino. When Mr Lambert was at Fishergate School, presumably in the early 1920s, the site was occupied by a ‘smallish cinema in front, with a roller skating rink at the back’. The proprietor of this business was John Fabier Prenderghast, who had come from Leeds in the 1920s and owned
the Casino as it was. In 1923, the Casino went up in flames, observed by Reg Lambert and his friends from the school, and was rebuilt by Mr Prenderghast almost immediately, as a ‘brick built effort 1928, 1929’. The new cinema, named the Rialto, stood until 1935, when it too burned down. A second Rialto was soon built, and continued showing films throughout the war years, until at least 1947. (FAS 2005)

FAS, 2005, Blue Bridge Lane & Fishergate House (Unpublished document). SYO182.

York Archaeological Trust, 2021, Mecca Bingo (Unpublished document). SYO2917.

York Archaeological Trust, 2021, Mecca Bingo, Fishergate (Unpublished document). SYO2672.

Sources/Archives (3)

  • --- Unpublished document: FAS. 2005. Blue Bridge Lane & Fishergate House.
  • --- Unpublished document: York Archaeological Trust. 2021. Mecca Bingo, Fishergate.
  • --- Unpublished document: York Archaeological Trust. 2021. Mecca Bingo.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (2)

Record last edited

Dec 12 2022 11:56AM


Your feedback is welcome; if you can provide any new information about this record, please contact the City Archaeologist.