Looking Back: Whatever happened to the Rio Theater?

Have you ever had an extended conversation with anyone who has spent their entire life here? Names of places that are long gone and special memories of the times spent there crop up continually: The Miller House (a boarding house that was the social hub in the late 1800s), the Commercial Club, Baer’s Creamery, the Dome hot springs pool and the Rio Theater. Eventually, the question, “What ever happened to it?” arises, and whether the building was residential or commercial, the memories at the mention of a simple location becomes much more than an address. While they aren’t historic landmarks that have been preserved physically, they have become well-loved places of the heart.
Local families still share their tales of lots of fun social events including date nights at the local movie theater. Recently two obituaries in the Herald Times brought back the memories of the old picture show. The first movie theater in Meeker was the Princess Theater, which showed silent movies. Later on, through different ownership, the movie theater became the Rio Theater.
The movie theater on main street was torn down in the mid- 1970s, although memories of going to the picture show remain vivid. While it had a variety of owners over all the years it was in operation, the newsreels and first run films always generated excitement. Dr. Scott and his wife made a lot of memories during their ownership, as movies were not the only offering to local children, as Mrs. Scott taught dance.
Sandra Idol Shimko remembers her father Loren Idol telling stories about his teenaged years working as a projectionist in the Princess Theater, while she also had her own memories of taking dance lessons on the stage in the Rio Theater, and her younger sister’s development of a lifelong interest in dance from her years of lessons there as well. Talking with one resident who remembers seeing Patton at the Rio when she first moved to the area in the early 1970’s she says, “It was released to Meeker as a first run, not realizing it was going to be such a big box office hit. If I remember right, people were coming into town from all over.”
A local boy, Kenneth Sanderson, Kent to most, made it big in Hollywood in the 1920s and ‘30s as “Buddy Roosevelt.” Starting out as a stuntman and later a well-known western star, Sanderson appeared in 35 silent five-reel films, and 12 “sound” five-reel films. The White River Museum has a collection of pictures and articles about his movie career, that say he started appearing in silent movies right after World War I, as he made quite a name among other western movie stars, as one photo demonstrates his ability to rear a horse up higher than anyone else.
“Remember when,” someone begins a sentence once the “What every happened to…?” question is broached. These places of the heart often become identified by what happened there, as these remembrances mark the time passed.

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