THE HISTORY OF RIALTO POOLROOM
The United States experienced a “golden age” of pool halls in the early part of the 20th century. Portland, Oregon did not escape this craze. In June of 1918, on the corner of Park and Alder, the Rialto opened on the second floor of the building of the same name. The proprietor, J.J Parker, was “well known, and one of Portland’s most aggressive young businessmen,” and was described as having ”a rare sense of the retail possibilities of business property.” Parker had also established the Waldorf billiard hall in 1908 on SW Broadway and Washington.
The Rialto was designed as “a modern resort for gentlemen,” a lavish pool hall for Portland’s well-to-do to escape from their daily grind. With a marble stairway, a stenciled ceiling and Circassian walnut paneling, it was an opulent experience. Years later, a patron recalled that the old Rialto “was a place where businessmen would take three or four hours for lunch in the gentlemen’s club where you almost had to wear a tux.”
A 1918 advertisement proclaimed that, “The Rialto Billiard Parlors were built for every man in Portland who appreciates clean, high class games, where service to patrons is a business principle and everything possible is done for your convenience and comfort.” It was boasted that, “as an assembly of all that is most beautiful in woodwork, in decoration, in lighting, and in furnishing, it is doubtful if there is a Billiard Room equal to the Rialto anywhere in the United States.” The Oregonian conceded to the fact that the Rialto was the best-equipped billiard parlor in the country. “There is no question but what it will, in time, become a feature spot to be shown with pride to all who visit Portland.”
Customers at the Rialto would discover that “a full complement of the best brands of cigars, cigarettes and tobacco was to always be on hand,” and there was candy “available to those of sweeter inclination.” The lunch buffet was well regarded. The Rialto opened during Prohibition, so Henry Weinhard soft drinks, ices and other legal refreshments were available at the bar. Not that liquor was unavailable at the Rialto – several guests were arrested over the years, and gambling was always rife.