Quick Kenmore Fact: A New York Times article published May 10, 1920 lists Kenmore, Ohio as the country’s fastest-growing city, according to then-recent census data. Kenmore was not technically a city until 1922, but regardless, it is listed in the article, the subheader of which reads, “Census Returns Show Gains Ranging Up to 712.5 Per Cent In Decade.” Kenmore was the city with the population increase of 712.5 percent, the highest of any listed, regardless of size. (Second went to Dormont, Penn. with 478.9 percent – not even close.) As of 2016, the neighborhood holds an estimated 18,480 people.
Revitalization through the arts
“Kenmore has potential as an arts district,” says Jason Segedy, Akron’s Director of Planning and Urban Development. Segedy points out that, whereas many suburban communities spend millions of dollars to construct “old-timey” shopfront districts, the Boulevard is already designed in this fashion. With two specialty guitar shops (Lay’s Guitar Shop and The Guitar Department), the Rialto Theatre, and the old, but now-trendy street layout, Segedy envisions the possibility of the Boulevard taking on an art-centric atmosphere, in which residents purchase apartments above small, bustling first-floor shops.
If Kenmore has a future as an arts district, consider the new Rialto Theatre the forefront of this development. I use the term “new” because the Rialto Theatre will be remembered by some readers as the once popular movie theater that ran from 1919 to the early 1950s. The “new” Rialto, opened in June of 2015, was built in the same building on Kenmore Boulevard that housed the original.
The entrepreneurial minds and pocketbooks behind the Rialto are brothers Seth and Nate Vaill.
“When we moved into the building, we had the vision of turning it into a music venue with a couple recording studios,” says Seth Vaill.
They did just that, eventually constructing the gutted-out interior into a cozy speakeasy with a stage, audience seating, and two recording studios.
Seth and Nate, both Norton High School graduates, attended the University of Akron and Hiram College, respectively. They moved into the Kenmore neighborhood together in 2010.
Just A Dream Entertainment Studios (the recording company they co-own) and the Rialto seem to have stemmed from their joint love of music; Nate plays guitar and sings, and Seth plays the keys. However, the brothers exhibit a complete appreciation for all forms of art, whether musical, visual, or theatre-based. This shows in the events put on at the Rialto, which range from plays to storytelling events like “The Stories of Kenmore” to rock performances from local bands like Time Cat.
On a recent weekend, local songwriter and activist Zach Freidhof celebrated his new album release to a packed Rialto, with guest musicians and vocalists, a mass reiki session, and a room resonating with palpable positive energy.
During a subsequent Saturday night, the Wandering Aesthetics’ theatre company’s open mic series, called the Electric Pressure Cooker, brought another packed and energetic crowd, as performers played music, delivered standup comedy, read poetry and performed other manner of expression.
“We really want to help build culture and the arts here in Kenmore,” says Seth. “We believe that through the arts – theater, music, and all that stuff – people can create some form of community.”
Seth has noted that many Kenmore residents have attended various shows at the theater, strengthening his belief that there’s a desire for a flourish of arts in the neighborhood.
The Rialto Theatre, despite its small successes, is still a relatively obscure establishment. The building still doesn’t have a sign out front, and, even if you know what address to look for, you’ll likely have a hard time spotting it on the Boulevard. This is temporary, though.
A recent grant from Akron Community Foundation will go toward a new sign that will pull the Rialto’s facade out of hiding.
“We are getting a marquee out front, and we’re going to be doing some front façade work,” says Seth. “We’re really trying to ‘artsy’ that up, so I guess the official, opening-night ribbon cutting for the Rialto Theatre won’t be until then.”
I can’t think of another spot in Akron where a marquee would look more appropriate. Imagine the bright yellow signboard, the plump lightbulbs coruscating against brick buildings, illuminating a line of patrons stretching down the sidewalk along the Boulevard.
(Stay tuned for Part III)