BACKSTORY: Before the Rialto, Webel ruled a downtown corner - Casper, WY Oil City News
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BACKSTORY: Before the Rialto, Webel ruled a downtown corner

The Webel Commcercial Company building is seen in this 1921 photo shortly before its demolition on the corner of Second and Center Streets. It was replaced with what is now the Rialto Theater. (Wyoming State Archives)

The Rialto Theater on the corner of Second and Center Streets is one of downtown Casper’s most recognizable landmarks.

The sturdy brick building has been standing so long it’s difficult to imagine it not being a part of Casper’s urban fabric, but for two-decades before its construction another building served the young town’s needs.

Charles Philip Christian Webel came to Wyoming in 1876, according to an April 1962 article in the Casper Tribune-Herald. He ran a ranch east of Casper before moving into town and opening a mercantile store with a business parter.

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In time he took over the business, which was originally located inside a corrugated steel and wood building where the Rialto now stands. That humble structure was eventually replaced with a handsome brick building.

The Webel Commercial Company sold basically everything residents in a bustling pioneer town would need, from clothes to furniture to ranching supplies. Webel eventually retired to California and handed over the operation to Edward J Schulte.

It was front page news in the June 7, 1921 edition of the Casper Daily Tribune when the Webel property was sold to make way for a new theater. “Record price set for Casper realty in sale of business block to be converted into modern theater” announced the subhead.

The property was bought by Henry F Brennan, who planned to “immediately set out to install one of the finest and most elaborate theaters in the state,” according to the 1921 article.

The article said Webel’s 15-year-old building would be used in the remodel, but it was entirely demolished.

The new theater opened in 1922 and was first called the Lyric before being renamed the Rialto a couple of years later. It served as a playhouse and early silent theater before converting strictly to showing movies, and was one of the earliest theaters in the region to install sound equipment.

Webel enjoyed retirement as a wealthy man in Los Angeles until he died in 1933 at age 81.

The spot where the Webel Commercial Company store once stood is prepared for the construction of a new theater in 1921. (Wyoming State Archives)
The Rialto Theater is seen in 1925, a few years after its completion in downtown Casper. (Casper College Western History Center)
Rialto Theater seen in 1937. (Casper College Western History Center)
Views of theaters owned by the Schulte family. Most of the photos are interior and exterior photos of Casper theaters (including the Rex Theater, the America Theater, and the Rialto Theater).
The Rialto Theater is seen on June 30, 2018. It has been a landmark in downtown Casper since 1922. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)