August 03, 2006
Another River Oaks Theater update

Houstonist is staying on top of the River Oaks Theater situation, with another update about response to the reports that the historic theater may soon face an ignominious demise. Supporters of the theater took their case to a mostly sympathetic City Council on Tuesday.

"This is about more than the River Oaks theater," said at-large council member Peter Brown, a registered architect. "This is about more than historic preservation. People are seeing that because Houston has been so reluctant to enact basic standards, the city is losing its character. We're losing the soul of the city."

Mayor Bill White said he has appointed at-large council member Sue Lovell to "take a look at where we go next." Proposals include identifying culturally significant buildings; creating significant tax incentives for owners to preserve them; and enforcing a waiting period for public comment before their demolition.

None of those proposals sound particularly onerous to me; I'd have to think that anything involving a tax break for preservation will be received reasonably well. I'll be very interested to see what Council Member Lovell comes up with.

Naturally, there was some skepticism:

At the council meeting two people voiced reluctance to pursue a wider-ranging preservation ordinance. "I don't want to become a city developers don't want to do business in because we change the rules," said council member Michael Berry.

Property-rights activist Barry Klein agreed. He added that preserving an owner's rights should trump historic preservation. But even Klein admitted a soft spot for the theater. "I personally signed that petition," he said.

If we were talking about a situation where the rules were constantly being tinkered with, then I could sympathize with Berry's argument. But doing what I think a lot of people (myself included) would say is a long overdue review of the city's historic preservation rules is hardly pulling the rug out from under developers. Sure, it's possible to go overboard, but does anyone think that's even remotely likely to happen? Let's at least see what our options are and go from there.

As for Klein's concern, again I'd say that going the tax incentive route should alleviate them. All that does is give developers and property owners another option, one they can choose or choose to ignore as they see fit. If that gets put on the table, I'd think it would be acceptible. But I guess we'll see.

Also via Houstonist, a reminder that it's not just the River Oaks Theater that may be imperiled.

Tucked discreetly behind the theater building, its entrance unmarked, lurks the Marfreless couch bar, whose regulars fear losing their unique refuge to the wrecking ball.

"I feel that the charm is going to be lost," said Alicia Pekmezaris about the changes to the shopping center and how it will affect the neighborhood.

The bar does not advertise, except through word of mouth. The music is soft, usually classical, intended to facilitate conversation.

"Even if the bar is still here, I don't think people will enjoy going to a bookstore before a movie. I think people will prefer going to a bar where they can have a world-class martini," Pekmezaris said.

As I've noted before, Marfreless is owned by my cousin-in-law. I sent him an informal inquiry about the bar's status when the River Oaks story first broke, and he didn't know any more about what might happen than I did at that time. I'll have to check with him again soon and see if that has changed.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 03, 2006 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack