September 11, 2006
Saving the theaters

The Chron's Lisa Gray has a story about eight simple and not-so-simple ways that You The Ordinary Houstonian can save the Alabama Bookstop and River Oaks Theater. Not all of them are for ordinary folks (#2, Be Like Microsoft Billionaire Paul Allen and Buy The Damn Theater Yourself would be outside of my financial capabilities, and I daresay yours as well), though I will admit that would solve the whole dilemma nicely. The main thing to take away is this:

8. Raise hell.

From society superpower Carolyn Farb to the 20-somethings who tote water guns to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, many Houstonians see the threat to the theaters as part of a bigger picture: the relentless destruction of the city's best stuff.

Those people have begun letting the world know how they feel. They're signing petitions, putting bumper stickers on their cars, joining preservation groups, buying T-shirts, making posters, putting up Web sites. Hundreds have written to the City Council, demanding that Houston's heritage not be left in the hands of developers and their shareholders.

Some talk of buying Weingarten shares and making it known that they, as shareholders, don't like what they've been hearing. Some talk of boycotting new construction that destroyed something they loved.

You have to do something, or when the bulldozers come you have no grounds to complain about it. Start by signing the petition to let Barnes and Noble know that they will lose customers if they are responsible for the loss of these two buildings. Follow it up with a letter or a phone call to B&N and reiterate what you said on the petition. I continue to believe that Weingarten can't be effectively persuaded by customers' wishes, but B&N certainly can. Give them a good case of cold feet and see what happens.

And though I disagreed with Sedosi when he suggested buying Weingarten stock so you can complain to them as a shareholder and not just a disgruntled preservationist, it can't hurt to open up another front. If you've got the money and the inclination, go ahead and get some paper so you can at least make them hear you.

That said, I still say the best course of action is going to be prodding City Council to do something. It's not just about these two buildings. Win or lose on this one, sooner or later we're going to be in the same damn place, trying to keep alive some piece of what makes Houston different from everywhere else. It's not that I think development is bad (it's not) or that preservation must come first (it shouldn't), but the bottom line is that right now there's literally nothing that anyone can do to alter the course that a Weingarten chooses to embark on once they've set their path. If you believe as I do that places like the Alabama Bookstop and the River Oaks Theater have inherent value to the community, then there needs to be a way to express that value so that it gets properly factored into developers' decisions. As things stand right now, those places are no different than any other retail outlet housed in prefab boxes. Until that changes, we're going to keep getting more of the same.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 11, 2006 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack