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More Alamo Drafthouse locations on tap

Some news of interest from Nancy Sarnoff’s new blog.

The two Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas in the Houston area are being sold to an investment team that plans to open at least seven more in Texas.

Triple Tap Ventures LLC will convert the company-owned locations at West Oaks Mall and on Mason Road in Katy to franchises.

The Austin-based theater/dining concept shows first-run and independent films while a wait staff serves hot meals, beer and wine to your movie seat.

The new franchisees wouldn’t say where in Houston they plan to build new stores, but there’s been talk over the years about this type of operation opening near downtown Houston.

“There is a lot of potential to grow Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas throughout Houston and we are currently evaluating a number of sites throughout the metropolitan area. We plan to develop the concept rapidly throughout the area and all of our expansion territories,” Neil Billingsley-Michaelsen, president of Triple Tap Ventures, said in an e-mail.

As she notes, I passed along a suggestion to them from ‘stina that I think would rock: Let the Alabama Theater become a theater again. I have no idea how viable this idea is, but I sure do hope they at least consider it.

The best idea you’ll hear for what to do with the Alabama Theater

How about turning it back into a movie theater? And not just any theater, either, but an Alamo Drafthouse theater. I wholeheartedly endorse the concept that ‘stina enunciates in her letter to the Alamo Drafthouse corporate office.

I don’t know anything about movie theaters or real estate, nor do I have any money. But the historic Alambama theater in Houston has recently been vacated by the 25 plus year tenent, and it seems like a perfect location for an Alamo Drafthouse similar to the one in downtown Austin. The theater dates back to the thirties, and it’s more or less been in use for most of its existence. Twenty five years ago, another Austin company, Bookstop, renovated the theater and turned it into a wonderful bookstore. The rows were turned into stacks of books; the stage, a magazine stand. There’s a lit up marquis on the front of the building, and the art deco decor still is on the walls. The screen and curtains still hang. After Barnes and Noble bought out Bookstop, a Starbucks went into the balcony. Sadly, Barnes and Noble recently built a larger store in a nearby location, and they closed Bookstop at the Alabama Theater on September 14.

I don’t know anything about the building’s cost or square footage or leasing requirements. I don’t know anything about your company and the way it expands. This theater seems different than the other franchise Alamo Drafthouse locations, aside from the original, as it’s a single screen well within the heart of a city. But the demographics of the neighborhood seem like they’d work. The theater is where River Oaks and Montrose and Midtown meet. There is a Landmark theater in the River Oaks Theater about a mile and a half away, and there is an Edwards Megaplex about two miles away on the freeway. But there is nothing like the Alamo Drafthouse anywhere nearby. River Oaks/Upper Kirby residents tend to be affluent and cultured. Montrose/Midtown/Heights residents tend to be ecclectic and progressive. Rice University is just down Shepherd 2 miles.

This weekend, a Buffy-Sing-a-Long was held in one of our public parks in downtown Houston (about 5 miles from the Alabama theater) and the response was overwhelming. The park was filled with happy Buffy fans popping poppers and telling Dawn to shut up. I don’t know the numbers, but it seemed that at least a thousand people were there.

I’m just a resident of Houston who is sad to see the Alabama theater empty. When chatting with my friends about the fact at the Buffy Sing-a-Long, we realized that the match up of the Alamo and the Alabama could be perfect. Should you have any Houston based investors/inquiries, maybe you would want to direct them to the Alabama?

Sincerely,

‘stina
Movie fan

I would love to see this happen. The main obstacle is likely to be parking, as the strip center the now-defunct BookStop is in doesn’t have an abundance of it. But surely something could be worked out. Please, Alamo Drafthouse, take a look at this. Thanks very much.

Wilshire Village Apartments…gone

Hair Balls, Swamplot, and Robert Boyd document the final demise of the Wilshire Village Apartments. Boyd wonders what will replace them. I wonder how long the land will lie vacant, given how long some other lots have remained empty following the demolition of what had been on them.

Neighborhood concerns about the transit corridors ordinance

I think most people who choose to live in Houston’s urban core would agree that density is a good thing as a general rule. Density done in a half-assed way, which has been Houston’s trademark, not so much.

Density hasn’t been kind to Cottage Grove, a small neighborhood with narrow streets, few sidewalks, poor drainage and scarce parking for the owners of its many new homes and their guests.

Like many neighborhoods inside Loop 610, Cottage Grove in recent years has experienced a flurry of construction of large townhomes that loom over 80-year-old cottages next door. Two or three dwellings crowd sites where one house stood previously. Streets are cluttered with vehicles parked every which way. Water stands in the streets after heavy rains.

“It was shocking to see this jewel of a neighborhood in this condition,” said former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, a senior fellow with the nonprofit Urban Land Institute who toured Cottage Grove two years ago. “It was about the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, to be honest with you.”

The issues in Cottage Grove and other central Houston neighborhoods are on the minds of city officials, neighborhood leaders and others as the city considers the first major revisions to its development code in a decade. The proposed amendments were prompted in part by indications that pressure for dense new development is spreading to the area between Loop 610 and Beltway 8.

Marlene Gafrick, Houston’s planning and development director, said her department’s proposal to extend Houston’s “urban area” from the Loop to the Beltway would give dozens of neighborhoods tools to protect their traditional character and quality of life, such as procedures to petition for minimum lot sizes and building lines.

Some neighborhood leaders on both sides of the Loop, however, worry the measures don’t go far enough to prevent flooding, protect open space or ensure adequate parking. They see the proposals as an extension of the same approach that produced current conditions in neighborhoods such as Cottage Grove.

You can see plenty of other examples of this. The part of north Montrose where I used to live before moving to the Heights is another good example, filled with narrow streets that used to house small bungalows that now feature fewer bungalows surrounded by three-story crammed-in town homes. Streets that used to have a few cars parked on them here and there are now full on both sides – some streets, like the block of Van Buren where I had resided, now restrict parking to one side only – making passage difficult. Longtime residents have been negatively affected by all this.

It didn’t have to be this way. A lot of these old neighborhoods had been in decline and really a shot in the arm from new construction. It just needed to be done in a way that recognized their needs and limits. Improving sidewalks and ensuring that the drainage system could take the increased capacity would have helped. Pairing all this new inner-core growth with expansions and upgrades to public transit, including a more aggressive approach to building out light rail, and making more mixed-use development possible where it made sense, would have made a huge difference. We can’t undo what has been done, but we can try to stop repeating these mistakes, and we can try to address some of the now more urgent needs these neighborhoods have. We even know what needs to be done. The question is, when City Council takes up the new ordinance in August, will we do it, or will we continue down the same path as before?

Wilshire Village’s going-away photos

I ask for photos of the impending demolition of Wilshire Village Apartments, I get photos. And I echo Robert Boyd:

I just hope the developer, who thus far has been shown to have no particular vision (or much human decency) will preserve the oaks and magnolia trees that dot this property.

Amen to that.

Get ready to say good-bye to Wilshire Village

Swamplot brings the sad but totally expected news.

As noted in today’s Daily Demolition Report below, 20 structures of the Wilshire Village garden apartments at the corner of Alabama and Dunlavy received demolition permits yesterday.

Aren’t there only 17 buildings in the complex? Maybe everyone’s just trying to be extra sure to get them all.

Somehow, that’s just fitting. My only request is that someone take pictures of the demolition. Then we’ll see how long it takes before something is built in its place – as we know from various other examples, it could be awhile.

How about a little salvage?

I can accept that the Wilshire Village Apartments are going to be torn down. If they weren’t going to be maintained by their owner, these things do happen. What I think is an unforgivable sin is for all of the perfectly good historically-authentic materials in those apartments – hardwood floors, period fixtures, and so forth – to be destroyed and tossed into a landfill. Surely something can be done about that, right?

What next for Wilshire Village?

Nancy Sarnoff runs an obituary for the Wilshire Village apartments, which are slated for demolition now that they have been officially declared a fire hazard.

A historic Inner Loop apartment complex, once slated for a high-rise redevelopment, was shut down last week after city officials ordered residents to vacate the property.

[…]

The complex is the 1940s Wilshire Village apartments at the corner of West Alabama and Dunlavy, one of three Federal Housing Administration-insured garden apartment complexes built here and the only one still in existence, according to architectural historian Stephen Fox.

In 2005, the owner announced plans to tear it down and possibly build an upscale tower in its place.

Matt Dilick, a commercial real estate developer who controls the partnership that owns Wilshire Village, said the demolition process will start “relatively soon.”

“The buildings are unsafe, and for numerous years prior groups have not kept the buildings maintained or the property up to city code,” he said. “The dilapidated buildings are an eyesore to the public and to the numerous homeowners and businesses in the area.”

[…]

As far the property’s redevelopment, “plans have not been released,” said Dilick, adding that the prime site is best suited for apartments, shops and a hotel.

Okay, an apartment is obvious; one hopes this one will be better maintained than the Wilshire ultimately was. Shops I can see, as long as they figure out how to incorporate parking. The other side of Dunlavy is a strip center anchored by a Fiesta, so more shops would fit in just fine. But a hotel? And was this really considered a good spot for a high-rise? I can’t see it. Dunlavy is a narrow little street. It’s not particularly close to an entrance or exit on 59, which would seem to be a negative for a hotel. It’s not far from Greenway Plaza or the Museum District, but as far as I know there’s no shortage of hotels in those areas, certainly not one acute enough that it would need to be relieved by new construction there. It’s all bungalows in the immediate area, so anything over three stories would stick out like a sore thumb. Basically, it’s analogous to the Ashby Highrise, with slightly better vehicular throughput potential and probably less political clout. I don’t see how a hotel makes sense, and I don’t even see how a developer might see how a hotel makes sense. Am I missing something?

Actually, there is one possibility: The Universities line will have a stop at Dunlavy, so the area will have very easy access to light rail. Maybe that figures in to the calculation. Whether that’s the case or not, I hope whoever redevelops the property includes improvements to the sidewalk, as that will make getting to that rail stop much more pleasant. And hopefully whatever does get built there will be at least mostly done before the U-line is in place, so that stretch won’t be all torn up while people are trying to get to the station. Swamplot has more.

Wilshire Village update

Swamplot has more on the Wilshire Village Apartments situation; apparently, there’s some question as to the legality of the eviction notices that the residents received. Meanwhile, Hair Balls satisfies my curiosity with some interior photos of the place. It does look better on the inside. That’s not saying much, given the sad state the exterior is in, but it’s easy to see how this place, given some love and an owner that cared, could be a real gem again. Seems unlikely that will happen, unfortunately; we’ll just have to see what replaces it. That’s Houston for you.

Wilshire Village Apartments

Normally, another story about another old and rundown apartment complex in Houston being set for demolition isn’t that noteworthy, at least for me, but this Swamplot post about the Wilshire Village Apartments struck a chord with me because I used to live practically next door to them. In the early 90s I lived in a duplex on Branard, just east of Woodhead, which cul-de-sacced into Wilshire Village. I once tried to cut through the complex as a shortcut to the Fiesta (then a Safeway or AppleTree, I forget which) and got accosted by an angry dude (I presume a resident) who yelled at me to get the hell out. Anyway, I have no idea why you’d want to demolish a complex that apparently still has paying residents in this economic climate, and I hate the idea of it being replaced by a highrise – that area had too much traffic 15-20 years ago – but that’s how it goes around here. Hair Balls has more.