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RIP, River Oaks Theater

It was nice while it lasted, but we don’t get to enjoy things like that for very long in Houston.

After an 82-year run, Houston’s historic River Oaks Theatre is preparing to close.

The lease between Los Angeles-based Landmark Theatres, an art house cinema chain that includes the River Oaks Theatre, and Weingarten Realty, which owns and operates the River Oaks Shopping Center, expires at the end of March.

Via email on Friday, a spokesperson for Landmark Theatres said they are “disappointed to announce that there has been no response or acknowledgment of the revised proposal we submitted to Weingarten (Realty) this week. In good faith, we presented a fair and reasonable proposal and asked for a response by close of business today. Unfortunately, there has been no response or even acknowledgment of this proposal, leaving us no choice, but continue with our preparation to leave our beloved home of 30 years.”

A couple of days earlier, there had been a glimmer of hope as it seemed as if negotiations, which had stalled, were beginning to resume. Further negotiations are pending.

As Houston’s last remaining vintage movie theater, the River Oaks — with its distinctive black-and-white striped exterior and red marquee — has held court on West Gray since 1939. After Landmark Theatres was founded in 1974, the River Oaks became one of its first acquisitions just two years later, in 1976.

The ornate, three-screen cinema has since been designated a Houston landmark by the Museum District Alliance. Though according to David Bush, executive director of Preservation Houston, landmarks can be demolished under the city’s preservation ordinance.

“Part of the problem is it’s fairly plain on the outside. What’s important is the interior, the auditorium,” Bush said. “Part of what makes it significant is that it’s the last one that’s functioning as a theater. Aside from what they did up on the balcony… it’s pretty much what it looked like in 1939.”

Other Texas cities have successfully protected historic theaters from neighborhood-oriented development by re-purposing them as live entertainment venues. The difference, Bush says, is zoning.

Same as it ever was. I don’t want to see this happen, any more than I wanted to see it happen fifteen years ago. But if Weingarten Realty wants to make the change, there’s nothing in heaven or on earth that can stop them. I don’t know what else to say.

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4 Comments

  1. voter_worker says:

    Reality bites, the Houston story.

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    The owners of properties in Houston severely overestimate the value of their property. You are lucky if you can get what you paid five years ago for a house in Houston.

    However with capitalism the owners of the River Oaks property are free to try to get the best return on the property.

    However, just another reason that there is no reason to really live in Houston, and, especially, to pay the high cost of inside the loop housing costs. There’s nothing to do in Houston. I don’t like Rocky Horror, but enjoyed some of the cult classics and art films that played in the Midnight Madness series on the weekends when Rocky Horror didn’t play.

    You would think that a so called big city could support at least one art film type theater, but going out to movies is perhaps a fading pastime. Especially now that everyone is accustomed to staying at home. Too bad G.G. Allin is no longer alive, his song “Antisocial Masturbator” could be the new anthem of the times, and he could finally have achieved mainstream success.

    Just another reason that you don’t have to stay in Houston. You can’t even find the Shamrock Shake at a McDonald’s here.

  3. Tory says:

    Best realistic option in a streaming world: since Weingarten wants another high-rise there, preserve and repurpose it as a cool public lobby and coffee bar, marquee and all.

  4. Jason Hochman says:

    Houston Chronicle is reporting today that there is a new proposal being considered with a payment plan for back rent during the time the theatre closed, as well forgiving any additional charge for the late payments.