River Oaks Theater closes down

Officially gone.

The first film ever shown at the River Oaks Theatre was “Bachelor Mother” in 1939 starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven. The last film, it seems, will be the Oscar-nominated “Nomadland” starring Frances McDormand. When credits rolled after the 7:30 p.m. showing on Thursday, the theater was expected to lower its curtain for good.

“It’s such a shame,” a bystander said as she and her dog passed under the theater’s iconic, black and white awning.

As Houston’s last remaining vintage movie theater, the River Oaks 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.


A spokesperson for Weingarten told the Chronicle they were “grateful for Landmark’s long tenure at River Oaks Shopping Center, and we appreciate the strong ties so many Houstonians have to the theater. Contrary to reports, there are no plans to redevelop the theater at this time. We look forward to finding the next great operator for the theater space.”

In February, Landmark Theatres’ president and chief operating officer, Paul Serwitz, confirmed the company had not paid rent since spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The River Oaks was closed just shy of six months, from March 16 through Sept. 9.

“With the closure, we had no business to operate. There was no other revenue stream,” Serwitz said. “Our whole company was shut down. We closed the corporate office, and everyone was furloughed. There was no capital to pay rent.”

Weingarten since proposed an “offer waiving much of the 12-month past due rent and providing a 24-month payment plan for the balance. We also proposed to allow Landmark to pay half rent for the next six months to get the theater through the worst of the pandemic. Unfortunately, Landmark was unable to see a path to profitability in order to renew the lease. Therefore, they have decided to close at the end of their lease term.”

See here for the background. It’s super sad, but given the past year and the toll it’s taken on the movie theater business, it’s hardly a surprise. Weingarten’s announcement that they have no plans to redevelop the theater (at this time, anyway) is interesting, because the last time the River Oaks Theater faced an existential crisis, that was the reason – Weingarten wanted to build something bigger on the property. It’s basically what happened on the other side of the street, where the old strip center was torn down and the Barnes and Nobles (among other things) was built in its place. If the classic theater facade is maintained, as has been the case with other former theaters around town, will people come to see that as some form of mitigation? You may not be able to find a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show again, but at least the neighborhood retains a bit of character. Check in again in a decade or so and we’ll see how everyone feels then.

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6 Responses to River Oaks Theater closes down

  1. brad says:

    A classic. Will be missed.

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    The property owners in Houston fail to comprehend that in the new normal property values inside the loop have fallen. They want to make money, but they don’t seem to abide by the slogan that “we’re all in this together.” Nor do they accept the Great Reset: “You’ll Own Nothing, And Be Happy.”

    These slogans seem to be a way for YOU to give up everything, but THEY will take it. For your happiness, of course. That’s how we’re in this together: YOU will be controlled, and THEY will do the controlling, together.

  3. Ross says:

    Jason, what do you mean “property values inside the Loop have fallen”? Are you drinking again? Did you get some bad weed? Prices aren’t falling at all.

  4. Jason Hochman says:

    OK Ross, you may not have noticed all of the properties that aren’t selling at their askin’ prices. I hope you didn’t shell out too much for an Inner Loop property. There are storefronts that have been empty a year. Houses for sale for a year, too. If you are looking right now, you should hold out for a lower price. Nobody wants to live Inside the Loop anymore. Murder is rampant. There is nothing to do, everything shut down. Not even the library is open. People are realizing they can live way out in the suburbs, for the same price, get a bigger house, bigger yard, and lower taxes. No problem living there because you don’t come in to work anymore. You can use your bigger house to make a work space at home, maybe come in once or twice a month, and that’s it.

  5. David Fagan says:

    Sounds like a go fund me opportunity


    Look into making it a non profit?

    The Paramount theater in Austin has a summer movie classics run. Maybe someone can study their business. Of course this isn’t because if a lack of patrons, just another covid result.

    I hope to see another movie here again

  6. C.L. says:

    Jason, you should read the The Leader News dropped in your front yard last Thursday. Real estate prices are sky high with multiple offers being made in the Heights and GOOF.

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