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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Life + Arts

River Oaks Theatre celebrates 70 years of business

Since opening its doors in 1939, Houstonians’ seeking a night out at the movies have flocked to Landmark’s River Oaks Theatre.

To commemorate 70 years of entertaining a devoted community, the River Oaks will show Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington today.

‘It’s a film that is as old as our theater,’ River Oaks manager Jason Brunelle said.

As an additional homage to the River Oaks’ humble beginnings, tickets for the show will cost 25 cents each.

The upstairs bar will host a reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with free pizza and cake, and patrons can take advantage of drink specials. Guests can regularly enjoy mixed drinks with a late-night show at the theater’s bar.

During the week, the theater shows mainstream and alternative films, and presents showcases of cult classics on the weekends. The River Oaks has monthly screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which tends to bring out an interesting blend of customers.

‘The mix of clientele is great,’ Brunelle said. ‘For the late night, we get the younger customers, for the early shows, we get the older crowd, and during the week, we get everybody.’

While the River Oaks has become a popular spot, its origins were modest.

‘The theater itself was one of many neighborhood theaters that were common in Houston in the 1930s-1970s,’ history professor Charles Cook said.

However, the cinema has attained legendary status for its historic movie house architecture.

‘(The River Oaks Theatre is) important for a variety of reasons ‘hellip; (it is) a place to see films that are not your mainstream stuff that you find at the multiplex, and it’s also important from a piece of architectural history here in Houston,’ communication professor Keith Houk said. ‘It should be preserved as a movie house and also as a piece of our architectural history.’

Over time, the River Oaks changed as patrons’ expectations progressed with advances in technology. Since the 1930s, the movie-viewing market has embraced large venues offering the latest technologies in the most up-to-date facilities.

Since its construction, the River Oaks has built two screening rooms. In response to customers’ requests for a place to relax before showings, the management added an upstairs lounge with a bar in 2005.

‘I’m not a drinker, but a lot of people are,’ Brunelle said.

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