Beloved landmark won’t get the boot just yet

Rumor is as much a patron of the River Oaks Theatre as any other reliable customer. If there is one thing that the employees of this establishment can count on, it is the incessant talk surrounding the theater’s status because of the renovation and redevelopment that threatens its existence.

Such rumors perpetuate as a result of consistent media coverage, as well as online petitions, city council preservation measures and groups created solely for the purpose of saving such historic and endangered landmarks. Owing to the latest feature in the Houston Chronicle, rumors abound more than ever about whether this historic theater will soon be demolished or remain open for its faithful clientele.

Most rumors do have, at their core, a bit of truth. Property owners Weingarten Realty Investors have taped off property for demolition and new construction on the northwestern portion of the River Oaks Shopping Center, built in 1937 and historically one of the oldest shopping strips in the city. Across the street from this site, the River Oaks Theatre is situated among other stores and restaurants that rent their space from Weingarten Realty.

These businesses face an uncertain future regarding plans to redevelop the area. There is no confirmed date, however, on which demolition is set for the theater, despite local rumors and misconceptions. Weingarten has released an official statement claiming that they are "a responsible public company with roots in and a commitment to Houston," and that they "will continue to manage (the theater) with great care, taking into account its history and its future."

While the theater might be spared for now, one thing is certain – the Alabama Theatre, another historic landmark which is located at Alabama Avenue and Shepherd Drive and owned by Weingarten, will no longer retain Bookstop.

In fact, Weingarten has already officially confirmed plans for the construction of a new Barnes and Noble, set to open in 2009 across from the River Oaks Theatre’s location, alongside a four-story parking garage for the surrounding businesses. Devotees of Bookstop, an Austin-based company that relinquished the bookstore to Barnes and Noble in the 1980s, will sadly see an end to perusing and purchasing books in this grandiose space that was once a sleek, red-velvet curtained theater.

As the oldest theater in Houston, the River Oaks lends great historical significance to the city and, as of Aug. 8, has been acknowledged, along with the Alabama Theatre, as an official landmark.

The theater also has an important architectural relevance as a relic of 1930s Art Deco. The facade and interior are streamlined in the style of Art Deco Moderne and add a cultural and aesthetic beauty to the city’s architecture. Built in 1939, owned by Weingarten for more than 30 years and operated by Landmark Theatres since 1976, the River Oaks Theatre is stunningly picturesque in both its design and its size.

It features a downstairs theater that seats 500 guests, an old-fashioned, manually operated elevator and two smaller theaters, each housing 150 guests, which are located upstairs where there is an additional attraction of a full bar and lounge. Attendees can experience the quaint atmosphere of an independent theater while also venturing upstairs to sip a martini and listen to the bartender’s music, which ranges from MC5 to Mulatu Astatke.

Most notably, Landmark River Oaks specializes in independent and foreign films, as well as a midnight-movie series of cult classics that runs every Friday and Saturday. Indie and foreign flicks such as Little Miss Sunshine, I Heart Huckabees, Volver, The Motorcycle Diaries and, most recently, The Valet and La Vie En Rose, have all shown there. Midnight movies including The Big Lebowski, A Clockwork Orange, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and This is Spinal Tap draw in a younger audience who can enjoy a beer while watching their favorite movie.

However, the largest crowd of moviegoers is always expected on every second Saturday of the month when a live cast performs to the backdrop of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Audience members usually take part in the exchange of lewd, improvised and sexually charged commentary during the film as they watch risque reenactments from the corseted, cross-dressing and fish-net wearing crew, The Beautiful Creatures.

While there is no readily evident proof whether there is a set date or even a possibility of its demolition (Weingarten does not comment on "market rumors"), moviegoers can be assured that their beloved theater will continue to render its service for the next couple of years without fear of the wrecking ball.

Agin, an English senior, can be reached via [email protected]

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