Curtains close for River Oaks Theatre after pandemic financial fallout
River Oaks Theater is preparing to close its doors by the end of the month, after the parent company, Landmark, received no response from the landlord over a proposal to keep the venue open.
The theater was loved by the community and had an impact on many Houstonians, like UH cinema chair member Bianca Ibarra.
“I first encountered this theater when I made my directorial debut as a senior in high school at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival,” Ibarra said.
“I remember noting how beautiful it was and how I felt like I was walking into a vintage cinema. You don’t run into those like that anymore.”
The theater’s lease was set to expire on March 31 and negotiations with the theater’s landlord, Weingarten Realty, were in progress.
In February, Realty said the theater had not paid their rent since March 2020, according to KHOU. After not hearing back from Realty, Landmark was left with no choice but to shut down their beloved home of 30 years.
Established in 1939, the theater was the only one in Houston which showcased documentaries, foreign and independent films, as well as hosted film festivals.
The theater struggled to overcome the obstacles of the financial climate. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, theaters everywhere have struggled to stay afloat and River Oaks is no exception.
“The building may face being torn down and even if it is not, and the space becomes something else, it will still mean Houston has lost a theater that is supportive and friendly to the local arts that has run continuously as a theater since the 1930s,” Ibarra said.
The theater housed one large screen on the first floor and two smaller ones upstairs. Many have performed for the theater, such as the“Rocky Horror Picture show” featuring the live shadow cast and “The Royal Mystic Order of Chaos,” which Ibarra was a part of.
“I joined the cast in 2019, and I soon became a monthly performer at this beloved building,” Ibarra said.
“I have always loved walking in before the show while the theater was closed for the night, and seeing the cast before we took over and played ‘Rocky.’ It has changed my life in so many ways and gave me a family full of the most kind, crazy, humble and beautiful people.”
The closure is devastating to many as it has shaped lives and provided opportunities. While the theater is closing, the significance and lasting impact will never be forgotten.
“Personally, it has created lifelong memories and also a second home,” Ibarra said. “Landmark’s River Oaks Theater has quite literally changed my life, and I know so many others as well.”