Threatened: Houston Theater’s Interior
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Apr. 9, 2010
In Houston, plans to alter a beloved 1939 theater have upset some residents.
Weingarten Realty Investors plans to gut the colorful Art Deco interior of the Alabama Theater to make way for a store. The theater was converted to a bookstore in 1983, but its interior was left intact: bookshelves take the place of seats, and its newsstand is on the former stage. As part of the redevelopment of the Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center, Weingarten closed the Bookstop last September. An architect has sketched plans to modify the theater’s floor, walls, and ceiling and to remove its decorative medallions and murals.
“Weingarten is an old, locally grown company, and it has always done a good job of keeping its historic properties. We’re really disappointed that this one is going to be so significantly altered,” says Ramona Davis, executive director of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. “We think it would be more economically viable to maintain the character of the building that’s already there rather than trying to do something that doesn’t fit into the area.”
Weingarten points out that only the exterior of the theater is designated history by the City of Houston. “Weingarten has owned the Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center and the Alabama Theater for many decades and has remodeled the center several times to maintain its appeal,” said Jennifer Massey, Marketing Specialist, Weingarten Realty Investors, in an e-mail. “We have not entered into an agreement with any party to lease the space, nor do we have any plans for the interior design.”
It’s unclear what business will lease the Alabama Theater space once the changes have been made. Although Weingarten had approached Staples about leasing the theater, a Staples spokeswoman said this week that the company has backed off. “Staples does not have a lease agreement for the Alabama Theater location and we are not currently considering a store at this site,” spokeswoman Amy Shanler said in an e-mail. “We are pursuing other opportunities in the area at this time.”
Last year Weingarten’s partial teardown of the 1930s River Oaks Shopping Centercaused an uproar. The redeveloped center still has many vacant storefronts. Locals hope the company can find a way to preserve the Alabama Theater.
“[The neighborhood] has a lot of character,” Davis says, “and buildings like the Alabama Theater are big parts of that character.”