Archive for May, 2009

Historic preservation during an economic downturn

The Capitan Theatre relighting ceremony in Pasadena on June 20, 2000

The Capitan Theatre relighting ceremony in Pasadena on June 20, 2000

The date is June 20, 2000. It is a cool, summer evening, and a small crowd has gathered at one end of the Corrigan Center. The event is a lighting ceremony, rather like the street lighting events that take place in Uptown Houston every November to kick off the December holiday season. In this case, it is not about streets or Christmas, with its trees all lit and adorned with decorations.

This is a relighting ceremony, signaling the complete restoration of a building exterior. That building is the Capitan Theatre, and the city of Pasadena has purchased the building, with plans for a full restoration and conversion of the space into a civic center. After funds were allocated for stage one of the restoration, work began on the exterior. Now, the results are about to be unveiled to the public.

The switch is thrown by Edward Carleton, the theatre’s original manager who had flipped the switch when it first opened. The Capitan lights up in all the glory of its heyday of more than fifty years earlier. The crowd lets out a cheer (and some good Texan “Whoops”) to the sight. In a town that has destroyed a good majority of its movie theatres, there is hope at least for the Capitan.

Fast forward to the present. The May 2009 issue of the Houston Chronicle’s GLOSS magazine features a swimsuit pictorial, showcasing model Julie Henderson of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue fame. For a suitable background for the shoot, the photographers picked the interior of the Capitan, whose walls are ornately decorated with ocean-themed murals.
The images are stunning, the models, lovely, and the walls of the theatre…

GLOSS_100pAh, there’s the rub. While the walls serve as a perfect accent to the photo session, it is noticeable that the restoration to the building exterior has not carried forth to the inside. Because preservation costs money, plans for the Capitan had to be done in stages, and things have slowed down since the lighting ceremony. Now, with a global economic downturn in force, the Capitan will have to wait even longer. Historic preservation is a difficult business, especially when its historical value is outweighed by the power of the dollar. Meanwhile, the Capitan auditorium is void of seats, and is used for storage, and the photo session will be the height of its action for a while.

The estimate for bringing the Capitan back to life is $2 to $3 million, and there is hope that the theatre will be resurrected in the next several years. But original estimates did not include a wilting economy, nor did it factor in Hurricane Ike, which has redirected the city’s focus for the time.

So for the time being, the Houston Chronicle offers a small glimpse of what once was and might be again, if only currently a backdrop for fashionable swimwear.

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Roll the film…

The lights go down. Ahead, the screen is brightly lit from the projector. A wonderland is about to unfold. This is the realm of the movies, and their homeland, the movie theatre.

So here you are at the Cinema Houston blog, of which this is the first… so a brief introduction, if you will. It is a direct offspring of www.CinemaHouston.net, which in turn is a companion to the book of the same name.

CinHouBook-medIn 2007, CINEMA HOUSTON was published by the University of Texas Press. It had been a long labor of love on my part, having worked on the project since (roughly) 1991.The book is a history of movie theatres in Houston, Texas, from its beginnings on through the current century. The goal was to cover most every movie theatre that operated in the city. Because most of these theatres no longer stand, I wanted to offer some sort of record of their past existence.

Since the book’s release, I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of people who have shared their memories of Houston’s past with me. I have come across more stories. Hence the Cinema Houston Blog.

This adjunct to CinemaHouston.net will offer a chance to air the variety of subjects that don’t seem to have a home elsewhere on CinemaHouston.net. There are portions of the book that never made it into the final edition. This blog serves as a release valve for all the extra material left out as well as new material. But this is also a venue that can tap into other subjects that are indirectly related, but still important. This column is a way to cover a variety of subjects: movie theatres, on a global scale as well as in Houston, local history, historic preservation, also national and local, the cinema, movies, from the silent days (a favorite subject of mine) to the present, and the changing means of entertainment in a world very different from a century ago. I may try to alert you to upcoming events as well.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to drop me a line. I would love to hear from you.

Until next month…

David


Cinema Houston celebrates a vibrant century of movie theatres and moviegoing in Texas’s largest city. This weblog is a companion to the Book, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex (University of Texas Press, 2007), and website, www.CinemaHouston.net.

David Welling is a writer and artist who lives in Houston with his wife and two children. His lifelong interest in movies (and the places that show them) led to the writing of Cinema Houston, which included fifteen years of research, and its subsequent website.