Archive for March, 2010

Super Happy Relics of Theatres Past

MaryAnne Marino

MaryAnne Marino becomes one with the fun at Super Happy Fun Land. Behind her is a movie screen from the AMC Town & Country Theatre.

First off, an apology for the length of time between posts. Moving from one home to another can play havoc with normal schedules.

So when theatres die, do they go to Cinema Heaven? Despite the flippant nature of the question, it does bring up the topic of an afterlife for movie houses. Some find new usage in the form of churches, or are revamped into retail space – two prime examples of this being the Tower Hollywood Video and the Alabama Bookstop. Both have since closed down, are currently vacant, and have a questionable future (with the Alabama being a topic for an upcoming month). However, most are simply razed in the name of progress, to make way for an office building or parking lot, again proving the wisdom of Joni Mitchell’s words (They tore down paradise…).

Either way, be it total demolition or incarnation, the theatre is still a sum of its parts. What of the parts?

This question raised its head this last Wednesday when attending a show at Super Happy Fun Land, one of Houston’s more colorful music venues. Most of the acts passing through during the week are part of the Austin SXSW overflow, which the Fun Land has made a yearly ritual. I was there for Mary Anne Marino – more on her later in this article.

Describing the Fun Land is rather like explaining Houston’s Orange Show to anyone who has not experienced it. The space defies a simple description, but if a music club, a circus, vintage toy store, a thrift shop, and a home interior were tossed together higgledy-piggledy and set up in a warehouse, this would be it. The seating arrangement in front of the stage is comprised of row after row of theatres seats, each bearing an AMC logo on the handrest.

As it turns out, these came from the AMC Town & Country Theatres (as did the white movie screen behind the stage), all leftovers from when Houston Community College acquired the property. Herein is new life for something that might have otherwise been destined for the landfill.

Cinema artifacts can be found all around the town, if one looks hard enough. When the grand downtown palaces were torn down in the seventies, many of the furnishings were auctioned off. One of the chandeliers from the Majestic Theatre hangs from a home in the Heights. The Wurlitzer pipe organ from the Metropolitan now resides in the Houston Community College main auditorium. One set of bronze entry doors from the Loew’s State adored Lipstick’s Cabaret for many years. More importantly, another set became the entry doors for Wheeler Avenue Church. Largely populated by African Americans, the churchgoers now enter through the very doors that were barred to them for four decades.

A pair of theatre seats from the AMC Festival 6 now sits at my own home, pulled from a dumpster when the theatre space was being cleared. The rest of those chairs – more than a thousand – probably rest under a mound of dirt and debris now.

Perhaps Cinema Heaven can be found piecemeal, in venues such as Super Happy Fun Land, where relics of a theatrical past still manage to have some function. Sadly, these are the lucky few that survive as a reminder of what they once were. The rest are history.

As to the performance that evening, Mary Anne Marino was superb. Originally based in New York, she first reached my ears when she handled vocals for November Project. Recently, she relocated to New Orleans and is now establishing herself to the region… New York’s loss, our gain. To hear more of her music, check out her My Space page at http://www.myspace.com/maryannemarino or her website: http://www.maryannemarino.com.


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.