From the very beginning of the 20th century, downtown Houston had a movie theatre. Up through the end of the twenties, going to the movies meant going downtown, since practically all of the theatres were located there. These ranged from the simple nickelodeons to the grand movie palaces: the Majestic, Loew’s State, Metropolitan, and Kirby.
This came to an end in the seventies. One by one, all the grand palaces were torn down. Even newer ones such as the Allen Center shut their doors (Only the Majestic Metro, survived, but it had to sit dormant through another decade before finding new life as a special events hall).
After a long drought, the downtown areea regained a movie theatre in 1997. This was the Angelika Film Center – but following its thirteen-year run, the drought is back. The Houston Angelika is no more.
The theatre shut its doors on August 29th without any advance notice. Those who showed up to see a movie found doors and windows taped over with brown paper. As its official statement, the Angelika offered the following on its corporate website:
“After 13 years of continued service to the Houston community, the Angelika’s lease has been terminated by the Angelika’s landlord, Bayou Place Limited Partnership, an affiliate of the Cordish Company. Since it opened in 1997, the Angelika has been committed to exhibiting the best in specialty, foreign, and independent films to Houston film lovers. Houston has been an important market for Angelika and its family of theatres for years. The management and staff of the Angelika Film Center have enjoyed being a part of Houston’s Theatre District and we leave Bayou Place with the greatest appreciation to all those who have supported the Angelika for so many years.”
Meanwhile, a statement by Gary Rhodes, general manager of Bayou Place Limited Partnership, was issued:
“The Angelika Film Center had a terrific run at Bayou Place over the past 13 years. We had hoped that they would stay longer but unfortunately, after saying they would commit, Angelika changed its mind. It is amazing to think how far downtown Houston has evolved since Bayou Place first opened and helped spark the rebirth of downtown. Bayou Place is extremely proud to have a played a leadership role in the renaissance of downtown and looks forward to being a part of the community for years and years to come. We will be upgrading Angelika with an operator of the highest quality and we will be making the announcement shortly.”
Apparently, there had been rumors floating around suggesting such a possibility, and many of the grand aspirations of the theatre had fallen apart. The lobby café, which once offered bottles of Dom Perignon (for a mere $175 a bottle), had closed down years before. There had been air conditioning and heating problems, and there was the key issue that had been in place for many Houstonians since day one: why drive all the way downtown and pay for parking when there are so many other theatres to choose from?
Of course, for those living and working downtown, that was never an issue, and its location in the Theatre district, neighboring the Verizon Wireless Theatre, Alley Theatre, Jones Hall, and Hobby Center was perfect… and for art film lovers, releases were usually limited to a single theatre.
As suggested by Rhodes, downtown has not lost a theatre, just the operating company, and many are hoping that someone like Alamo will step up to the plate. In the meantime, Houston is without yet another art house. With patrons still grieving over the loss of the Greenway Theatre, this now leaves only the River Oaks and Museum of Fine Arts as the key torchbearers for foreign and indie films.
Marion Luntz, curator of film and video of Museum of Fine Arts Houston, commented that MFAH may be able to help fill the void: “I will be speaking with distributors and seeing if we can rearrange some of our commitments later in the fall to fit some of their new releases in.” Luntz encountered the closing firsthand, having gone down to the Angelika on Sunday morning (on her birthday, no less) for a noon screening of Animal Kingdom. Instead, she found the latest in a long line of shuttered cinemas.
Some have noted that this is indicative of all that is wrong with the city. Houston loses its independent art house, it is losing its indie college radio (KTRU) but it is gaining Wal-Marts in neighborhoods that don’t want them.
As to the Angelika space, only time will tell what will end up in the space. What is clear is that in a town of this size, an additional venue for the independent voice is desperately needed. What we don’t need is a mainstream house showing movies that can also be seen in twenty-five other theatres around the city.