Welcome 2011. We’re already a month in, and as I have let a couple of months slide by on the blog, it seems a good time to look backward.
In the film, “Holiday Inn,” Bing Crosby crooned, “Let’s watch the old year die with a fond good-bye, and our hopes as high as a kite.” The year 2010 was one of equal highs and lows for Houston theatres. At first, I thought it would be worthwhile to examine the changes over the last year. But since Cinema Houston was first published four years ago, a number of other changes have taken place. So here is a year-end review that also covers that gap.
First off, let’s ring in the new. Theatre openings over the last few years have reflected not only the latest technical advances of the industry, but also the trends and preferences of the public. One of the most notable openings was the stunning all-digital Santikos Silverado Theatre on Texas 249 in Tomball, featuring a massive two-story lobby, 19 stadium seat auditoriums, an IMAX screen, and the Cowboy Grill restaurant. It opened in 2008. Yes, it is a bit of a drive from central Houston, but it has my vote as the best projected image setup in town. Unlike all the other chains in the area, Santikos is a regional chain based in San Antonio, so for those who believe in buying local, the Silverado is a wise choice.
In recent years, there has been a rise in theatre/bar/eateries. The Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse led the charge with two superb locations. Unfortunately, both are a good distance from the Houston inner loop. Other similar chains have followed. Now there is one in the Town and Country shopping district. This is interesting since at one time, Town and Country had two movie theatres: the AMC Town & Country 6 and Loew’s Town & Country Twin (later a three-plex). Both have been long gone, and the entire Town and Country mall and complex has likewise been razed. In its place is CityCentre, a combination shopping/living area that includes shops, restaurants, and lofts. Studio Movie Grill opened up its theatre eatery last year.
These and others helped to counterbalance the theatres that closed, the most recent being the downtown Angelika Film Centre, which shuttered its doors on August 29 of last year. This came as a serious blow to Houston’s art house film scene, which had already lost the Greenway Theatre earlier in the decade. After Angelika’s closing, AMC announced that it would try to fill the void at its Studio 30 Theatre. To date, the Angelika space is still unoccupied, with rumors that everyone from Alamo Drafthouse to Regal Entertainment will be the next tenant.
Another closing was that of the Hollywood Video store, housed inside the gutted interior of the former Tower Theatre on Westheimer. It shut its doors on November 2009. The outside marquee has since been restored, and according to a June article in swamplot.com, it may find new life as a Tex-Mex restaurant. It is apparently a joint project of Bill Floyd and Bryan Caswell of Reef, along with former Houston Press restaurant critic Robb Walsh.
AMC had its own casualty with The AMC Meyer Park Theatre, which closed in May of 2007. It originally opened in 1987.
The surprise closing was that of the Cinemark Tinseltown Westchase, at Beltway 8 and Richmond. It opened in 1996 and closed in January 2008, to make room for an office building. The theatre was still doing brisk business at the time of it’s closing. Go figure.
The cornerstone for independent filmmakers, the Aurora Picture Show, moved out of its 1920s church building at 800 Aurora Street, having outgrown the space. The building has not gone unused: Cressandra Thibodeaux, curator and live-in owner, has screened films at the location including “Latino indies.”
After sitting abandoned for many years, the Santa Rosa Theatre (later known as the Star, an XXX house) was razed. Few people noticed that it was gone. It was originally built in 1946.
On the other hand, the old 1929 Heights Theatre on 19th Street found new life as Gallery M Squared The space has done quite well, serving not only as a venue for art events and exhibitions, but also as a rentable space for galas, proms, and other special events.
Many of the city’s theatres experienced temporary closures on September 12, 2008, when Hurricane Ike blew through the town. Of course, the storm shut down most everything else as well.
Most of the attention over the last four years has been on the River Oaks Theatre and the Alabama Theatre/Bookstop, following the media attention on their possible demise. To date, the River Oaks is still in operation. Barnes & Noble shuttered the Bookstop after opening its new store on West Gray (another source of irritation for preservationists when the historic deco shopping center there was torn down to make room for the bookstore). The old Alabama Theatre still remains vacant, and a rumor has circulated about a clause in a lease agreement for the center that prevents the former cinema from being used as a theatre exhibition space. It’s future is, at present, uncertain, however an unsettling report last March inCulturemap.com indicated that plans detailing a near total interior demolition of the Alabama were prepared at the specific request of Weingarten. This does not bode well for the 1939 theatre that once ran 70mm epics like “The Empire Strikes Back.”
A few of the movers and shakers of the Houston theatre scene have since passed away. Howard Skelton died on August 15, 2007. He was the Manager for Interstate and Plitt Theatres, including the Delman Theatre. Ray Boriski and Al Zarzana operated a number of theatres in town, individually and together, including the Al*Ray Theatre, one of Houston’s older art houses. Zarzana’s last theatre was the Garden Oaks. He passed away in 2009. Ray died in 2006.
One can only hope for the best in 2011. This is especially true of the Tower Theatre (which may have a promising future, based on advance scuttlebutt in the media) and the Alabama (don’t hold your breath). We will have to wait and see.
In the meantime, use the power of your patronizing and go see a movie at your favorite theatre of choice. And mark your calendar for the Oscars on February 27.