Archive for October, 2012

Trading on the Alabama

The former Alabama Theatre/Bookstop on opening night as Trader Joes

Ever since the 1939 Alabama Theatre /Bookstop space reopened as a Trader Joe’s grocery store in September, I have been struggling on how to best comment on it. As is well known, the  local preservation laws that helped to keep the theatre exterior intact do not extend to its interior. When it was changed from a theatre space to a retail bookstore in 1984, great care was taken to keep the inherent beauty intact—something that was only marginally done this time around. The areas preserved are largely in the upper regions of the former auditorium, in particular the ceiling medallion and lines of the proscenium.

Rather than try to put my observations into words, it seems better to give comparisons through photos. Below are some shots of the space during its days as the Bookstop, along with its current incarnation.  I have my own feelings about the matter. You can decide for yourself.

A view from the stage looking back at the balcony area and ceiling:

The left corridor. At one time, this was an alleyway between the theatre and the neighboring building. During the Bookstop expansion, it was added and blended to match with the existing design of the interior:

The “yellow brick road” floor motif at the front entrance:

What spoke most to me regarding the interior was the loss of the lovely art deco murals that adored the interior on either side of the proscenium during its days as a theatre and later as the Bookstop. Below is one of the two murals—followed by one of the current paintings on the interior wall. What would you rather look at?


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,

David Welling is a Houston-based writer, artist, and graphic designer. 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.