Will Alabama Theater be preserved?

Image of the old Alabama Theater that is again at the center of a preservation battle.

March 25, 2010 4:24:16 PM PDT
It's a place that many Houstonians have a warm spot in their hearts for - the old Alabama Theater. It's now once again at the center in a battle over preservation. Over the years, the old Alabama Theater has stood the test of time, keeping its distinctive character, even after being turned into a bookstore. Now that the building is empty again, recent speculation about its future has preservationists fuming.

Houston has lost so many of its architectural landmarks, so much so that you can count the number of old movie houses that still stand on less than one hand. Only one is still operational. The old Alabama Theater still reflects its past inside, but the question is whether that will survive.

The marquis is still in place, but now showing for months is a realty sign, advertising for a new tenant with mezzanine space available. Local blogs are full of buzz about the possibilities, none of which lower the concern of preservationists.

"There were architectural drawings put online, and specifications from a sub-contractor that were scanned and put online, that call for pretty much complete interior demolition. Gutting it," said David Bush with the Houston Preservation Alliance.

The Alabama was a neighborhood theater that opened in 1939, the glory year of Hollywood, and the theater itself reflected the art deco age. Like so many old theaters, it closed in the 1980s but found new life as a Bookstop bookstore. Seats were moved out but the interior left intact so it would be converted back to a theater.

The store closed last year and the Alabama has been sitting empty since, but it still has its fans. Sarah Javors works next door.

"It's the beauty of the inside, that kind of nostalgic feeling that you get when you enter into a building. You can actually see the time period and the change and the people who've come and gone from the building," said Javors.

The exterior would likely remain. Weingarten Realty, which has owned the shopping center for years, says it does not yet have a tenant signed for the space. While a representative says Weingarten has no plans to demolish the theatre's interior, we're told the tenant when found would be responsible for the build out. That leaves the Alabama's future still in question.

Weingarten Realty says the exterior of the building is listed as an historic landmark by the city of Houston. That affords it some protection, however, the company says that same protection does not apply to any historic building interior.


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