Houston’s historic River Oaks Theater is saved – an Art Deco gem to show movies again with a slight name change

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HOuston’s famous River Oaks Theater does not go quietly into the night. Instead, the vintage arthouse cinema and Art Deco gem are making a movie-worthy comeback.

Closed and dark since March 2021 and seemingly in grave peril, the River Oaks Theater’s movie screening days are resurrected thanks to a new deal between Kimco Realty and Houston-based Star Cinema Grill.

“The long-term solution for the River Oaks Theater to be here is frankly butts in the seats,” said Andrew Bell, vice president of leasing for Kimco Realty. PaperCity. “We want that concept here. We want this theater to thrive.

“The last thing you want to do is demolish a building that opened two months after the start of World War II.”

It was a win-win decision for Kimco to preserve the prized 83-year-old Art Deco cinema, Bell said.

The mere thought of the River Oaks Theater returning is enough to bring absolute relief to many Houston moviegoers. In an exclusive interview with paper townAcademy Award-winning director Richard Linklater notes that the silver lining is that the River Oaks Theater is “saved from the wrecking ball.”

“I’m pretty excited,” said Houston-born and raised Linklater. PaperCity. ” It’s a good start. I think it’s the hub of cinema that we all hope it could be. A community center for media and film.

“That’s what people need culturally. Many people worked very hard to make this happen.

The impending return of movie days at the River Oaks Theater has caused quite a stir. And popcorn. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

On Wednesday evening, Mayor Sylvester Turner joined Bell, Star Cinema Chairman and CEO Omar Khan and local activist group Friends of the River Oaks Theater to reveal that the ever-resilient Art Deco treasure has new life.

“We want to build a future business city, but we want to retain many historic buildings and sites,” Turner says. “You don’t want to just plow through your story. The River Oaks Theater represents a part of our culture and our personality.

“The follow-up question is, ‘Well, are you going to keep it forever? Are you going to designate it as a historical monument that cannot be demolished or turned into something else? » ” —director Richard Linklater

The Closing Saga of the River Oaks Theater

As it turns out, the bright light of the River Oaks Theater was only temporarily dimmed after it closed on March 25, 2021. It endured a tumultuous period of negotiations in 2021 after lease talks between Landmark Theaters and Weingarten Realty broke down. collapsed, creating a dramatic formwork.

Fast forward to Wednesday night when new owner Kimco Realty – which bought Weingarten’s portfolio – publicly unveiled new plans to restore the 83-year-old River Oaks Theater to its former cinematic glory. The new reimagining will feature a new restaurant theater concept. Star Cinema’s Kahn is eager to begin restoration work.

” I love the cinema. It’s a huge project that I’m passionate about and I love cinema as an art,” says Kahn. “I’m so excited to help River Oaks become what it was, in its glory days. I’m super excited.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the iconic Art Deco-era River Oaks Theater, which opened in 1939, has been saved from the wrecking ball and will once again show movies to Houstonians.
The iconic River Oaks Theater marquee is having fun again. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

A relatively minor change? The name of the River Oaks Theater will be slightly changed to River Oaks Theatre.

Richard Linklater pushes for historic next step

Linklater believes this next step toward restoration is an opportunity for Kimco to be a strong corporate citizen and partner in saving the icon. For all time.

“He’s a gem for Houston,” Linklater said. PaperCity. “You don’t expect cultural centers to go away quietly. You renovate them, update them and live around them. To solidify that would be great. This is a question for Kimco.

When Linklater talks about “solidifying” the River Oaks Theater as a cultural center, he means moving to put the theater building on a historical record. It’s the next step in the acclaimed director’s mind.

“Kimco obviously looked at the whole thing and decided to make a theater out of it, so that’s the good news,” Linklater says. “The follow-up question is, ‘Well, are you going to keep it forever? Are you going to designate it as a historical monument that cannot be demolished or turned into something else? » ”

For Maureen McNamara, spokeswoman for the Friends of Rivers Oaks Theatre, Wednesday’s announcement is a long time coming.

“Our perseverance paid off,” McNamara says of the local group that staged protests to try to save Houston’s movie theater. “The River Oaks Theater is going to remain a movie theater, and it’s just fantastic. What will make it work for the future will be the support of the Houston community.

“There is such a sense of connection and ownership of this theater within our community. The Friends of River Oaks Theater will help cinema survive and thrive. Support the theater in all that it can be.

Historic curators, movie buffs and regular Houstonians who care about the city’s treasures can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. The River Oaks Theater comes back to life as the movie palace it always should be.

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