In case you haven't heard by now, here's the deal: there're rumors flying that the real estate developers who own the venerable Art Deco River Oaks Shopping Center are planning to demolish the building to make way for -- naturally -- another Barnes & Noble (because, what, six in one city just isn't enough?).
Now, the Shopping Center's a pretty neat little retro gem on its own merits and its destruction would be a shame, but what makes things worse is that it's also the home of the historic River Oaks Theatre, currently owned by indie-film chain Landmark Theatres. With the old Meyerland Theater now replaced by an Old Navy and a jewelry shop, the River Oaks is the last remaining vintage theater left in this city (that I'm aware of, at least; the others haven't been working theaters in a long time, and one, the Alabama Bookstop, may also be on the chopping block).
If the theater goes, Houston as a whole will have lost a true local icon, not to mention one of only a small handful of truly indie moviehouses around. For me, it's pretty personal; I've been seeing films at River Oaks since coming to Houston more than a decade ago, and it's introduced me to a world of cinematic art that I hadn't previously realized existed. To see it torn down would be a tragedy.
Luckily, I'm not the only one who feels that way. A lot of people are mad as hell about the threat of eviction and demolition, and they've been making a ton of noise, which is great to see. In this town, though, money generally wins the day, so rather than protest or call City Hall, we're probably better off letting the commercial stakeholders in this deal know we'll be boycotting their asses unless they back off (yes, I'm talking to you, Barnes & Noble). Check out save the river oaks! for phone numbers, news stories on the fight, a link to an online petition, and even your very own printable sign. Whatever you decide to do, please do something.
Houston is a transitory city, and at times like this, that's a crying shame -- I'd hoped to someday take my little girl to see movies at the River Oaks, so she could see what it's like to watch a film in a real movie theater, one that doesn't look like a spaceport. I hope the theater will still be with us by then.
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