The Alabama Theatre and the River Oaks Theatre; the two
go hand in hand.
Both were built in 1939, less than a month apart. Both
have survived intact, and are still functional to the public.
In the case of the Alabama (Bookstop), films have not been
shown there since 1983, yet it is more appreciated now for
its "theatreness" than it was during its final
years as a movie house. Say the words River Oaks
to any local movie lover; they will offer a warm smile in
return, because movies can still be seen there, in
an environment not that different from when it opened in
The Alabama and River Oaks are the only two survivors from
Houstons golden era. As of 2006, both are vulnerable
to being lost.
The River Oaks film
From the collection of David Welling
Originally an independent theatre, the River Oaks was opened
to the public on November 28, 1939, with the feature, Bachelor
Mother. It was acquired by the Interstate theatre
chain in February 1947, and became an early art house, featuring
foreign and stateside films for one-week runs.
Interstate held on to the River Oaks for close to three
decades, finally relinquishing it in late 1975. It was taken
over by Trans-Continental, a chain that operated the Shamrock
Six and Festival Six multicinemas. It was then acquired
in 1977 by Movie, Inc., a repertory theatre chain out of
New Mexico. Movie, Inc. eventually merged with the Los Angeles
based Landmark Theatre Company.
The River Oaks flourished during this pre-videotape era
as a reperatory house, with old movies, re-released movies,
classic movies, foreign movies, cult movies, and most anything
out of the mainstream.
By the mid-eighties, the popularity of cable television
and home video killed the repertory forum. Attendance dwindled
and the theatre turned increasingly to first-run films.
In addition, the theatre gave in to economic needs and converted
the balcony into two additional mini-theatres
The River Oaks successfully managed to survive in the era
of the megaplex, and is considered to be the premiere spot
in the city for the astute filmgoer.
In July 22, 2006, front page of the Houston Chronicle
detailed unconfirmed plans to raze portions of the River
Oaks Shopping Center (including the River Oaks Theatre),
and a multistory Barnes & Noble would be constructed
where the Black-Eyed Pea restaurant stood, thus making the
Alabama Bookstop (operated by Barnes & Noble, and located
a few miles away from the River Oaks theatre) obsolete.
Efforts have since been made by various local groups to
save these structures, including an August 1, 2006 appeal
to Houston City Council, and a petition drive. Society philanthropist
Carolyn Farb spearheaded a preservation effort in front
of the River Oaks Theatre on August 30, with a crowd of
supporters wearing black Save Our Shrines T-shirts.
As expected, the Alabama Bookstop was closed. As of this writing, the River Oaks Theatre is still operational.
For links to media coverage on the Alabama and River Oaks
theatres, click here.
The Landmark River Oaks website is www.landmarktheatres.com/market/Houston/RiverOaksTheatre.htm