The Alabama Theatre on Shepherd is one of two surviving Art Deco theaters in Houston, along with the River Oaks Theatre.
It was built in 1939 and operated as a movie theatre until 1983. It was then converted into a Bookstop, but as David Bush with the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance points out, the bookstore maintained the theatre’s art deco interior.
“Bookstop did actually what was an award-winning renovation of the building and maintained all of the interior detailing, including the screen and the sloped floor. That’s why if you were ever in Bookstop, you noticed the shelves were on tiers. It was a conscious effort to maintain the theatre, so that if it ever came up again where a theatre would have been a profitable prospect, the building could have been converted back into a theatre very easily.”
The theatre’s original art deco murals, detailing and neon signs are still intact. Weingarten Realty owns the Alabama Theatre and is exploring different ideas for the space, including gutting the interior to turn it into a large retail store.
One of the plans indicates the space may be leased out to Staples, the office supply company. Bush says his organization wants to work with Staples, or any potential tenant of the property to preserve the historic elements of the theatre.
“We’re sending out an email blast that includes contact information for Staples’ community relations officer and operations officer. We’ve found it’s much more effective to go through the tenant because they’re trying to generate business and goodwill in the community, rather than the developer is making his money from leasing to the tenant.”
A Staples spokesperson says there is no lease in place and could not comment on lease negotiations. A public relations representative for Weingarten also says no lease is in place and it’s common practice for them to develop different renovation scenarios.
The Alabama Theatre does have a designation as a historic landmark, but that only protects the exterior facade and does not affect interior renovations.