The DeLuxe Theater on Lyons Avenue, near the eastern corner of I-10 and the Eastex Freeway, has a long history. Fifth Ward resident Kalvin Wagner remembers how he used to walk a mile to see a movie here every Saturday.
“Some of the first movies I ever saw as a child was in the DeLuxe Theater. It was a mecca for all the children in the neighborhood. We used to pack up 25-30 people at a time and come to the neighborhood, called neighborhood theater. The youths came from all over Houston just to attend the DeLuxe Theater.”
That was 50 years ago. For the last 40, after a brief stint as an art gallery, the building has stood empty and is currently not much more than cement walls. Now finally that's changing.
“We're here to celebrate bringing the DeLuxe Theater back to life.”
Houston Mayor Annise Parker was one of the speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony for the theater's renovation.
She says restoring the historic theater is an important step in the revitalization of Houston's historic Fifth Ward.
“We could have come in and redone this building, but this is about actually the programming that will be taking place here. The fact that it'll be an active theater, that it'll be connected to TSU, that they'll be doing teaching here, they'll be doing theater programming here. That's the element that we needed to bring everything together.”
The new DeLuxe Theater will provide a venue for community plays. There will be classrooms for some of Texas Southern University's arts classes, and there'll be space for community meetings and for future retail development.
Jarvis Johnson is a former city council member for District B. He approached then-Mayor Bill White about renovating the theater because he says it served the community not only with entertainment but also from an economic standpoint.
“And if you're having plays in it every single day, what businessman might look and say, hey, it might be a good place to put a sandwich shop next door or a coffee shop next door. Why? Because it has a captured and controlled audience. That's economic development.”
Resident Kalvin Wagner is optimistic the theater will contribute to bringing this area back to its former glory.
“At one time in Houston, Lyons Avenue was the mecca for everything. It used to be people on each side of the street. You could hardly walk down the street. It was businesses on every corner. There wasn't a slot open on Lyons. It was just like downtown Houston at one time in Houston.”
Most of the project's $5.5 million price tag is covered by the city of Houston with Community Development Block Grants. Meanwhile, the city is also redeveloping parts of the area with Ike recovery funds.