By the time you read this, the River Oaks Theatre on West Gray will likely be closed. Its last day of operation is Thursday, March 25. This follows a series of failed negotiations between Landmark Theatres and Weingarten Realty. Other theatres have closed this last year, much of it due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the River Oaks Theatre is a unique case. The theatre opened in 1939 and has functioned as a Houston cinema ever since. It is the oldest operational theatre in the city. The fate of the building is uncertain.
A group of writers, artists, preservationists, filmmakers, historians, film distributors, actors, and venue owners have formed a coalition under the name of Friends of River Oaks Theatre. The goal is to support the theatre as a cinema or revitalized space, as well as benefit other theatrical venues in the city. Events are planned throughout the rest of the month, including a fundraiser on Saturday, March 27 and a Zoom panel discussion with director Richard Linklater on Wednesday, March 31. Full details are listed below. For more information visit the Friends of River Oaks Theatre page at www.Facebook.com/FriendsOfRiverOaksTheatre.
Thursday, March 25, 4pm & 7pm
Final day of showing films
River Oaks Theatre, 2009 W. Gray
Thursday, March 25, 9pm
Vigil outside theatre
River Oaks Theatre, 2009 W. Gray
Saturday, March 27, 7-11pm
Save the River Oaks Theatre benefit fundraiser
Tickets are $15-$300
Wednesday, March 31, 7-8:30pm
Save Our Landmark: Houston's Historic River Oaks Theater
Free panel discussion via Zoom
A statement from the Friends of River Oaks Theatre includes the following message:
We are a group of concerned citizens who have joined together to form a coalition called FRIENDS OF RIVER OAKS THEATRE. We are writers, artists, preservationists, filmmakers, historians, film distributors, actors, venue owners, and more who are very concerned about the fate of Houston’s only historic movie theatre. Many of us helped save the River Oaks in 2007 when it was under threat of demolition. Unfortunately, we cannot stop this current set of circumstances.
We do not know what negotiations have taken place behind closed doors between Landmark Theatres and Weingarten Realty, and we will not speculate nor comment on those meetings.
What we do know is that as of March 26, 2021, the River Oaks Theatre will be shuttered and it will, until further notice, no longer serve Houston as a venue for the best in independent films. We have been working behind-the-scenes with Landmark, presenting ideas for a multi-arts venue and more that they could bring to Weingarten as an alternative. However, those ideas have not been embraced. We are also exploring private investors and every avenue we can think of to convince Weingarten to keep the theatre going. We love it and are heartbroken about its closing so we have created events to memorialize it and we have created a Facebook page where we will update the public with news and future gatherings, film showings, and more related to the theatre. PLEASE HELP US SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THIS FACEBOOK PAGE.
It is our hope that the building can be revitalized and revived for another movie operator to take up where the River Oaks Theatre left off.
And it is our plan to continue the legacy of the River Oaks Theatre by carrying its spirit forward into events, other movie theatres, memorialization of the theatre through films and photos, and whatever else we conjure up. The theatre may be going away but it will live on!
Additional coverage about the fate of this historic theatre and its role in Houston’s history is forthcoming on Cite Digital.
David Welling is a writer, artist, and graphic designer. He is author of Cinema Houston (2007), published by the University of Texas Press. He maintains a companion website along with a monthly blog on film, theatres, and preservation. He writes fiction and lives in Houston.