NY Times covers River Oaks & Alabama theatersHere it is. A few choice excerpts:
Fighting the Wrecking Ball to Save Houston LandmarksMy previously posted thoughts on this topic are here. In a recent discussion, my friend John made a surprisingly strong case for allowing demolition: Netflix, on-demand video, and home theaters are killing art-house theaters anyway (I personally only go to theaters for big special-effects movies), and Amazon and Borders have effectively negated Bookstop's reason for being. I would agree with the first argument if Landmark wanted to shut down the theater, but this is a Weingarten decision. And I'd like to see somebody make a strong case to Barnes & Noble to expand and rename the Bookstop rather than kill it and build new somewhere nearby. If B&N could add enough space to compete with Borders on selection, I think the cool character of their interior would tip the loyalty of local book buyers to them over Borders.
This fast-spreading metropolis of see-through skyscrapers, clogged freeways and antipathy to zoning has long worn its boomtown history lightly, freely consigning cherished landmarks to the wrecking ball.
Though only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have more people, and it covers more acreage than Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit combined, Houston has one of the nation’s weakest urban preservation statutes. Any owner wishing to demolish a landmark must only give notice to the city and allow 90 days for discussion. After that it can be torn down.
But with a rallying cry of Alamo-like fervor — “Remember the Shamrock Hotel!” — many Houstonians are now drawing a rare line in the sand in defense of some particularly beloved architectural treasures threatened with demolition.The sites at risk include Houston’s two oldest movie theaters, the River Oaks and the Alabama, both dating from 1939, and the 1937 Art Moderne River Oaks shopping center, which is the oldest in Texas and the second-oldest in the nation.
Unlike Galveston, San Antonio, Dallas and other Texas cities, Houston has a long history of zealous defense of property rights, opposing government’s efforts to limit what owners can do. City voters last rejected zoning in a referendum in 1993.
But in 1995 the city passed its first preservationist ordinance, offering property tax exemptions to owners who restore historic structures. It also provided for a 90-day waiting period before demolition. The program, while voluntary, has proved successful, said Randy Pace, Houston’s historic preservation officer. In almost all cases, he said, owners can be talked out of demolition. “We still lose 10 to 15 percent,” he said.
(Thanks to Packy for the link.)