It was 5:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday evening when we stopped by the newly renovated Heights Theater. Sounds from a psychedelic keyboard filled the space. The Zombies—the English rock group best known for 1965 hit “She’s Not There”—were on stage doing their sound check. Outside, fans mingled under the iconic marquee over 19th Street, waiting for the doors to open. The energy was electric.
Regarding the crowd, Edwin Cabaniss, who purchased the historic property in 2015, told us they’re why he does what he does. “We’re trying to get back to the roots of what theaters were to neighborhoods: a community center,” he explained.
The landmark theater, which served as an art gallery for the past two decades, was built in the 1920s in the Spanish Mission Revival style. In the beginning, it was a single-screen movie house similar to those in nearly every neighborhood in America. Each had its theater, which functioned as a social hub.
“When the Heights Theater was built, there weren’t TVs in every home. This is where you came for entertainment, news from the war front, social interaction, everything,” said Cabaniss. “Our goal is for it to still be a community gathering place, whether that be live music, fine art, plays or spoken-word artists.”
This wasn’t the first theater-restoration project for Cabaniss, who’s from Longview and worked in the investment business in Dallas for 20 years. There, on his daily commute, he always passed the historic Kessler Theater, a beautiful art deco playhouse also named after its neighborhood, Kessler Park.
He’d been itching to retire from the corporate world and do something he loved, so, in 2009, he bought the theater, gave it a historically appropriate renovation, and turned it into a venue. Today, the Kessler is a Dallas staple. And over the years, he said, artists, agents and managers who came through all told him the same thing: “Man, Houston needs a music room like this.”
When the iconic Heights Theater hit the market in 2015, Cabaniss bought it and redid it in much the same way as the Kessler. The place officially opened last November and is now averaging four events a week. This month’s headliners include Ray Wylie Hubbard (July 15) and Michelle Branch (July 29).
With 5,000 guests coming through the theater’s doors every month, Cabaniss told us he’s just getting started. “We are adding more special events, including independent films, smart comedy, charitable fundraisers and weddings,” he said. Still no word on news from the war.