River Oaks Theatre's Fate is Playing out Like a Movie
UPDATE (March 22): It looks that it is, in fact, over.
“After lengthy negations Landmark Theatre and Weingarten were not able to reach an agreement," reads a Landmark Theatre statement released late last week. "Therefore, Landmark Theatre has no choice but to close its doors ... No definitive date has been set. Landmark Theatres would like to thank the Houston community for their years of support.”
The River Oaks Theatre's marquee is saying the final day of operation will be Thursday.
It looks like it’s over for the River Oaks Theatre. Or is it?
The latest news in a story with more twists than an M. Night Shyamalan film reveals that the historic theater’s landlord is talking once again to operator Landmark. The offer set forth by Weingarten, according to the Houston Chronicle, includes forgiving past-due rent and establishing a 24-month repayment plan.
It’s a 180 from the weekend, when the 1939 theater designated a landmark by the Museum District Business Alliance announced it would close its doors on March 31 because Weingarten and Landmark had ended their talks without a deal.
"Landmark Theatres is disappointed to announce that there has been no response or acknowledgment of the revised proposal we submitted to Weingarten Realty this week," said Landmark in a statement. "In good faith, we presented a fair and reasonable proposal and asked for a response by close of business today. Unfortunately, there has been no response or even acknowledgement of this proposal, leaving us no choice, but to continue with our preparation to leave our beloved home of 30 years."
Over the weekend, despite the dark cloud hanging over the venue, the theater saw sell-out crowds—maintaining safety restrictions in response to Covid-19—for screenings of Nomadland and Minari.
"With the help of the media and our HFCS members’ outlets, we put out the call and people responded quickly and decisively," said Doug Harris, president of the Houston Film Critics Society, in a release. "Many bought tickets, even though they were unable to attend a showing. That’s how committed Houstonians are to keeping this theatre."
The Houston Film Critics Society has been instrumental in getting out the word about the theater’s plight. According to Weingarten, Landmark hasn’t paid the theater’s rent since March 2020, or the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that it’s unlikely rent could be paid in full in the future.
If it closed, the River Oaks Theatre could be demolished despite its designation as a historic landmark, as the city’s preservation ordinance merely regulates demolition of significant structures.
But, for the moment, maybe that won’t be so. The future of the River Oaks Theatre is tenuous, and there’s still room for more twists. We’ll see how this plays out.