Update on River Oaks


We posted before about a fight to preserve the River Oaks Shopping Center in Houston.

The Houston Chronicle has an update on that fight. Sections of the shopping center have now been demolished. But the River Oaks Theater, for now, has been spared.

Local officials had designated the center as a historic landmark just before part of it was demolished to make way for a redevelopment that will include a book store and other retailers. The story details some of the debate behind the scenes. Some saw designating the center as a landmark as a futile effort while others saw it as a way to try and "embarrass" the owners of the property.

In the end, it makes for a highly unusual situation. Typically, mall owners don't face such opposition when they try to update properties. Here, though, the shopping center was seen as a historic setting, because of its Art Deco design.

Some officials favored a conciliatory approach, while others wanted to ensure that destruction of the building was as inconvenient as possible for its owner, Weingarten Realty Investors, according to e-mails obtained by the Houston Chronicle under the Texas Public Information Act.

Now, as Weingarten proceeds with its plans to redevelop the northwest section of the shopping center, local and national preservationists are focusing their attention on how to save Weingarten's two historic, Art Deco-style theater buildings in Houston: The River Oaks Theater across West Gray from the demolished shopping center, and the Alabama Theater building on Shepherd that now houses a Bookstop.

"They are of the highest importance," said Daniel Carey, the southwest regional director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Carey confirmed that the trust's president, Richard Moe, personally had called Weingarten's chief executive officer to plead for the salvation of the theater buildings.

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