The proposed alterations to the old Alabama Theatre at 2922 South Shepherd to make way for a new Trader Joe's were reviewed — and approved — Thursday in the monthly meeting of the Houston Archaeological and Historic Commission.
The plans, published last week, deal only with renovations of the exterior of the historic building, however. Among the changes that the HAHC found acceptable to the Historic Preservation Ordinance are two large "Trader Joe's" store signs on either side of the marquee facing Shepherd — which will sit atop a new storefront that's built out from its current parameters — and a large turret out back, facing the parking lot on Kipling.
The interior, however, isn't subject to review, meaning that the theater's Art Deco interiors, including its balcony area, moulding and murals, are not protected. Planning & Development Department public affairs manager Suzy Hartgrove confirms by email, "The interior is up to the tenant/owner."
One of the biggest challenges to a new owner — especially one with shopping carts — will be the theater's sloping floors. When Weingarten Realty, which owns the property, investigated updating the theater in March 2010 for a possible Staples store, it bid out demolition plans that amounted to a near gut job — leveling the original floor with a concrete slab and stripping the distinctive ceiling.
The interiors had remained relatively intact as they were in 1939 through the theater's tenure as a Barnes & Noble's Bookstop. It's been standing empty since 2009.
A Weingarten representative would not comment on plans for the interiors of the theater and declined to explain whether they customarily leave interior alterations up to their tenants (in 2010, it seemed as though the real estate company had planned to gut the theater in order to lure a tenant, rather than first signing a lease and leaving alterations up to the tenant's discretion.)
For those more concerned with parking than preservation — fear not. The parking requirements for the grocer will be the same as those for a bookstore, so as long as no spots are removed, all should be up to code. Although, given the popularity of Trader Joe's, parking may yet be a problem.