a real cliffhanger

Houstonians rally around beloved River Oaks Theatre in new protest

Houstonians rally around beloved River Oaks Theatre in new protest

River Oaks Theatre protest Weingarten 2021
The theater could shutter as early as March 31. Photo by Amber Slaughter
River Oaks Theatre protest Weingarten 2021
Supporters rallied on March 7. Photo by Amber Slaughter
River Oaks Theatre protest Weingarten 2021
Weingarten is the villain in this story, according to theater supporters. Photo by Amber Slaughter
River Oaks Theatre protest Weingarten 2021
River Oaks Theatre protest Weingarten 2021
River Oaks Theatre protest Weingarten 2021

Dozens packed the space in front of the iconic River Oaks Theatre to show support for the beloved local landmark on Sunday, March 7.

Nearly 150 assembled to rally locals around the mecca of art house, local and foreign films, and popular Saturday performances of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is in jeopardy as after closing for six months last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent missed rent payments to Weingarten Realty.

“We want to renew our lease, and we want to work with Weingarten anyway we can, but they have not been willing to negotiate with us thus far,” says theater spokesperson Jeff Smith. As CultureMap previously reported, the venue could shutter as early as March 31 — hence the public gathering.

“If you take away the River Oaks Theatre, you take away a big part of Houston’s creative heart. That is why Artists for Artists is advocating to save this sacred place,” Artists for Artists founder Amber Slaughter — who attended the rally — tells CultureMap. “We must come together as a community to save this historic landmark that has entertained us for over 82 years.”

Others who gathered shared their personal experiences and history with the theater. “I’ve been going to Rocky since I was 13,” one 18-year-old protestor told CultureMap news partner ABC13, “and I don’t want this place to be shut down.” Another told ABC13 that she has been coming to the venue “since the ’70s,” and that her daughter first came to the theater when she was two years old; she’s now 50.

“This is the only place you can see vintage films in Houston, and most of the time people don't even realize things like this until they’re gone," another theater supporter told ABC13. “If you take away the Landmark you take so much of Houston's heart.”

“We keep taking away our history and our landmarks — and what are we going to have left,” yet another asked.

Weingarten, in a previous statement to CultureMap, Weingarten Realty noted: “Silver Cinema Acquisition Company has been a key component to River Oaks Shopping Center. We have continued to work with the company who has not paid rent since March of 2020. Conversations have indicated that their business model does not support paying more than a fraction of the previous rent going forward. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused many businesses in the entertainment industry, such as theaters, to fail.”

The company did not immediately respond to CultureMap’s request for comment regarding the most recent round of protests.

Will the cherished theater be rescued by a generous Houstonian or last-minute agreement? For now, the story is a bit of a cliffhanger.

“The River Oaks Theatre is a magical place that acts as a portal to a vast, limitless and beautiful world that many of us didn’t know existed before they walked through those welcoming art decor doors,” says Slaughter. “Magical places are worth saving.”