UPDATE: A protest is planned for Sunday, March 7 at 2 pm at the theater.
Once again, the fate of a beloved Houston cinematic icon hangs in the balance. Stalling lease negotiations have put the River Oaks Theater’s future in jeopardy. The iconic theater’s lease agreement is coming to an end at the end of March 2021.
“We very much want to come to an agreement with Weingarten Realty and be able to continue to run our preeminent art house community theater,” said Landmark Theatres (which owns the venue) president and COO, Paul Serwitz, in a statement. “However, our lease is quickly coming to an end and, if we are unable to come to terms with our landlord, we will be forced to shutter.”
Property owner Weingarten Realty says the issue comes down to unpaid bills. “Silver Cinema Acquisition Company has been a key component to River Oaks Shopping Center,” a spokesperson for Weingarten Realty tells CultureMap.
“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.”
Serwitz points to the recent national economic downturn as a major factor in loss of revenue and the fact that viewers are eschewing theaters and are instead watching from home.
“Obviously, the government mandated closure during the COVID-19 crisis had an enormous impact on our revenue and we are trying to work with Weingarten on a proposal that will be to the benefit of both parties as well as the Houston community,” he said in a statement.
As local film fans are well aware, the River Oaks Theater is a movie palace from bygone days. The venue, which opened in 1939, is cherished for its art deco interior and has won myriad local accolades for its charm and preservation. The landmark also hosted Houston premieres of five of the last 10 Academy Award Best Picture winners.
“The River Oaks Theater has a long, storied history and we are very proud to have owned and operated the theater since 1976,” Serwitz continued. “It would be such a loss for Houston if we have to close our doors after 82 years because of an unwillingness to negotiate to the shared and mutual benefit of both parties.” He also added that “this awful pandemic is not the fault of Landmark Theatres or Weingarten Realty, but we all must be flexible during these trying times.”
This isn’t the first time the River Oaks Theater’s future has been in question. In 2018, as CultureMap reported, Amazon eyed the purchase of Landmark Theatres.