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See the Alabama Theater being turned into a Trader Joe's: Shopping cart areas prepared; missing sign letters vow made

See the Alabama Theater being turned into a Trader Joe's: Shopping cart areas prepared; missing sign letters vow made

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At the back entrance, crews are laying fresh concrete ramps. Photo by Karen Burd
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The ghostly shapes of the "Alabama" letters remain, as Weingarten oversees a restoration project that will restore the landmark sign to its original 1939 glory. Photo by Karen Burd
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Workers are removing lights from the topside of the marque and laying metal flashing along the edges of the roofline. Photo by Karen Burd
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As workers plaster the interior walls, decorative pieces from the former theater have been detached. Photo by Karen Burd
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Thankfully, much of the theater's original exterior detailing remains. Photo by Karen Burd
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Weingarten told CultureMap the lettering will get new neon and a fresh coat of paint. Photo by Karen Burd
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Though the interior looks as gutted as it did in late March, the walls of the old theater have a more finished quality to them. Photo by Karen Burd
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Openings to an east-west hallway are now in place, helping to give shape to how the gourmet grocer will use the space. Photo by Karen Burd
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News_Alabama Theater_Interior Construction_May 2012

Houston preservationists feared the worst Tuesday afternoon as workers removed the neon letters from the historic street sign marking the former Alabama Theatre.

Weingarten Realty, which owns the shopping center where the historic cinema space is located, is overseeing a current renovation project that will convert the old theater from its last incarnation as a bookstore into one of the city's first Trader Joe's. The "Alabama" sign has been an area landmark since the late 1930s, and the realty company assures Houstonians that the iconic neon letters are simply being refurbished.

"No worries — it'll look exactly the same," W eingarten marketing manager Carrie Murray says.

"There's no need to panic," Weingarten marketing manager Carrie Murray tells CultureMap. "We're just changing out some of the neon lights that were broken and touching up the paint on the letters.

"The whole process is easier to do when the letters are removed. No worries — it'll look exactly the same." 

While Coast Graphics & Signs restores the lettering at its workshop in Stafford, construction crews continue to built out the dark and cavernous interior of the vintage theater, which seems as gutted as it was during CultureMap's late March visit. Pieces of the large turquoise wall hangings sit on the floor as workers plaster the walls.

Plastering was well under way on Wednesday, while crews on scaffolding covered portions of the south wall above openings to a hallway that bisects the building. Natural light only enters the space on the east and west sides of the shopping center, so industrial lights are needed for most of the work. (Personally, it seems like the interior could use some skylights.)

Several electricians at the site prepared the space for Trader Joe's countless refrigeration units, as concrete experts laid rebar for a gently sloping ramps leading into the building from the rear parking lot. Clusters of metal supports at either side of the back entrance appear to be future shopping cart areas.