Saving it or not?
All eyes have been on Weingarten Realty since it came out that the long-empty Alabama Theater would be renovated to house a new Trader Joe's grocer.
One of the city's last historic art deco theaters, preservationists had hoped that many of the 1939 theater's characteristics — including its flooring, murals and mezzanine — could be saved.
One major change that seemed inevitable was the leveling of the theater's original sloped floor, which had remained throughout its tenure as a Barnes & Nobles Bookstop. That floor might make pushing a shopping cart a little iffy.
David Bush tells CultureMap that the murals are original to the building, and are even described in detail in a 1939 article.
Shortly after the realty company announced it was able to save the terrazzo flooring at the theater's entrance (at the suggestion of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance) it has released a statement pledging that it is "committed to protecting the integrity of the building."
The City's Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission unanimously approved the realty company's exterior changes, although the interior of the building isn't subject to any historic protection.
Weingarten acknowledges preservationist fears for the theater's interiors and says it plans to "maintain and preserve as many portions of the interior architectural elements as possible, including the mezzanine, the terrazzo flooring at the Shepherd entrance and the ceiling’s architectural elements, including paint."
Elements that are not being preserved, however, include the two murals that had flanked the theater's screen wall, all of which have already been removed. The press release claims these murals are not original to the building. GHPA programs and information director David Bush, however, tells CultureMap that the murals are original to the building, and are even described in detail in a 1939 Houston Chronicle article. Archived images of the murals, he says, date back 65 years.
It's worth noting that the press release does not mention Trader Joe's specifically as a tenant, but keeps it vague as to what future tenants the modifications are being made for, or if a tenant is close to signing a lease.