Alabama Theatre (Houston)

The Alabama Theatre is a historic movie theater located at the intersection of Alabama Street and Shepherd Drive in the Upper Kirby district of Houston, Texas. Constructed in 1939, in the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne styles as a suburban theater, the Alabama primarily booked roadshow engagements through most of its history.[1][2][3] Today, the theater is home to a Trader Joe's grocery store.[4] It is one of the buildings of the Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center, owned by Weingarten Realty.[5]

Alabama Theatre
Alabama marquee.jpg
Address2922 South Shepherd
Houston, Texas
United States
OwnerWeingarten Realty
DesignationCity of Houston Landmark
TypeArt Deco-Streamline Moderne Theatre
Current useGrocer
ProductionTrader Joe's
Years active1939–
ArchitectW. Scott Dunne


The Alabama Theatre as a Trader Joe's

Beginnings as Alabama TheatreEdit

As Houston and the rest of the country recovered from the Great Depression, art-deco style theaters of the late 1930s were built in many residential neighborhoods across the city. The 739 seat Alabama Theatre opened on November 2, 1939, screening Man About Town, starring Jack Benny.[2] The Alabama was Interstate Theater Corporation's tenth theater in the Houston area.[2] The showing of the first CinemaScope film made (The Robe) at the first CinemaScope screening in Houston took place at the Alabama Theater.[3]

Renovation to Alabama BookstopEdit

Competition from multicinemas, television, and videotape reduced Alabama’s attendance and profits.[2] The theater was closed as a movie theater and was renovated as a retail bookstore,[6] preserving many details such as its murals and balconies while undergoing an exterior and interior renovation designed to preserve the Streamline Moderne architecture of the 1930s.[7] The theater was reopened as the Alabama Bookstop bookstore in 1984 (later acquired by Barnes & Noble booksellers) and became the retailer's most profitable location.[2][8] Gary Hoover, one founder of Bookstop, stated that his architects set up the building so it could be easily converted back into the theater in case the bookstore closed.[9] Laura Nathan-Garner, the author of Insiders' Guide to Houston, wrote that despite the fact that the Bookstop was owned by a chain, the fact it was located in a former theater "has enabled it to retain an independent flair."[10]

Weingarten Purchase, Concerns over Historic Preservation, and Conversion to Trader Joe'sEdit

Weingarten Realty purchased the Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center in 2004.[11] The Alabama Bookstop closed in September, 2009 after 25 years as a bookstore. Weingarten Realty Investors, owner of the theater was interested in saving the historic building as long as the proposals make economic sense for the company. Weingarten considered razing the building and building high-rise development on the site.[12] The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance recently placed the Alabama Theater on its endangered buildings list due to the threat of demolition. Additionally, Preservation Texas also listed the theater as one of the state's most endangered places as well as being designated as a historic property by the City of Houston.[13][14][15]

Interior of the Trader Joe's

“We’re here to preserve yet another endangered species,” said Carolyn Farb at a Houston city council meeting, “Let’s not wipe away history with a big eraser.”[16]

In 2010 according to some construction documents Weingarten planned to bury the theater's sloped floor under a concrete slab and to remove the wooden floors that had been inserted in the 1983 conversion to a bookstore. Weingarten for now plans to keep the balcony.[17] In March 2010 Alamo Drafthouse renewed its talks with Weingarten in regards to a proposal to lease space in the Alabama Theatre.[18]

In September 2011 Trader Joe's stated that it was considering opening its first Greater Houston location in the Alabama Theatre.[19] The Texas Historical Commission has informed the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance that Trader Joe's renovation plans for the Alabama Theater would leave the historic terrazzo at the theater’s original entrance intact.[20] In September 2011 the City of Houston's Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission approved the proposed exterior changes that the property would make to the Alabama Theatre.[21] If the municipal commission voted against the changes, the property owner would have been able to make them anyway after waiting 90 days.[21] Throughout the processes of restoration and conversion to grocery store, Trader Joe’s made efforts to preserve and pay homage to the building’s history, such as putting 1000 hours of work into refurbishing the ceiling (featuring a large medallion), rewiring the theater marquee, preserving the balcony and entrance mosaic tile floors (as stated in the renovation plans), creating thematic movie posters (e.g., "Gentlemen Prefer Blonde Ales," "Reservoir Hot Dogs," "Pulpy Fiction”), and displaying a genuine poster of the first movie to screen at the theatre in 1939.[4]

Because of the Trader Joe's lease, the shopping center's occupancy rate became 100%. Due to the restoration, the Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center won the 2013 Landmark Award in Historic Preservation from the Houston Business Journal.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Lisa Gray (2009-08-06). "Gray: The most hated shopping center". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-09-09.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Alabama Theatre". Cinema Houston. Archived from the original on December 30, 2008. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  3. ^ a b "The Alabama and River Oaks Theatres". Save Our Houston Historic Landmarks. Archived from the original on 2009-08-31. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  4. ^ a b David Kaplan (2012-09-18). "Trader Joe's to open Friday in the former Alabama Theater". Houston Chronicle.
  5. ^ "Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center" (Archive). Weingarten Realty. Retrieved on April 16, 2014.
  6. ^ Foster, Robin (August 4, 2009). "Bookstop to close, reopen at West Gray". Houston Chronicle.
  7. ^ "Kaldis Development Interests Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center". Archived from the original on 2008-05-22. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  8. ^ Lisa Gray (2006-08-07). "Preservation - A Page of History". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-09-09.
  9. ^ Gray, Lisa. "Eight ways to save Alabama, River Oaks theaters." Houston Chronicle. September 10, 2006. Retrieved on April 7, 2014. "Gary Hoover, one of Bookstop's founders, said that when he converted the old theater into a bookstore, his architects allowed for the Alabama's afterlife, aiming for an easy, post-bookstore conversion back to a theater."
  10. ^ Nathan-Garner, Laura. Insiders' Guide® to Houston. Globe Pequot, November 10, 2009. ISBN 0762758376, 9780762758371. p. 194.
  11. ^ a b "2013 Landmark Awards: Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center (Video)." Houston Business Journal. September 12, 2013. Retrieved on April 16, 2014.
  12. ^ Lisa Gray (2006-09-01). "Firm offers hope for saving Houston landmarks / Weingarten firm offers hope for 'endangered' theater sites". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  13. ^ "River Oaks center/Alabama Theater updates". Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. Archived from the original on 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  14. ^ "Planning and Development Department, Historic Preservation". City of Houston. Archived from the original on July 6, 2008. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  15. ^ "Most Endangered Places 2007 – Preservation Texas". Archived from the original on 2009-08-20. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  16. ^ Blumenthal, Ralph (2006-08-12). "Fighting the Wrecking Ball to Save Houston Landmarks". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  17. ^ Bair, Jeff. "Plans revealed for Alabama Theater." Houston Chronicle. March 23, 2010. Retrieved on March 23, 2010.
  18. ^ Sarnoff, Nancy. "Alamo Drafthouse: Talks with Weingarten renewed." Houston Chronicle. March 31, 2010. Retrieved on April 1, 2010.
  19. ^ Sarnoff, Nancy. "UPDATE: Trader Joe’s pursues historic building in Montrose." Houston Chronicle. September 19, 2011. Retrieved on September 19, 2011.
  20. ^ "What's next for Houston's Alabama Theater?". Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. Archived from the original on 2011-10-08. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  21. ^ a b Sarnoff, Nancy. "City approves proposed Trader Joe’s space." Houston Chronicle. September 22, 2011. Retrieved on February 19, 2012.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 29°44′21″N 95°24′40″W / 29.7393°N 95.4112°W / 29.7393; -95.4112