Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Houston's safest neighborhood theatre

With today's news that the city will move to designate the River Oaks Shopping Center, the River Oaks Theatre and the Alabama Bookstop as city landmarks, now would be a good time to roll out some information on when the theater opened.

The movie house opened on Nov. 28, 1939, with the Oscar-nominated "Bachelor Mother," starring David Niven, as the first film to be shown at the theater.

About half a page of ads in that day's Houston Post offered congratulations and best wishes to the theater and its operators. One business, Monarch Cleaners on Shepherd Drive, offered all-night service and allowed theater patrons to drop off or pick up their clothes anytime after the show.

The advertisement above described the River Oaks theater as "Houston's newest and safest neighborhood theatre."

The theater's operators promised:

"Pictures shown at the River Oaks will be carefully selected from the lists of all producers for good taste, high entertainment value, suitability for family audiences. Films to be shown at the River Oaks will be selected with your children in mind."

Opening ceremonies featured Houston Mayor Oscar F. Holcombe; Hugh Potter, president of the River Oaks Association; H.F. Pettigrew, of Pettigrew and Worley, who designed the theater; Buck Wynn Jr., who designed the interior; and Paul Scott, theater operator and manager.

A Post article touting the theater's opening mentioned a couple of architectural features:

  • "The seating arrangement provides wide spaces between the rows so that patrons will not be disturbed with the arrival or departure of others."

  • "Mr. Potter pointed out that the design of the theater has been conditioned to its location, in a grove of tall oak trees adjoining a residential neighborhood. The building is low so as to conform to a proposed adjoining structure which will contain additional store spaces and office facilities for the River Oaks Shopping Center."

  • The theater seated about 1,000 patrons.

  • The balcony stairway was lit with a continuous tube embedded in an aluminum hand rail. "The interior and exterior lighting reflect advancements presented for the first time this year at the New York and San Francisco fairs."

  • "Bas reliefs to the left and right of the stage are outstanding decorative features of the theater. Said to be the largest castings of their kind in the South, the bas reliefs portray the land and the sea. The work of Mr. Wynn, they have caused considerable favorable comment from artists and sculptors."

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