Alamo Drafthouse to Weingarten: Why Gut the Alabama Theater When We Can Just Chop It in Half?

The new owners of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema franchises in Katy and at the West Oaks Mall tell the Chronicle‘s Nancy Sarnoff they’ve begun new talks with Weingarten Realty about turning the former Alabama Theater into the first Inside-the-Loop location for the dinner-drinks-and-movie chain.

Triple Tap Ventures partner Neil Michaelsen tells Sarnoff his group had held discussions with Weingarten about the former Alabama Bookstop location at 2922 South Shepherd more than 6 months ago — but “couldn’t come to an agreement” about leasing the space. Triple Tap announced its purchase of the two Houston Alamo Drafthouse locations — and plans to construct new cinema locations in Amarillo, Corpus Christi, Lubbock, the Midland-Odessa area, San Marcos, and Houston — just last October.

Sarnoff explains that the Alabama Theater building isn’t exactly Triple Tap’s ideal location:


Even though the Alabama space is smaller than desired, Michaelsen said his group has worked with architects to come up with scenarios that could possibly work, including a venue with at least two screens.

“We’ve spent money and time and effort to try and do something there,” he said.

Michaelsen wouldn’t discuss what the sticking points were during the first round of talks with property owner Weingarten, nor would he speculate on what he thought the chances were of a new deal happening.

Of course back then, Triple Tap didn’t have a 2,000-plus-member Facebook group behind it urging the theater’s owners to accept its terms. What happened in the meantime? A few people read Swamplot’s reports last week that a local construction firm was already accepting bids from subcontractors for a comprehensive interior demolition of the 1939 Art Deco theater space — using construction documents prepared expressly for Weingarten Realty by a local architecture firm.

Photo: Chris Adams

16 Comment

  • The following is Alamo Drafthouse’s response to the Facebook group:

    “First and foremost we are flattered and very appreciative of the “Put Alamo Drafthouse in Houston’s Alabama Street Theater” fans for their support of the Alamo. In terms of the Alabama, we agree wholeheartedly with the group’s members that it would make an excellent Alamo locat…ion and space. Several months ago, we had a number of discussions with Weingarten in regards to bringing an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to the Alabama, unfortunately at the time, we were not able to come to an agreement with them. We’ve recently reengaged with Weingarten on that subject and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on the progress of these discussions.

    It would be a shame to see the Alabama destroyed, and if there is a way to save it we want to take a lead in doing so.”

    (Neil Michaelsen, President of Triple Tap Ventures, which owns the two existing Houston area Alamo’s and has the development rights for any future Houston Alamo Drafthouse locations)

  • Way to go Swamplot.

    If they make a dual screen setup, wouldn’t that mean gutting much of the interior anyway?

  • If they make a dual screen setup, wouldn’t that mean gutting much of the interior anyway?

    You got it. So much for preservation.

  • They’ll also have to put in a kitchen unless you want them to be throwing the food into a bank of microwaves to cook.

    The only thing Alamo could do would be to rehab the interior to look like the original theater.

    Historic Preservation doesn’t always mean preserving it exactly like it was. It can also mean preserving the style. Many old building have taken this route when being transformed into new uses.

  • Alamo Drafthouse had a booth at the Comicpalooza convention over the weekend, and I talked at length about the Alabama with one of the people behind the table on Saturday afternoon. I was under the impression that he was a manager in the local area, but I don’t know how high on the totem pole he was. He gave me movie tickets. :D

    He said that they looked at the space quite some time ago, before Bookstop even closed (I don’t know if I was the only one to send them a letter back in September, but the space has been on their radar for awhile now), and the reconfiguration would probably be similar to the way the River Oaks works, with the balcony converted to additional screen. He said that he thought three screens, like the River Oaks would work, and there would have to be some destruction of the Art Deco ceiling to make it work, though the side walls and the area around the big screen would be untouched.

    I asked about the kitchen, and he said that actually wouldn’t be a big deal at all, because the space behind the screen, which was storage for Bookstop, is pretty big. He didn’t seem to think that it’d have problems accommodating their kitchen.

    My impression of the sticking point was that they weren’t sure if they’d be able to show the movies that they want to there, given its close proximity to the Edwards Greenway. He said that they were very interested in coming inside the loop, but they just hadn’t found the right space yet. I asked if they’d looked at the Tower Theater over on Westheimer, and I didn’t get the impression that it was as on their radar at all (I think it probably would be even more difficult, as parking would be a nightmare).

    He was aware of the facebook group, but when I talked to him, it probably had a couple hundred members instead of the two thousand it has now.

  • It’s a shame that the various peforming arts organizations that have no home can’t get together and form some sort of consortium and not only preserve the Alabama but take if from theater to theatre.

    I guess the smaller groups don’t have the “chi-chi” appeal for the “chi-chi” fundraisers.

    At least Bookstop respected a “sacred space” which is probably the first, and last, time anyone did in Houston.

  • Y’all gotta stop pressing this “performing arts” BS. Movie theaters are movie theaters. They were purpose-built for movies, and they’re not set up to have the amenities (dressing rooms, large backstage bathrooms, etc) that are available in even even a modest-sized Junior High School.

  • Also, I’d go see Scarface at the Alabama. I’d probably be down for Rocky Horror if there were enough attractive girls in the group. NO WAY in HADES would I patronize some community theater group’s production of Shakespeare, Rodgers and Hammerstein, or the Vagina Monologues.

    I suspect that, despite their best intentions, a majority of the current Montrose crowd would ultimately make the same decisions.

  • I suspect that, despite their best intentions, a majority of the current Montrose crowd would ultimately make the same decisions.


    Some of whom probably would be fine with putting in picnic tables and some wide-screen tvs and turning it into another icehouse.

  • Alamo gang_

    I would DEFINITELY patronize a drafthouse/theatre @ The Alabama frequently.
    I would also contact you in re: group packages for my company.

    Please make it work a la River Oaks Theatre. Many of us would show gratitude to a firm that exhibits what I consider development in the public interest. How? Spending $$$! Referring to you as an “anti-Weingarten”! Using you as a positive example of responsible “in-fill” development.

    Weingarten REIT: Pull your collective head out on this one, then you can shove it back in and conduct your business as usual!

  • Maybe the conversion would be like what they did with River Oaks… Balcony theater and bigger downstairs theater…is the space next door open? -Not the Petsmart side, but the other side? I just hope this doesn’t split the audiences and result in both theaters going belly-up.

  • KHH:

    You’re right, and I made the same point in another thread. It would be a better concert venue than theatre venue, but it would be a better movie theatre than anything. One place I disagree with you: most junior high schools have a stage at one end of the cafeteria and not much else. Most high schools, even with an auditorium, have very little in terms of support space, leaving that to the classrooms of the programs involved.


    The other side is Whole Earth Provision Company, which expanded into the former Cactus space. They’re pretty cool and I would hate to see them go.

    I am confused: is Alamo’s concern about not showing the movies they want because of Edwards Greenway due to some contractual issue with the movie distributors about proximity, or is it just because Edwards Greenway is about as close as, well, one Barnes & Noble to another?

  • Marmer,

    I think it is because Alamo mostly shows newer movies and only a few independent films (on occasion). This space being so limited, there standard model of show big movies with a food service would have to compete against Edwards.

    Independent films are nice, but Alamo has to figure if they can make rent only show those kinds of movies at this location.

  • kjb:

    Thanks, that what I thought. Still, with so many movie theatres in Houston, why would anyone go to Alamo unless they wanted the kind of food and experience Alamo offers? If you don’t care about food service, why drive that much farther? And for that matter, why is it so important to Alamo to show first-run high profile movies? If you want the “dinner (or beer) while watching a great movie on the big screen” experience, why couldn’t it be Casablanca, or The Godfather, or Butch Cassidy, or whatever famous, iconic movie?

  • Marmer,

    From what I understand it’s a contractural thing. There are exclusive rights clauses in the distribution deals between the major motion studios/distributors and the theaters. Generally, they’re between ten and three miles, and because the Edwards was built when the old theater on Waugh and West Grey (where Fit is now) was still around, I assume this one is three miles. From what I understand, the Alabama is well within that radius, and so it’d be very difficult to compete with the Edwards having a two week head start (the two week number came from a comment on the Facebook page) on the movies people are most likely going to want to see, the new ones. Obviously, people see older movies, and from what I understand, the longer the movie is out the more that the theater gets to keep, but the business model for the Alamo on Alabama in particular would have to be slightly different than that of the other Alamos because they won’t be showing the same movies at the same time. They’d have to figure out new and interesting things to do with event movies, like Iron Man. Because the fanboys will have arleady seen Iron Man at least once by the time it hits the Alabama.

  • “From Keep Houston Houston:
    Y’all gotta stop pressing this “performing arts” BS. Movie theaters are movie theaters. They were purpose-built for movies, and they’re not set up to have the amenities (dressing rooms, large backstage bathrooms, etc) that are available in even even a modest-sized Junior High School.”

    I’m not positive, but I think the Alabama has those amenities. I know they have a back loading dock and a backstage area.