It sure looks like it: Here’s a photo of the theater’s west parking lot, sent to Swamplot by a reader who noted that a concrete pour began on Saturday morning. Earlier this month, Weingarten received a permit for “Landlord Improvements — Infill/Leveling,” though the permit’s title doesn’t make it clear what kind of leveling the national REIT wanted to do to the landmarked structure at 2922 S. Shepherd Dr., which is expected to be transformed into Houston’s first Trader Joe’s market.
Why would Weingarten want to pour a thick layer of concrete onto the floor of its historic building — and how much demolition of the theater’s interior might be accompanying this work?
When Mike Treadway Architects planned the theater’s conversion into the Alabama Bookstop bookstore back in 1984, the award-winning renovation added a system of wooden platforms and stairs that provided level surfaces for customers but still preserved the elaborate interior space — so that someday a later user might still be able to convert it back to a working theater. (As in most movie theaters, the original floor was sloped toward the stage and original screen.) A similar system of constructed platforms could have been used again to prepare the space for a non-big-box retailer like Trader Joe’s, where customers use shopping carts but the store doesn’t need to operate forklifts or other heavy equipment inside. But Weingarten appears to have chosen a more permanent solution to ridding the theater of its unique interior features. And more than simple flooring changes may have already taken place.
Plans prepared for Weingarten Realty in March of 2010 (when office-supply retailer Staples was believed to have been interested in the space), detailed an extensive interior demolition to accompany a leveling concrete pour. As Swamplot noted at the time, the plans — which had been sent out to bid before Swamplot discovered them, and which prompted a strong response among local preservationists and some backpedaling from Weingarten — called for the removal of all interior non-structural elements and infill of the building’s basement and air-vent tunnels, in order to prepare what the bid documents described as a “‘cold-dark shell’ ready to accept future tenant construction.” Is this what Trader Joe’s is asking Weingarten to do before it’ll sign a lease?
These drawings from last year’s documents show the theater space’s proposed before:
and after the demolition and concrete pour:
Another view of the interior, from its final days as a bookstore:
Swamplot’s tipster notes that a large dumpster has been sitting in the parking lot behind the theater for the last 2 weeks. Though Weingarten Realty was required to receive city approval for its proposed changes to the outside of the building (which it did), no approval other than a permit is required for any alterations to the interior, because only the theater’s exterior is a designated historic landmark.
If the concrete trucks operating over the weekend were reaching into the building’s innards to bury the theater floor, it’s more than likely that the mural below, which theatergoers used to see to the left side of the stage would be a casualty of the work; workers would probably need to puncture through that wall from the rear of the building to reach into the main space.
- Previously on Swamplot: What Would Stay and What Would Go in a Trader Joe’s Alabama Theater Clearance
- Alabama Theater coverage [Swamplot]