03/01/17 3:45pm

Former Luke's Locker at 1953 W. Gray St., River Oaks Shopping Center, Houston, 77019

It may not come as much of a surprise to the city’s more meticulous athletics outlet trackers that the Luke’s Locker at the corner of W. Gray and Driscoll streets has taken off: on January 20 the Texas chain announced via Facebook that they would be temporarily closing their Houston store, among others; a follow-up post a few days later clarified that the company had filed for Chapter 11. As of late last week, the name markers were coming down from the store’s exterior, a couple of “For Lease” signs were up, and the space had been emptied out.

The company still lists 1953 W. Gray address as a store location, complete with an image of the shop wrapped up in a bygone era of River Oaks Shopping Center aesthetics, when everything was more black-and-white:


Run Off on W. Gray
02/27/17 1:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: ON HAVING YOUR ART DECO STRIP CENTER AND EATING IT, TOO River Oaks Shopping Center highrise plan, Houston, 77019“’Everybody wants walkability, but nobody wants density’ is the urban-planning equivalent of ‘everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.’” [Angostura, commenting on Where Weingarten Plans To Stab That 30-Story Residential Highrise into the River Oaks Shopping Center] Site plan of future highrise development: Weingarten Realty

02/23/17 5:30pm

Cafe Ginger, 1952 W. Gray St., River Oaks Shopping Center, Houston, 77019

What with that  30-ish-story tower planned for on top of them, the businesses at the far end of the River Oaks Shopping Center (including Café Ginger, the King Ranch Saddle Shop, and Local Pour) now appear to have an ambiguous expiration date on their current locations. Café Ginger has already found a new place to crash when the time comes: staff at the restaurant confirmed today that they’ll be moving just a few blocks down W. Gray St. to River Oaks Plaza, which hosts Marshall’s, T.J. Maxx, and Office Max in some of its bigger boxes. The move probably won’t happen until next year, but restaurant’s name is already included in the leasing flier for the center (as is the new Carter’s Babies & Kids scheduled to open in the complex at the end of March).

Café Ginger is shown filling in the pair of retail spots on the strip mall corner near Dunlavy St. that previously housed Austin pan-Asian chain Mama Fu’s and Austin Mediterranean chain VERTS Kebap:


River Oaks Shopping Around
02/23/17 1:15pm

River Oaks Shopping Center highrise plan, Houston, 77019

What else might change as Weingarten plants the 30-ish story residential tower it announced yesterday on a spot currently occupied by a few of the River Oaks Shopping Center’s northeastern storefronts? Specifics on the design of the 300-plus-unit project (which the company hinted at in late 2015) are still scant, though construction may start as soon as next year. The planned footprint of the highrise, per the site map above, stomps out the far end of the building housing Cafe Ginger, Local Pour, and the King Ranch Saddle Shop, spreading out past the edge of the non-protected city historical landmark toward the would-be alignment of Driscoll St. The Hanover-developed tower will reportedly replace those storefronts with some 10,000 sq. ft. of retail space on its ground floor (leaving room, potentially, for a few more Starbucks).


High Hopes on W. Gray
12/21/15 11:30am

YOU MAY YET HAVE YOUR CHANCE TO LIVE ON TOP OF THE SUR LA TABLE BY THE RIVER OAKS THEATER River Oaks Shopping Center rooftops Senior Leasing VP Gerald Crump of Weingarten Realty Investors told Nancy Sarnoff of the Chronicle last week that even bigger changes are likely on their way to the River Oaks Shopping Center section on the north side of W. Gray between McDuffie and Driscoll, currently housing Sur La Table, Brasserie 19, and Cafe Ginger, among others (shown here from above, facing a distant Kroger’s). Still-nebulous plans for revamping the space include incorporating residential units, more retail or more parking. Any changes to the center, which is designated a historic landmark by the City, would need the nominal thumbs-up of the Houston Architectural and Historic Commission — though need for that approval can be bypassed by letting a 90-day waiting period expire, David Bush of Preservation Houston told Sarnoff. Crump says that the company will work to communicate plans to the surrounding community as they develop, but also tells Sarnoff that “as an owner and developer, you have to remain relevant”. The redo, whatever shape it eventually takes, could take that shape as early as 2019. [Houston Chronicle, previously on Swamplot] Photo: bjoelio via Swamplot Flickr pool

10/10/14 10:30am

RIVER OAKS AND HIGHLAND PARK: SEPARATED AT BIRTH? Highland Park and River Oaks, by Cheryl Caldwell FergusonThey each contain some of their city’s most expensive homes, and gave their name to classic (well, in one instance used-to-be-classic) 1930s shopping centers. But just how comparable are Dallas’s Highland Park and Houston’s River Oaks? Cheryl Caldwell Ferguson’s new book — bearing the complicated title Highland Park and River Oaks — delves into the history of the 2 garden-style suburbs and their associated retail ventures, as well as their connections to larger city-planning efforts that flopped. [UT Press; Amazon]

05/30/14 12:45pm

Marfreless, 2006 Peden St., River Oaks Shopping Center, HoustonThe former operators of Marfreless — the oh-so-dark bar that hid behind the unmarked blue door under the stairs in back of the River Oaks Shopping Center for more than a decade until shutting down in the middle of last year — filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the group that later renovated the space and opened a bar of the same name inside it in January of this year. In essence, the suit claims that the bar’s current operators are imposters, and are using the Marfreless name in its former leased location — and claiming to have reopened it — without permission. “Marfreless was temporarily closed in March of 2013, when it transitioned to new ownership, the third in its distinguished lifetime,” reads the new Marfreless website, created by the bar’s current operators. But the lawsuit claims that isn’t true. “Despite these representations by Defendant,” reads a filing by Marfreless Ventures, LP, “no such ownership transition has ever taken place.”


The Lawsuit Behind the Bar
05/12/14 11:30am

THE RIVER OAKS SHOPPING CENTER’S NEW PARKING METERS Parking Meter at Peden St. at McDuffie St., River Oaks Shopping Center, HoustonHooded, solar-powered parking overseers have arrived on streets surrounding the River Oaks Shopping Center on West Gray St., reader James Glassman notes. Here’s a photo of a meter dressed in a blue cape, awaiting orders to undress on Peden St. at McDuffie. [Previously on SwamplotPhoto: James Glassman

01/06/14 10:00am

Marfreless, 2006 Peden St., River Oaks Shopping Center, HoustonThe new owners of Marfreless have updated the website of the shuttered River Oaks Shopping Center bar to indicate that it plans on reopening in January. Which makes sense, since the previously promised summer 2013 re-launch date for the 2006 Peden St. location has come and gone. A comment appended back in December to a Facebook photo album showing renovations of the signless institution’s famed dimly lit interior provides an actual opening date: “probably” January 17th. What delights await inside? A unisex restroom with 2 stalls, chandeliers, plus new VIP areas carved out of what were previously storage rooms: “There will be curtains upstairs that you can pull closed for privacy or open for groups. Or . . . pull closed for groups, if that’s what you’re into.” The stairs, however, will still offer the “same place to hit your head.”

Photo: Marfreless

Behind the Blue Door
06/17/13 10:00am

THE RETURN OF MARFRELESS It was only temporary, it turns out, the closing of Houston’s infamous den of PDA: Though reports in March suggested that River Oaks Shopping Center landlords Weingarten had hiked the rent, described cheekily in a press release by Marfreless as “the rising cost of doing business,” it appears that the bar that looks the other way has found new owners and will reopen with the same management in the same spot this summer — and they’ll be fixing up the place, too, they’ve announced in a press release that’s fairly dripping with innuendo: “All this comes with a complete renovation — from wires and carpet to the furniture you . . . sit on. You can expect an updated feel with the same Marfreless experience you’ve come to love. And don’t worry, our upstairs seating and iconic blue door will remain.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Flickr user jmcgeough

04/12/13 2:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE RIVER OAKS SHOPPING CENTER’S COMING DOUBLE MOCHA LATTE PROBLEM “Finger is adding 431 units next to Whole Foods, Regent Square is putting up 290 units down the street in their apartment tower, Hanover at W. Gray and Waugh will be 275 units, the Richdale development on W. Gray where the ballet used to be is supposed to be 160 units and this new one on Montrose and Dallas will probably be at least 250 judging from the size of the lot and the economics of apartment complexes. That makes somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300-1400 new units all within about a mile of each other. That will certainly impact traffic in the area. The bigger impact is going to be on retail in the area. A couple thousand more people are going to be living in the area, yet the retail layout is largely going to remain the same. Regent Square may finally get active and save the day with some needed retail and restaurants. But once all the apartments fill up, there will be long lines at Starbucks whether you are on the north side of W. Gray, southside or inside Barnes and Nobles.” [Old School, commenting on The Apartments Behind the Finger Apartments Behind the Montrose Whole Foods]

03/22/13 10:00am

WEINGARTEN RESPONDS: HEY, IT’S NOT US, IT’S MARFRELESS The make-out den behind the blue door says it’s closing because of the “rising cost of doing business” in the River Oaks Shopping Center, but landlords Weingarten Realty don’t see it that way — or at least that’s what an email sent yesterday to the Houston Chronicles Nancy Sarnoff says: “It was Marfreless’ decision to cease their operations at River Oaks Shopping Center. Weingarten Realty has made several attempts to contact the tenant to continue discussions but we have not been able to get a response. We remain open to discussing a lease extension and agreement.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Flickr user jmcgeough

07/23/12 12:14pm

What’s going on with these newly created tall-suspension-only parking spots outside Marfreless behind the River Oaks Shopping Center — at the corner of Peden and McDuffie? “This story all began with a strip of grass,” explains Brinn Miracle, who documented the strip’s disappearance, its re-landscaping, the replacement of the landscaping with a ramp, the removal of the ramp, and finally, the appearance of the configuration you see here. Sure, It may look like a couple of parking spaces bisected by a row of wheel stops, but don’t let your eyes fool you: As careful study and comparison of her photos looking west (above) and east (below) should make clear, half of each space is now meant to serve as a sidewalk . . .


04/28/11 11:41am

C’mon, we all know what the problem’s been with the old Art Deco River Oaks Shopping Center on West Gray, just east of Shepherd: The place was too black-and-white, the signs were too damn small, and it didn’t have enough turrets. Hey, nothing a little forehead lift and a generous slathering of EIFS can’t fix! Got some can’t-sell brick up there? Time for a little arch-ee-textural adjustment! It’ll look just like stucco — with all those control joints you love, plus they’ll be painting the new glop a nice Pearland-y mustard color. All that and a new wash of beige paint over the rest of the place should make folks driving in from newer suburbs feel more at home when they visit — and may have the added bonus of attracting a few of those nail salons and check-cashing outlets the place has been so sorely missing.


04/21/11 5:42pm

LANDMARK FOR SALE Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban, whose company 2929 Entertainment has owned Landmark Theatres since 2003, is putting the arthouse cinema chain up for sale by auction — along with its sister independent-film distribution company, Magnolia Pictures. Landmark operates 55 cinemas with 245 screens in 21 cities. In Houston, Landmark leases the art deco 1939-vintage River Oaks Theatre at 2009 West Gray — from Weingarten Realty. Offers are expected to come in as early as next week, but Cuban tells Bloomberg News he is only “testing the waters . . . We won’t sell unless the offer is very, very compelling.” [Art Attack] Photo: Flickr user Loren-zo