Weingarten Realty: We Won’t Demolish the Interior of the Alabama Theater Until a Lease Is Signed

What’s the latest on those plans to demolish the interior of the Alabama Theater at West Alabama and Shepherd — you know, the plans already put out to bid to subcontractors but that owner Weingarten Realty can’t quite seem to verify are its own?

A spokesperson under contract to Weingarten tells Swamplot that the company won’t act on them before a lease agreement with a new tenant is signed:

I now have the okay to post based on your last blog entry to reassure your readers that WRI has no intention undertaking any pre-buildout of the interior prior to any lease agreement. And, there is no agreement currently and no buildout plan.

“Buildout,” of course, is the correct term for the interior demolition here. Because the demolition plans out to bid show that Weingarten intends to permanently encase the theater’s extensive sloped floor in concrete, like this:

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Here’s the “before” view, showing the wood-floor platform inserts used to convert the space into the Alabama Bookstop bookstore back in 1984:

The bid package included plans for a prototype Staples store. A Weingarten representative says the company has no agreement in place to lease the space to the office-supply retailer. But it sure looks like they’re working on it.

Update, 4:36 pm.: The Weingarten spokesperson adds:

The statement is still accurate. Weingarten is not initiating nor undertaking any pre-leasing construction inside the Alabama Theater.  Furthermore, no plans have been “issued for permit.”

View of portion of cover sheet and section views from demolition plan for Alabama Theater: Heights Venture Architects

10 Comment

  • So Weingarten says they’re not demolishing anything right this second. How comforting.

  • Sigh. I’ve been told in the past that Weingarten would like to have a restaurant in this location, but with a rent that is probably in the low-mid 30′s/sf, that puts the monthly rent at around $35,000 a month, which is out of the price range of many retailers and restaurateurs. Also, 14,000 sf would be a huge restaurant. One of the other little discussed obstacles in this building is the balcony, and the low headroom that it provides at the lobby entrance. Most of the building is concrete but I’ve been told that the balcony is in fact a steel structure. I would not be surprised if the balcony does not survive. Regarding the sloped floor, it is extremely difficult to rent sloping space like that in the age of ADA. Bookstop was constructed prior (1984) to the implementation of ADA. Filling in the floor is probably the only option.

  • Thanks to mt for that explanation. That makes a lot of sense. I’ve often wondered how Bookstop could have gotten away with their spectacularly non-ADA-compliant setting. It’s pre-ADA. Now that mt has whacked the restaurant idea, let me beat on the performing arts venue idea. It’s true that in the early days of movies, many live theatres were converted to movie theatres, but purpose-built movie theatres like this one have little to no stage area, backstage support areas, theatrical rigging capability, etc. Sure, all that can be added but it wouldn’t necessarily be any easier or better than any other space just because it used to be a movie theatre. And there are lots of questions, with mutually exclusive answers, about type of seating, raked or flat floor, etc. which start with “what kind of performances will be presented?” There is one thing, and one thing only, that the Alabama is perfect for: Repertory movie theatre a la what River Oaks used to be. Embrace nostalgia, provide good-quality premium priced concessions, and show _Casablanca_ and _Vertigo_ and _The Exorcist_ as they were meant to be seen. I’d choose that over a DVD any night of the week. Of course Weingarten isn’t going to get the kind of rent they want with that, so it all comes back to Weingarten, doesn’t it?

  • Also keep in mind that Bookstop did demolish quite a bit of the original theatre in their renovation of the original space. Also, there was a major renovation-addition done by Alamo Architects in 1992. There is an excellent collection of historic photo’s from UT-Austin’s collection of Alabama Theater 1939-1950:

    http://www.cah.utexas.edu/db/dmr/dmr_result.php?find=alabama+theater&Submit.x=0&Submit.y=0&Submit=Submit

  • The photo with the Weingarten’s display is particularly ironic.

  • mt wrote:

    “Also, there was a major renovation-addition done by Alamo Architects in 1992.”
    ————-
    Right, the whole back room, stair, parking lot entrance thing. Good point.

  • I’m no expert on ADA compliance, but I think the space as it existed when Bookstop closed was compliant: There were ramps providing access to all the public areas, as I remember, and an elevator was installed when the ’90s addition on the south side of the auditorium opened. Bookstop’s tiered wooden floor structure might not be the best solution for a new tenant, but I believe it was designed specifically so that it could be removed, if necessary, to expose the auditorium’s original sloped floor.

    As for Bookstop’s demolition of some of the original architectural elements: There were some changes, but it’s amazing how substantially intact the space is, all things considered. Wasn’t the guiding principle behind Bookstop’s interior work that it could (fairly) easily be reversed later?

  • Please, no Staples!

  • In the late ’90s I lived just one block away from this theatre when it was a bookshop. As a expat english type who didn’t know anyone in the city, it became a bit of a refuge for me. Sad to hear the building is going to be torn down.

  • After writing to Staples PR this is their canned response:

    While there has been speculation about Staples in connection with the historic Alabama Theater, we do not have a lease agreement at this location. Staples will continue to be a good neighbor that supports the communities where its customers and associates live and work as the company continues expanding in the Houston region. The rumors, however, have sparked a larger debate about the location. Therefore, we recommend that concerned citizens direct their letters and suggestions to Weingarten Realty as we are not involved in this development.

    Many thanks,

    Amy Shanler
    PR Director