Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Houston's Alabama Theater Loses Bookstop Tennant

One of the most memorable bookstores in Houston has just shut down. For 25 years, Houston's old Alabama Theater was home to Bookstop, one of the first really big bookstores I ever visited. The bookstore didn't do a lot to change the interior of the old movie theater when it moved in other than to remove the seats and set up bookshelves. The floor still ran downhill to a large magazine display where the old movie screen would have been and the lobby was used as the check-out area. The walls and ceilings still looked like something one would expect to see in the heyday of beautiful movie theaters - when people still got dressed up to go to movies.

Now the doors are locked and, as long as the building remains empty, its very existence is in jeopardy. According to Houston's Channel 11:
”As long as the building stays empty and it isn’t in productive use, it’s a risk for demolition. It’s that’s simple,” said David Bush with the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. “The land is too valuable, that’s what it comes down to. Everything inside the loop, what it usually comes down to, is the land value versus the improvements.”

I remember seeing Star Wars there for the first time and bringing my young daughters to see a Donald Duck cartoon festival sometime in the '70s. I also remember seeing the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show there at a couple of its regular Saturday midnight screenings - and how much fun it was to watch the audience do its thing.

Houston has a terrible track record when it comes to preserving its historic buildings and that doesn't give me much confidence that the old Alabama, dating from 1939, will survive much longer.


  1. I saw "Rocky Horror" there! I was shocked after college when it was turned into a bookstore, but it was kind of cool. Is the Whole Foods still next door? And isn't Thai Pepper across the street?

  2. That's sad. I remember going to the bookstore there when my baby (24 years old now) was about 3. It was a lovely bookstore.

  3. Wouldn't it be something if we were in the building at the same time, Factotum? That would certainly prove how small a world it really is.

    Whole Foods is still there but I'm not sure about the Thai Pepper. Honestly, I don't think I ever noticed that one.

  4. It was sure unique, wasn't it, Sherry, a true one-of-a-kind bookstore. I used to love going in and looking around while trying to remember what it was like as a theater...sorry to see it go.

  5. I hate to see the old movie houses close! Sad...

  6. Me, too, but the next best thing to having movies shown there was to be able to shop for books in the building. Now the building itself may end up being torn down because the owners of the property have the reputation of being very cutthroat when it comes to this kind of thing. I hope the city takes an interest in preserving a piece of its history.