Iconic Houston River Oaks Theater at risk of closing at end of month, over lease negotiations

One of Houston’s most iconic theaters is now at risk of closing down at the end of the month. On Sunday, protesters showed up outside the Landmark River Oaks Theater to have their voices heard.

For many Houstonians, the Landmark River Oaks theater provides a sense of nostalgia. 

"Almost anybody can drive past this theater and say, 'This is where I saw this. This is where my friend got proposed to. This is where I saw Rocky. This is where my independent film got screened - so much history is in this building," said Riley Vaughnn, one of the organizers of the protest. 

 For hours on Sunday afternoon, protesters with signs lined the West Gray sidewalks outside the theater, encouraging passing drivers to sound their horn and show their support.

"I even came here as a kid. We did Phantom of the Opera, black and white, silent; someone was playing the organ. I came with my mom. I’m almost 30 now. This place has memories. Houston needs to hold on to its history," said Mitchelen Matthis.

Since the summer, the theater has been negotiating their lease with their landlord, Weingarten Realty. The lease ends March 31st. 

"If we can’t reach negotiations with them or reach a decision with them then, unfortunately, we’re going to have to close. The biggest issue is that because of the government mandated closure, we were closed without revenue for six months. We weren’t able to pay rent during those months. So what we’re trying to do is negotiate a deal where we can pay out the rent over a period of time and renew the lease and continue on," said Jeff Smith, a PR spokesperson for the Landmark River Oaks Theater. 

Since 1939, the River Oaks Theater has served as the quintessential spot for Houstonians to enjoy big Hollywood, foreign and independent films, as well as live performances like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

But arts and entertainment was one of the most gravely affected industries from the pandemic; many whose livelihoods depend on it are still struggling to recover. 

"Arts and entertainment were one of the first ones to go and then to not feel supported during all of this, when in reality, arts and entertainment is what kept people sane in the pandemic. You’re at home watching entertainment so how can you not turn around and support entertainment when it needs your help," Vaughnn said. 

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