Group: Three landmark buildings in danger of demolition
The Chronicle's Lisa Gray reports that several landmark buildings in the Shepherd/River Oaks area have been placed on a local preservation group's endangered list:
Three Houston landmarks, including the Landmark River Oaks Theatre and the Bookstop in the former Alabama Theater, have been declared endangered by the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.
The alliance has learned, spokesman David Bush said Friday, that two buildings in the River Oaks Shopping Center could face demolition within two years.
The center is controlled by Weingarten Realty Investors, a Houston-based company that owns and manages about 300 retail properties in the southern United States.
A Weingarten spokeswoman would not confirm the company's plans for the shopping center.
But a half-dozen tenants of the River Oaks Shopping Center told the Houston Chronicle that a Weingarten's leasing agent informed them of plans to raze parts of the historic shopping center.
The first domino to fall, they said, would be the River Oaks Shopping Center building at the northeast corner of Shepherd and West Gray. Erected in 1937, the curved art deco building is "of national significance," architecture historian Stephen Fox said.
Three Brothers Bakery co-owner Robert Jucker said that when he confronted the leasing agent about rumors the building was to be demolished, she confirmed them, and told him that it would remain standing through the end of this year. "But she wouldn't give me that in writing," he said.
A number of River Oaks Shopping Center tenants — including owners of Archway Gallery, Chase's Closet and Laff Stop — said that a Weingarten's leasing agent told them the Black-Eyed Pea building would be replaced with a multistory Barnes & Noble.
Archway is located near the River Oaks Theatre on the south side of West Gray. At a meeting with the gallery's owners in March, a Weingarten's leasing agent detailed the company's plans to tear down their entire building — including the theater — in early 2008, Archway co-owner Marsha Harris said.
Speculation (and it is important to stress that it is speculation at this point) is that if Barnes and Noble opened a two-story bookstore in a characterless revamped Shepherd/West Gray strip mall, then the corporation would likely shutter its Book Stop bookstore, an anchor of the Shepherd/Alabama shopping center that resides in the old Alabama movie theater, which would then endanger the survival of that landmark building.
While it is not an architectural landmark, the mysterious Marfreless lounge also resides in the Shepherd/West Gray shopping complex, and would presumably be affected by Weingarten Realty's big plans. Here's hoping that Weingarten can come up with some plan to preserve the character of these properties that still ensures a healthy return on their investment, because progress shouldn't always mean another lifeless strip mall.