It All Started When...

River Oaks Shopping Center is one of the oldest shopping centers not only in Texas, but also in the United States. The first commercial structures that later became what we call River Oaks Shopping Center were built in the 1930s. Overtime, the shopping center has seen extensive changes and improvements to the architecture, landscaping and accessibility of the center reflecting Houston's increasingly sophisticated tastes and high standards for both beauty and convenience.

A cover story in Shopping Centers Today best describes River Oaks Shopping Center’s evolution through the years.

"Few shopping centers have survived as long as Houston’s River Oaks Shopping Center, which opened in 1937. This open-air center, noted for its original art-deco-style buildings, was the brainchild of the late Hugh Potter, an attorney and developer. Potter developed the center in phases to provide shopping for residents of his planned River Oaks upscale residential community.

"Yet, by the time Houston-based Weingarten Realty Investors bought the property in 1971, it had fallen into disrepair. Having changed hands several times through the years, the center became dilapidated and had a second-rate mix of tenants, including pawnshops and secondhand stores.

"Stanford Alexander, Weingarten’s president at the time of the acquisition, saw the property as a diamond in the rough, according to his son, Drew, the company’s current president and CEO.

old theater"Over the past 45 years, Weingarten Realty has spent millions on renovations and expansions to the center, which the city designated a landmark in 2007. The city also awarded landmark status to the center’s historical theater, built in 1939. Landmark Theatres has operated since 1976. Weingarten has focused on bringing uniformity and returning the property to its original art-deco glory.

"In its first remodel, the company tore out drab, earth-tone awnings and revealed original sculpted plaster fascias, which were repainted white, as they once had been. Weingarten also preserved the original black tiles and planted nearly 90 palm trees, trucked in from Florida. The company has worked to improve the tenant mix, which now includes popular restaurants, coffee shops, upscale national chains and an art gallery. Weingarten plans to further develop the site and add new uses.

“The center is and always has been a lifestyle center,” said Drew Alexander, even though it predates that term. The center’s longevity has a lot to do with its strong location, he says. The River Oaks area is still one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city. The center is also close to downtown Houston and the fast-growing midtown district. “It is a wonderful location that, in our minds, keeps getting better,” he said. “It really reinforces the maxim of this business, which is that -location is everything.”

The Theater

The River Oaks Theater is one of the shopping centers most defining marker. The River Oaks Theatre was built in 1939 and is the last historic movie theater in Houston that is still used for its original purpose. It is an example of late-1930s Art Deco design. Landmark Theatres has operated the cinema house since 1976 and generally shows foreign language and independent films, as well as other “art-house” movies. In 1986, Landmark turned the one screen theatre into a three-screen theatre by splitting the spacious balcony in two, now facilitating two smaller screens upstairs.

Theater Awards

  • Presented an award for the “Preservation of a Landmark Facility as a Unique and Special Venue for Art, Vintage and Independently Produced Films” (2001) by the Museum District Alliance
  • Declared “Best Movie Theatre” (2001) by Inside Houston
  • Declared “Best Movie Theatre” (2013, 2009, 2009, 2003) & “Best Midnight Screenings” (2010) by the Houston Press
  • Listed as one of the “20 Cool Things About Houston” (2006) by the Houston Chronicle
  • November 6, 2006, was officially proclaimed “River Oaks Theatre Day” by Mayor Bill White


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