Avalon Theatre Building Demolished

Weekly serials at the Avalon fried our imaginations to the ongoing cliffhanger struggle between good and evil. We knew. It's why some of us had the patience to wait ten years for the final chapter on Osama bin Laden. We knew. The bad guys always get what's coming to them in the end.

The old Avalon Theatre itself died a thousand years ago. Way back in 1957, ownership closed the small, but venerable east end of Houston Grade b movie house and converted it to an unfortunately short-lived career as a house for live theater productions. I saw the late Wally Cox of TV’s “Mr. Peepers” fame starring there at the Avalon in 1958 in the featured lead role in “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” It was fun. I was 20 years old and now  dressing up in  coat and tie to take a date to “the theatre” in the same physical building where I grew up going barefoot on summer Saturdays to watch Roy Rogers, Bowery Boys, and Charlie Chan movies.

Sadly, the Houston East End was not ready in the late 1950s (or at any other time to this day) to support businesses based on a Broadway show model. The Avalon closed its doors by 1960 and stood dark for a while. It reopened after a while as “The Capri” and made its degrading way to doom as a porn movie house before again changing its identity to match the changes going on in the culture of the east end neighborhood. It again changed its name to “The Fiesta” and started showing Spanish language movies that the owners hoped would prove attractive to the new East End of the late 20th century. That move failed too and the old “Avalon” closed forever as a movie house.

Like many of these small neighborhood suburban theaters from the 1930s and 1940s, the Avalon survived as home to a fundamentalist/revivalist independent religious sect that appealed to new residents of the nearby geographical area. That’s what I thought it still was doing until I passed nearby on Lawndale yesterday.

I was just explaining the story of the Avalon to a traveling companion friend as we drove across the 75th Street intersection, traveling west on Lawndale only yesterday. Then I looked out the window to my right and saw that the old Avalon Theatre building was now gone. Some time in the last two years, the church that had been there went “vamanos” and left the old structure to the demolishing people.

No longer of any use to the imaginations of kids, sinners, or saints, the Avalon had met the wrecking ball – and the latter had left us not a stone-upon-a-stone remembrance of the former.

In its better days, the Avalon Theatre at 743 75th in Houston had a beautifully vertical red name banner and a dazzling (to us kids) electrically lighted movie display board.

Goodbye, old Avalon. Thanks for the memories and the early life fun we had together.

Even though your true life has been gone for years, I felt a spiritual hole in my heart yesterday when I unexpectedly saw your physical presence missing from among the ruins of those ancient East End artifacts and places that still remind me of earlier times. It’s too bad that none of us who cared about you could not have been present in time to do something that might have saved you for a gentler renewed purpose and delivered you entirely from the same impersonal fate that awaits so much of Houston’s physical cultural heritage.

You don’t kill a culture by burying the dead. You kill a culture by burying the living. And life goes on in those old physical places that remind us of our earliest roots and fondest hopes for the future. Some are creatures of universal beauty. Others exist only as beautiful in the eyes of the bonded beholder, but they are all living things. And that’s the point that seems to elude many people.

Goodbye, Avalon, but in this knowledge: The early part of you that lives on in my heart, still driving my trust in hope over despair, lives forever within people like me – and we were the Houston kids who knew you way back when.

Godspeed, Avalon. Your job here was done – a long, long time ago.

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4 Responses to “Avalon Theatre Building Demolished”

  1. Bob Hulsey Says:

    When I was a young, we used to attend a movie theatre on Long Point just north of the Katy Freeway where we kids watched low-budget Batman serials. I recall seeing “Mary Poppins” there as well as Bob Hope/Lucille Ball movie and numerous Disney features.

    It probably doesn’t exist now and, if it does, it is probably showing movies in Spanish or converted to some other business.

    It’s amazing what tidbits the brain holds without much context other than a brief memory or a feeling.

  2. David Munger Says:

    The Broadway, The Santa Rosa, The Capitan(in Pasadena), The North Main, and The Fulton are a few neighborhood Theaters I went to as a
    youngster. Them were the days.

  3. Bob Says:

    Somewhere in your childhood when your memories were being formed by a place or thing there was someone despairing about a place or thing that was being torn down to make way for a new generation of memories. Developers, architects and builders recycle the past and create new places of memories for the next generation by improving on the past and thus showing the way to the generations that follow. Not to diminish the importance and joy of memories but the beat goes on. It is in God’s Plan.
    Writing my thoughts and exposing my grammar to Bill is akin to showing The Toy Cannon my baseball swing.

  4. Mark Wernick Says:

    I had a similar neighborhood movie house where I was a regular in San Antonio on Saturdays, the Olmos Theater on San Pedro Ave. 10 cartoons, followed by a serial, followed by a double-feature matinee, with at least one being a horror or sci-fi movie, such as “The Creature From The Black Lagoon” or “Invasion From Mars” – all for the princely sum of 25 cents. I’d eat an entire box of Red Hots or Ju Ju Bees or Milk Duds or Jaw Breakers or Junior Mints.

    Those were the days!

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