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.
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.