Space City Time Capsule Uncovering Houston

The Heights Theatre: 100 Years of Perseverance in a Demolition-Happy City

The Heights Theatre, 1935
Location:  339 W 19th

The Heights Theatre is a wonderful example of how Houstonians can sometimes do things right when it comes to historical preservation. After undergoing several renovations and even an arson fire, the building is still standing in its original location. Built in 1923, the Heights Theatre officially opened for business in May of 1929.

Houston Chronicle listing of neighborhood shows at local theaters in town, including the Heights Theatre. October 1952.

In June 1969, the Heights Theatre was destroyed via arson in protest of the theater’s showing of I am Curious (Yellow), a Swedish sex film. The theater owners at the time, Mr. and Mrs. John Scott, had been followed home multiple times and their staff had even received personal threats in response to the film. Bomb threats and stink bombs had disrupted showings for the entire 3 weeks the film was showing at the theater.

Film poster for I am Curious (Yellow)

I am Curious (Yellow) was not only controversial due to its explicit sexual nature, but its themes of social justice and equality. The film even featured footage of the main character, Lena, having a conversation with Martin Luther King, Jr.

In a June 7, 1969 interview with the Houston Chronicle, the owners suspected that the KKK was behind the fire, since they found Ku Klux Klan literature on their front porch after the arson.

Photo of the owners, Mr. and Mrs. John Scott in a June 7, 1969 Houston Chronicle covering the arson.

The fire completely destroyed the theatre and caused substantial physical damage to the interior. The charred shell of a building found new purpose as a homeless encampment until its purchase by Gus and Sharon Kopriva in 1987. They spent a year on renovation and in 1988, re-opened it for use as an art space until selling it to Edwin Cabaniss, the current owner, in 2015. After another series of extensive renovations, The Heights Theatre then re-opened in 2016 as a venue to host concerts, independent film viewings, and local community events.

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