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The Greenway: The Gone but Not Forgotten Movie House

John Reen Davis (L), singer for Houston punk band Anarchitex, worked as an usher at the Greenway in the ’80s.
John Reen Davis (L), singer for Houston punk band Anarchitex, worked as an usher at the Greenway in the ’80s.
Photo by Greg Rabel

One cinema that did not survive the changes in the industry was one of Houston’s oddest and most memorable locations for film, the Greenway. A tiny, three-screen theater housed in a basement next to what became Lakewood church, it operated for 35 years before closing in 2007. Landmark was the last owner, and then-general manager Rob Arcos recalls the struggle to keep the Greenway going.

“The Greenway always got the scraps left over from bookings at River Oaks,” says Arcos. “People just couldn’t seem to connect with that theater.”

John Reen Davis, singer of Houston punk band Anarchitex, worked as an usher at the theater in the ’80s (the group’s music video for “Employee” was actually filmed in the Greenway parking lot). He remembers some of the more unique moments at the odd location.

“I remember seeing one of the first-ever performances of Eraserhead at the film festival,” he says. “It included the scene of people pulling coins out of a hole in the pavement that was later cut from the film. In the 1980s, whenever there was a French language film, there would be long lines of Vietnamese immigrant couples, dressed up for the movies like Anglo-Americans did in the ’50s. This was especially strange when they showed up for softcore-porn stuff like the Emmanuelle series.”

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It was a notoriously quiet place to go see films. Most of the shops in Greenway Plaza weren’t even open during the same business hours as the theater, and there were rarely crowds. This made it a great location for people with sensory issues.

“I had a friend who worked there and had to preview all the film they got to make sure it was undamaged, labeled properly and so on,” says Cassandra (who didn’t want her last name used). “I saw lots of movies I would never have picked out for myself, but enjoyed anyway — Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Amélie. I didn’t really enjoy movies much until I got a taste of independent films. It was also probably the closest I’ve ever come to the ‘sensory-friendly’ cinema nights that are starting to pop up here and there, plus no crowd to set off agoraphobia. It was much easier to follow the movie without sensory distractions, and easier to enjoy them when I could relax the guard I usually keep up in a crowd.”

Few movie houses in Houston have had as strong a sense of identity as the Greenway. It’s the theater Arcos misses the most.

“I think it was the last great place to see movies just because they were movies,” he says. “Nobody ever bought concessions, and it could be hard to get to. You only went there if you really, really wanted to check something out.”

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