From left to right: Sean Johnson, Athanasios Papadimitriou and Jason Brooks.

HOUSTON – What used to be known as the Houston Theater, and then in more recent years as Pappa’s Pizza and El Tucan Mexican restaurant, has been purchased by the city to be restored as a theater and community arts space.

The city purchased the building from Athanasios Papadimitriou for an undisclosed amount on Monday.

Located on the east side of the square, facing the entrance of the courthouse, the building was constructed sometime in the 1930’s and operated as a cinema for decades.

“I’m not sure who owned it before, but Inez and Everett Eudy owned it when I worked there as a teenager,” says local businessman Robert Mooneyham.

“We’d have shows on Monday night, and then Friday nights they’d have shows and then the ‘Midnight Show’ for teenagers. It’d start at ten but let out around midnight, that’s why they called it that. And then on Saturdays there’d be matinees, and shoppers would sometimes just drop the kids off at the movies and shop until the movie let out and then come pick them up – we wouldn’t let them out of the theater once their parents dropped them off.”

The building has been vacant for several years.

In 2017, the building caught the eyes of the Mississippi Main Street Association members when they were in town working on a downtown plan for Houston. Their report indicated a need for a theater and performing arts space, and the building fit the bill.

Sean Johnson, director of the Chickasaw Development Foundation began making inquiries about the building several months ago.

“The east side of the square is our weakest side in terms of curb appeal. With the city in the process of spending a considerable amount of money to add sidewalks and pedestrian lighting and further beautify the square, investing into and renovating this property as a theater and performing arts space seems a proper extension of the city’s beautification efforts.”

The city’s tourism committee, chaired by Jason Brooks, agreed and voted to acquire the building.

“When the opportunity to purchase the property presented itself, the Committee recognized the project’s ability to not only provide entertainment for its citizens, but also to entice patrons from out of town to visit and spend money in our local businesses. It was an opportunity the Committee could not pass up,” says Brooks.

The building needs a lot of work, but according to Johnson, there is funding available.

“We’ve been in discussion with several public and private funding sources who will be helping us. Because the building is in a designated historical district, publicly owned, and because it will be used for primarily arts and cultural events, there are a number of grant and other funding opportunities available.”

Brooks continues, “I have fond memories of the Houston Theater. I can remember standing in line to purchase tickets to Rocky IV and as Rocky was just about to win the bout with the Russian, everyone in the theater began chanting, “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky…” It was a memory that I have always remembered. It is exciting to think one day soon, we could be watching movies on the square in Houston again.”

The city and tourism committee will have further announcements on the formation of a theater task force in the coming weeks.

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