Since 2009, Edward Cabaniss’ Kessler Theater has played host to everything from music performances, art exhibitions, and film premieres. Now, Cabaniss is planning on bringing his vision for a venue which celebrates the arts in all of its forms while preserving a beloved piece of local history in The Leader area.
While Cabaniss hasn’t officially purchased the Heights Theater yet, he said he’s currently under contact for the location. Originally constructed in 1928, the 6,600 square foot lot, located at 339 W. 19th St., was listed for sale with a price of about $1.9 million. The building was heavily damaged in 1968 after an unknown arsonist set fire to the building and it was later repaired by Gus and Sharon Koprivas who purchased the building in 1988.
More recently, the city of Houston voted unanimously to make the Heights Theater a protected landmark, offering stringent protections for the iconic building and its future redevelopment, protecting much of the building from being altered. The Heights Theater now joins three other protected city landmarks – The Heights Fire Station, the Houston Heights Woman’s Club and the Heights Library.
On moving into a building with such protections, Cabaniss said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The landmark protection works to our advantage,” Cabaniss said. “My heart is really in preservation, and being able to combine preservation and culture under one roof is something that speaks to who I am and what I want to be involved with.”
Uniting people and culture
Cabaniss had his work cut out for him with the Kessler Theater. Much like the Heights Theatre, the original building had been badly damaged by a fire in the early 1960s and served as a community gathering spot for almost 40 years. However, it had fallen into a “terrible state of disrepair” in the time leading up to Cabaniss’ purchase.
“It became a really high-end pigeon coop,” Cabaniss says with a laugh.
However, he was undeterred in his vision of revitalizing the old theater and finally purchased it in 2009 and brought it back to life as a community staple in early 2010. The Kessler Theater has since been highlighted by media outlets like the Dallas Observer, the Dallas Morning News, the New York Times and other publications for its diverse programming and history.
“On any given week we’ll have readings for kids, recitals for weddings, rock concerts or even political debates,” Cabaniss said. “We rent it out for the community to use along with other things as well.”
Cabaniss wants to replicate what he has done with his venue in Dallas right here in the Heights, but it won’t be without some hurdles.
“Our first test will be Aug. 20 when we have a meeting with the Planning Commission to share with them our vision and secure our parking variance request,” Cabaniss said. “One of the challenges you face with any historic property is parking, and having the landmark designation allows us to work with the city and get some relief on the parking requirements. The protection status isn’t detrimental at all, even from a business standpoint – besides, what interests me is the preservation of the building itself.”
In a strange, albeit helpful coincidence, the front end of the Heights Theatre is exactly 8 feet wider and 12 feet longer than the Kessler Theatre.
“It’s close to being the same footprint, so we’re able to pick up our architectural plans and drop them into the Heights Theatre. There will be a few small details that will change but interestingly it won’t be quite as challenging from a design standpoint.”
Moving forward, Cabaniss is keeping one key rule in mind – always be prepared.
“I’ve got a great team around me,” Cabaniss said. “We’ve got an architect with the heart of a preservationist and I’m looking forward to this. We realize what a challenge this is but it’s a great opportunity to take an iconic building, preserve it and really get it back to its proper glory.”
Should the parking variance be granted, Cabaniss said he anticipates putting a shovel in the ground as early as September or October but hesitated on giving a timeline on finishing the project.
“Realistically we would probably have soft openings in early 2016,” Cabaniss said. “It’s not going to take forever but it will take time to do it and do it right.”