On Oct. 1, 2015, the iconic Heights Theater on 19th Street was purchased by a Dallas developer and residents of the Heights drew a collective gasp. First opened in 1929, the historically designated real estate remained safely in the hands of locals until that day. What was to become of the community’s most treasured commercial structure? The answer is – lots, and all for the good.
Not only is the building’s historic designation carefully honored in its renovation, the theater’s new owner, Edwin Cabaniss, is proceeding with the objective of securing state and federal historic designations too. That’s no easy task, but this is not Cabaniss’ first historic reno, it’s his seventh. He knows what he’s doing.
And what exactly is he doing? In short, Cabaniss is creating a community cultural and artistic hub. The theater will host two meeting spaces, two bars, a small commercial kitchen, two stages, a U-shaped, second-story balcony in the main hall, “and an art gallery to showcase Houston’s incredible talent,” Cabaniss stated.
The theater occupies about 7,000 square feet, and is slated to launch on Oct. 19. The space is flexible allowing for events of nearly any sort, even weddings. However, for the live music acts, the mainstay of the theater’s programming, seating stands at about 300.
“No seat is further than 90 feet from the stage. At that distance, a person with 20/20 vision will be able to see the expressions on the performers’ faces. We did that on purpose. We want our audiences to have an intimate experience,” Cabaniss explained.
This businessman also owns the historic Kessler Theater in Dallas’ aging Oak Cliff neighborhood. In the six years since opening The Kessler, the area surrounding it has sprung back to life.
“We understand the role that an old theater can play in a community, not only historically, but also in the area’s future,” Cabaniss continued. “Right now, 19th Street pretty much closes down at night. We operate from 7 to 11 p.m. in the evening. I think we’ll see more nightlife here when we open.”
As for the programming, the Heights Theater will host touring national acts, some of whom have not played in Houston due to the lack of a first-rate venue. However, it will also offer local and regional talent, as the Gulf Coast abounds with it. Whenever possible, local talent will open for national acts.
On one evening, an audience may find classical music, the next, honky tonk, and the next, burlesque. “The one thing our audiences will learn is that whatever the performance is, the performers will be really good at what they do. It’s a trust we must earn, but I feel confident we will,” the owner said.
Cabaniss brought in a ringer from Dallas to manage the reborn theater. Steve (a.k.a. “Big Steve”) Shein is a tall, gracious, easy-going sort, with a background in performance touring management. He is in awe of the Heights.
“I am really excited about the reception the theater has received. People have been so welcoming, and our introduction on White Linen Night amazed me. It blew me away. I already love Houston,” Shein stated.
As the theater was originally slated to open in summer, The Leader asked Cabaniss if there were unexpected challenges through the year-long renovation? “Well,” the owner stated, “it was something we didn’t realize, but maybe we should have. It sure rains a lot in Houston,” he concluded with a smile.
For more information, to buy tickets, or check the lineup, go to www.theheightstheater.com.