• Now looking much as it did when it opened in 1941, the project won a 2017 Good Brick Award from Preservation Houston. Photo by Gary Zvonkovic

Houston’s Fifth Ward — also known as “The Bloody Fifth” — has for decades been synonymous with poverty and crime. It has also been the wellspring of some of the city’s most important cultural productions. Goree Carter, who recorded “Rock Awhile” (1949), arguably the first-ever rock-and-roll song, grew up there, as did southern hip-hop pioneers Geto Boys, who once rapped “Fifth Ward is the spot where [expletive] get shot.” Today, the neighborhood is undergoing a renewal, as its proximity to downtown has put it squarely in the path of the next wave of gentrification. In an effort to make the district a more welcoming place for businesses and visitors, as well as to preserve and improve the existing community, the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation (CRC) has undertaken the Lyons Avenue Renaissance — a multi-million dollar redevelopment project that was born out of an AIA R/UDAT study and kicked off in 2012. The marquee project in that effort is the 2015 restoration of the DeLuxe Theater, an art deco movie house that operated between 1941 and 1969, was turned into an art gallery by John and Dominique de Menil in the early 1970s, and that then sat vacant and decaying for more than 40 years. Developed in a joint venture between CRC, the City of Houston, and Texas Southern University, the old cinema is now a 125-seat performing arts venue. Smith & Company Architects completed the restoration. They referenced historic photos to return the building, which was little more than a ruin when the job began, to its former glory, and worked with John Sergio Fisher & Associates on the design of the proscenium theater. They also renovated a neighboring furniture store, itself in derelict condition, into a multipurpose event space. The theater’s rebirth has helped catalyze development along the Lyons Avenue corridor, which has now attracted $100 million in development, according to Kathy Flanagan Payton, president and CEO of CRC. It has also reassured longtime residents. “The community appreciates this building,” says Flanagan Payton. “It helps address the fear of displacement to see something that meant so much for so long brought back to life. We could have just sold it, but we made a commitment to the community.”

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