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DeLUXE Theater

DeLUXE Theater

Interview with Harrison Guy - The Director of Arts and Culture for the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation

Interview with Harrison Guy - The Director of Arts and Culture for the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation

What is DeLUXE Theater's History? When was it founded? 

So the Deluxe Theater was originally opened in 1941, and it was opened as a movie theater for the community. There were two other places that people, black people could see movies at that time, but what the community really liked about the Deluxe is that they showed films that kids could see. So it was seen as a family movie house. It stayed open until 1960, and then it sat vacant until it was reopened and renovated in 2015, with a tri-agreement between the City of Houston, Texas Southern University. and the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation. It was then renovated as a Persian theater, so more for plays and not so much for films. We've kind of reinvisioned this as the hub for creativity within the community. 

Who are its original founders or owners, and are there any key people that should be highlighted?

We are doing lots of oral histories with the community to learn as much as we can about these assets, because a lot of it just wasn't documented and wasn't documented well, and that is one of the questions that we have is what was the lineage of it in terms of ownership? Who owned it? Who started it, who ran it? Did they stay the entire time? Did they switch owners? Those are some of the questions we have for the community, and we're really excited to take on oral history specifically for the Deluxe Theater. 

Tell me a little bit about Fifth Ward, the community that it's in. 

Fifth Ward is, it's the African American community, and currently it is now designated as by the state as an African American cultural arts district. And so what that means is we get to preserve the history of this area, and it's a vibrant community. It's, it has the same story as many other African American communities all over.

The globe in terms of gentrification and resources and being ignored. It has that history, but just like other black communities, it also has the history of having lots of art and culture, lots of great history and heritage. And so, one of the things that I really like about Fifth Ward is it has a very strong music history.

And so lots of musical greats, um, played here at the Club Matine. Um, and when the club at NA was going on, it was known as the Cotton Club of the South, and it was on Lyons Avenue as well, right across the street from where the Deluxe Theater is today. And because that venue was in Fifth Ward, lots of musical greats came to the city and played at that place. But what was really great is they used Fifth Ward students, fifth Ward musicians to play for them, and eventually even go on tour with them.

We really encourage people to just come meet with us and let us see if we can be a part of whatever that dream is and how we can help them to make history here at the DeLUXE. 

DeLUXE Theater Intreview

Houston This IS It Soul Food

Interview with Craig Joseph - Co-Owner of Houston This Is It Soul Food, Grandson of Founder Frankie Mattie Jones

Tell us a little bit of the history of Houston This Is It Soul Food? 

This Is It started in 1959. The location was 1003 Andrews at Buckner in Friedman's Town and my grandparents were kind of searching for a location to start this restaurant. They stopped at the corner of Andrews and Buckner and my grandmother said, "This is it." And he said, "This is what?" She said, "This is where we're gonna start the restaurant." And so history began. 

It was an old wood frame house. They went in there and knocked the walls out of the house, made that the dining room, they converted the garage into a kitchen. And that's how This Is It started. And so he said, "Well, since you said this is it. We are going to name the business, This Is It." And that's how we got the name This Is It.

Can you talk about the area we are in? 

We when we started the business of course in '59, we were there for 22 years. My grandparents always leased out from a landlord. And from 1982 to 1994, they moved to 239 West Gray, and they were still leasing. We had a fire in 1993 and 1994 just prior to just right after they shot the movie: Jason's lyrics. When my grandfather was about to retire, a gentleman wanted to basically buy him out. And I told my grandfather I didn't agree with the asking price of selling. I said, so teach me the business, because I'd rather see us lose it than give it away. So that's when he taught me the business and how to cook and the business.

When I assumed the business in 1994, that's when I purchased properties. And so my goal was to kind of let them see the fruits of their labor. So by them never being a property owner, I was able to acquire from property at 207 Gray, which was across the street from the house that my grandparent raised me up in. So at that point we were there from 1994 into 2010, but of course, in 1994, property taxes were around $9,500 a year. Well, in 2010, property taxes were $52,000 a year. Basically we were being taxed out because you, if you've seen in Midtown, they built a lot of high-rise apartments, condominiums, a lot of social life is there now.

So it made my property taxes go up, but the other people had tax abatements, so they didn't have to pay taxes.

instead of being profitable. We saw ourselves just basically working to pay taxes. Here at where we are now was a soul food restaurant by the name of Family Cafe. When she [the owner] was about to go out of business, she reached out to me and asked me would I be interested in this location. I told her, I'm interested.


I came and checked it out and I thought it was more advantageous for me to take this building and leave the previous property because the property taxes are different. As a matter of fact, I went from $52,000 to $16,000 and so it made more business sense for me to come here than to stay there because eventually I would've probably ended up out of business trying to keep up with the tax situation there. So that's how we moved to 2712 Blodgett Street here in the third ward area, and it's only like a 4.5-mile radius from each location. So we were still basically staying at home. We were leaving from one neighborhood to come to another, so the culture never really changed. It was like home, moving to home. 

Can you talk more about being on the movie, Jason's Lyric? 

Back in 1994 you know, everything happens for a reason. I pulled up at the restaurant on Gray Street and the gentleman walked out, had some cut-off pants, a tank, and flip-flops, and in a briefcase. And he apparently Dad told him that was me just driving up. And when I got out of my truck, the guy said, "Hey, would you like to have your restaurant in a movie?" And I said, "Yeah, yeah, right, here we go."  

He said "We went through the whole city, did a survey. We're about to feature this movie. The name is Jasons Lyric, and we thought that your restaurant would fit very well in our restaurant scene." So I said, "Oh, this guy's serious." He opened up his briefcase, and here we have all these contracts and paperwork.

He said, "now we'll probably need your business for about seven days, but if you are willing, we sure like to have you." And so I said, well, sure because that was free advertisement. However, he said, "Look, whatever your highest revenue is that whatever day it may be, we will pay that every day for you while we are closed."  I said, "Well, I'll take that." We were receiving national exposure, worldwide exposure. It was priceless.

Please elaborate on the purpose of This Is It in the community. 

I call it an institution. As a matter of fact, there are about 28,000 restaurants in Houston, but This Is It, to me, is an institution because it's a place where you can grow people. We give opportunities that some people would not give our employees.

We even had employees that have been incarcerated, that we brought back not 1, 2, 3, 4 times because they're good people that just happened to get caught up in bad situations. We see that there is a quality because. I feel like if, if we throw 'em away, they're going to go out there, and it's going to get worse because no one else is receiving them or accepting them.

We've been able to give give back to the community. In terms of employment, we presently have 21 employees. We've always had between 18 to 22 employees, and all of our employees are from the community. Matter of fact, men I was the third generation, which now my kids are doing, which is four generations. I've a couple of employees that are second generations to previous employees that we've had. 

We give back to educational programs and the schools. If people are just sitting on the street, we have no problem feeding them. It's just a way of staying alive within the community. 

Houston This Is It Soul Food


Interview with Docents, Sol and Trinity

Tell us about Project Row Houses. 

Project Row Houses is a 501c3 community based arts, nonprofit and social sculpture. We serve the historic Third Ward neighborhood. It is a platform for the community. Whatever the community needs, we try to accommodate, whether it be food, housing, or art. We work in historic preservation, contemporary art, and direct community action. Those are kind of the realms in which we sculpt.

Who founded the institution? 

Project Row Houses was founded in 1993 by seven black artists, living and working in Houston. Their names are Rick Lowe, Jesse Lot, Floyd Newsom, James Benison, George Smith, Bert Long Jr. and Bert Samples. So, we call them, The Magnificent Seven. 

They were living and working in Houston and they each brought a different practice and lived experience, but they all had one shared motivation, which was to use art as a resource for their community. Some founders were art professors at Rice University and UH Downtown. Some founders were in the beginning stages of their career, but volunteering at Shape Community Center and learning about the neighborhood. Most of them them studied at TSU under Dr. John's influence. Others had a strong place in the arts world.Collectively, they wanted to change and revitalize the community

Are there any other key people that should be highlighted? 

Joseph Boys, he is a German artist, and in the 1960s he coined the term: social sculpture. This idea really inspired our founders because what a social sculpture asks of us is to view society as one large grand work of art. And each person within this system has the power to be an artist and contribute to this grand work. 


Project Row Houses is a social sculpture. We are an ongoing project, and sculpting the society around us was a huge motivation behind what we are and what we're doing.


JDr. John Biggers founded the arts department at TSU. In his research, he traced like the origins of the shotgun style houses back to Western Africa through Haiti, through the Caribbean, and across the United States. He traced it back to Western Africa. He began elevating the symbol of the shotgun house and using them in his work, in his paintings. This inspired the next generation of artists, The Magnificent Seven.

Please tell us about any historical or important events that happen at Project Row Houses. 

After receiving the grant from the National Endowment for the Arts with the assistance of diverse works, they purchased the first 22 houses for about $120,000. One by one, it was largely a volunteer effort, the houses were restored and Jesse lot being a resourceful artist and resourceful person had the genius idea of using the boarded windows as a canvas to create work on them. People driving by can see that something's happening. They can view the art as they drive by. That's what we call, our first round.

This block was deemed the worst block in Houston at that time, for drive-bys and riff raff, so to speak.

They kind of had a redefinied the meaning of it instead as a drive-by art exhibit now. So we still do drive-bys, but it's art, and it's not violence and destruction. 

Are there any important programs you would like to highlight? 

We currently host Art Rounds, which is an exhibition series within seven of our shotgun style houses. In each house we have an artist or collective of artists activating the space. We change those about three times a year. 

We have residency programs. We partner with other organizations, for example, with the Idea Fund, which is a granting program for artists within Houston to do like publicly active art. There are many ways that artists can engage with Project Row Houses, engage with the history, with the roots, and the third Ward neighborhood. 

Part of our Community enrichment initiative, the face organization supports artists with support and education to learn how to make a living as an artist, food distribution, and other creative building blocks for entrepreneurs and business.

We also have housing units, we have at different locations throughout third ward that offer low income to market price rent. Project Row Houses serves about 83 families with income-based assistance throughout the third ward. We have small businesses on that PRH assists with setting up brick and mortar spaces with the goal to keep Third Ward money within Third Ward.

The Young Mothers Program lives here on the row in a shotgun house and can be supported as far as like rent and so forth. We also offer parenting classes, how to start bank accounts, and so forth for our single mothers to be successful. That program lasts for like a year, and then they tend to graduate from there and move into housing. 

Project Row Houses

Community Artists collective

Interview with Michelle Barnes

Tell us what the Community Artists Collective is. 

Community Artist Collective is a 501c3 organization dedicated to providing the educational and cultural link among African American artists and all community. Inspiring unlimited creativity. We have existed since 1987 in order to serve the artistic community and people who don't believe that they are creative. 

Community Artist Collective is a 501c3 organization dedicated to providing the educational and cultural link among African American artists and all community. Inspiring unlimited creativity. We have existed since 1987 in order to serve the artistic community and people who don't believe that they are creative. 

Who started the Community Artists Collective? 

The Community Artist Collective was co-founded by myself and Dr. Sarah Trotty. We met in college,  have worked together ever since the late sixties. The Community Artist Collective had its formal beginnings in 1987 when we were chartered. 

Where are you located? 

Wwe are currently located in the third Ward, Midtown area, in a building called the,Burack Arts Building at the corner of San Jacinto and Cliburn. Historically, we've been in this geographic neighborhood since our beginning. We started doing programs in collaboration with the ensemble theater that's on Main Street. We moved to a gallery and workshop space in the Midtown Arts Center in the eighties, and in '89 we moved to a building at 1501 Elgin, and we were there until 2004. After we moved out of the building on Elgin, because the bricks fell off the wall, we thought we were going to move back into the building after it was renovated. However we moved to the Shrine of the Black Madonna, then Katrina hit and the space that we were occupying in the Aaba Center had to be used for supplies to serve the people who were evacuating from New Orleans during Katrina. So from the Shrine, we moved back to the Midtown Art Center. 

How does the collective contribute to the overall cultural and historical landscape of the city? 

Organizing artists is a tough call. Visual artists are pretty solitary, much like writers are. They're not as collaborative as dancers or performers of music or theater. The idea was to get enough people together to get a consensus on what was necessary. Although education is important to Sarah and myself as professional arts educators, that was not a priority of the artists that we were engaging with.

They wanted to have a venue to show and sell their work, not necessarily to be involved in education at all. Though our primary objective was to be able to pay artists and, as you know, through exhibitions, there's no guarantee that any work will sell. And in a community that generally values creativity, but not necessarily values the art that's manifested visually.


We just wanted artists to be happy and productive and hopeful. So, exhibition became our second priority for the arts community. A big gap was having a place where they could show and sell their work. We heard them and that's why we're still doing that program. It's easier to get support public money for exhibitions than it is for education, sad to say. But we are still very resolute and determined to broaden the educational opportunities for children and adults, so our community can be lifted too. What the arts are really about and that they, as creative beings, are capable of producing and valuing the visual arts.

Please tell us about your current programs. 

We have four program areas to support our mission. Education is a core value exhibition because it's the most responsive to artists and viewers. The community development program include, public art publications, our participation and support of community events and festivals and cultural heritage and preservation.

Um, our fourth program area is entrepreneurship. Artists are producers. We want artists to be better at their businesses, just as we want our organization to be viable.

We do offer some drawing, painting, collage workshops from time to time in this space, and we're constantly looking for appropriate spaces to offer other kinds of arts, educational experiences for children, adults, and families and other groups. 

Community Artists Collective
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