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Ye Olde Village

Speaking of theaters, my favorite old theater in Houston was the one in the West University Village, though I never actually went inside. The sign still stands, on the corner of University and Morningside, but the theater was torn down a good 20 years ago, when Rice decided to put the Village Arcade shopping area in. Back then, my mom used to drop me and my siblings off in the Village to spend our allowance money. Most of the stores there were mom and pop affairs, and my mom trusted us to not get into any trouble as we wandered around the shopping area.

The theater was old and run down when I was a kid, but it was right next door to one of my favorite stores: World Toy and Gift. World Toy and Gift--which we called World Toy and Gyp due to the pricing--which was ostensibly a toy store, but really it was a front for the upscale doll and dollhouse racket. The place probably violated every safety and fire code known to man. The aisles were terribly narrow, and I don't recall any real effort at organizing the stock. Toys and games were piled much higher than children could reach. They never really seemed to get rid of old merchandise; they just piled the new stuff on top of old stuff. I think had eBay been in existence then, those women would have made a fortune, because there were never used toys and games from the 60s, 70s and 80s there. Probably all of them had their original price tags, too. And about two thirds of the store, the doll and dollhouse sections, were strictly off limits to children.

The elderly women who ran the store didn't seem to like children very much, which seemed odd given their choice of employment. They spoke of dire consequences should anyone venture into one of the off-limits sections of the store. I think they realized that selling Madam Alexander Dolls and teeny tiny Chippendale furniture wasn't going to pay the bills in an era with Mattel and Hasbro. We were a little afraid of them, but since they ran the only toy store in the vicinity, my siblings and I always stopped by when we were left to frolic in the Village for an hour or so. I did win some points with them when my mom gave me a doll that had been hers as a girl. They helped me clean her up and update her wardrobe a little. On top of their vending toys, they repaired dolls, toys, antiques, and other broken things.

It was a little later, when when we could understand what it actually meant, that my mother pointed out that at least one of the ladies had a tattoo on her arm. That tattoo was put there by the Germans when the lady was in a concentration camp in World War II. I probably was more respectful of her yelling at us after learning that.

ANYHOW, the theater next door was, er, a porn house. In times past, it was a regular movie theater, showing mainstream film. But by the time I was a kid, pretty much it was all porn all the time. It had a big marquee and a box office out front and sort of looked like an old time movie theater. Except for the porn. The marquee announced XXX proudly.

I don't know how we knew that we weren't supposed to go anywhere near the theater. I suppose some adult told us. But to get from the toy store to any other store on University, especially Shear Insanity, which was sort of where Mi Luna is now, you had to pass the movie theater. So we used to dare each other to get as close to the movie posters as possible. I can't imagine that the posters were X rated, but the owners / managers certainly didn't want kids hanging around their box office. The absurdity of a bawdy house being placed right next door to a toy store never occured to me until I was much older. I imagine that these days the outcry would be heard for days, but no one seemed to care back in the early 80s.

I suppose like many of the other porn palaces of the past, the advent of the VCR killed the Village theater. It sort of stood empty until the Village Arcade was built. But the developers went out of their way to preserve the sign. And I crack up every time I see it.


( 1 comment — Say something )
Sep. 22nd, 2009 08:29 pm (UTC)
Oh the memories you have evoked! I spent a lot of time as a child of the '50's in The World Toy and Gift shop. It was my grandmothers favorite place to take me on our outings.

We had a set routine. Go to Jamails on Kirby, take the groceries home, have lunch, go to the florist on...Bissonet (I think), head over to Glenwood Cemetary to put flowers on the graves and then to Rice Village to the World Toy and Gift and after that to Fashion Carpet on Rice Blvd to see my Uncle.

I loved that world...and I miss it.
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