The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, November 26, 2010, Columns

Just north of downtown Houston, 14 Pews is a community center that got its start in 1924 when the Sunset Heights Church of Christ built the clapboard building on a quiet street in the Heights district.

The venue's new owner, Cressandra Thibodeaux, has plans for the future that include screenings of independent films, workshops for children and adults, musical performances, and other artistic expressions looking for an audience. Already the microcinema and alternative performance space has hosted an experimental Latino jazz band and a foodie blogging event and is working on an It Gets Better Project essay and film festival for gay and lesbian youth and a Younger Than Jesus film festival with workshops open to filmmakers 33 years old and younger.

Thibodeaux says her goal is to help foster Houston's creative community by giving groups a place for public performances. In the first three months of operation, she has been encouraged by the number of people who want to help.

Andrea Grover purchased the building from the church congregation and founded the Aurora Picture Show there in 1998. Over the next dozen years, the theatre developed a national reputation for showing cutting-edge films, many by regional artists. At the same time, the former sanctuary served as a neighborhood meeting hall. Since Grover put the building on the market in 2009, the Aurora has continued as a nomadic microcinema organization screening films at alternative art spaces around the city.

From the outside, the steep pitch of the roof line offers a clue of the building's former life as a church. Even with the dark red awning accented with white Christmas lights, the theatre blends quietly into the middle-class neighborhood a half block off North Main Street.

On the inside, the two rows of seven pews each are the only hint of its previous life. The bare wood walls and floor give the room a warm, natural feel. "Being a former church, the acoustics are great," Thibodeaux says. "Musicians absolutely love the hall." With space for 98 patrons, it can be a very intimate experience for audience and artist.

A graduate of Houston public schools, Thibodeaux went on to earn a master's of fine arts degree from Columbia University and pursue a career in Los Angeles. In 1996, she made Spamarama the Movie, inspired by the festival dedicated to the canned meat that was held in Austin from 1976 to 2007. The idea for the film started from a poster for the festival she saw in an Austin bar.

After a divorce, Thibodeaux returned to Houston to enter a new chapter of her life. The neighborhood theatre at 800 Aurora St. is an expression of her art and support of the arts community of her adopted home. As the film and art programs develop over the months, the theatre's schedule of provocative and unique events will be posted at

1,011th in a series. Collect them all. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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