Walters Owner Pam Robinson Hangs Tough
The outspoken owner of Walters Downtown -- and now an inductee into the Houston Music Hall of Fame -- has felt better, true. Recently her doctors discovered that the experimental drug that had been attacking her cancer was going after her heart just as aggressively. She had been on the drug since late April, and had even been able to give up the wheelchair she had been using since beginning chemotherapy last summer. But within just a few days of going off it, her pain was already coming back with a vengeance.
"By Monday I'll probably be screaming at MD Anderson," Robinson told Rocks Off a couple of weeks ago in Walters's small office. "I'm not real happy about it, but it was killing my heart, so I had no choice."
Not after battling gentrification and ill-mannered neighbors for years at two Washington Avenue-area venues, and then waiting out months of bureaucratic minutiae (and appeasing more cranky neighbors) to open her new Naylor location behind UH-Downtown. On top of everything else, she did it while Metro's construction of the northbound rail line rendered the area surrounding Walters all but impassable, and with her sense of humor intact.
"It was kind of funny, when you think about it," Robinson begins. "I'm laughing now. One day I pulled up -- it's kind of neat how you'd turn down Naylor -- and there's these big barricades. They took the street out. No Naylor; it was this deep and all dirt.
"So I get out of my car, looking around, like, 'Damn,'" she continues. "Then I get back in my car and call 311 and say, 'What am I going to do -- my road's gone?' They were like, 'We don't know.' No notice. The city apologized; they said, 'We thought your building was empty.'
"I said, 'Well, it is, because I'm waiting for the city.'"
Once known as the "Mayor of Pamland" because she owned Mary Jane's, Silky's and Walter's all at once, Robinson originally vacated Walter's on Washington in June 2011. By then she had spent years watching the avenue steadily become Houston's latest trendy nightlife playground, with the juvenile behavior to match. Washington's growing amount of liquor licenses and traffic congestion led to an environment of frequent public intoxication and, for Robinson's customers, a dearth of easily accessible parking.
The old Walter's On Washington
She began making plans to relocate when the property was sold around August 2009.
After months of back-and-forth with various city departments ("before you know it, six months has gone by," Robinson says) and making minor improvements to the building, like bathrooms, Walters Downtown finally opened in early 2012. Barely a year later, Robinson went to the doctor thinking she had arthritis; instead, she learned there was a tumor on her spine. It was Stage 4 cancer, they said, the kind no longer localized to one part of the body.
Both her staff, who Robinson says is more like family (and does include her two kids), and the scores of local musicians who had come to appreciate Walters as one of the few places in town willing to take a chance on them, immediately set about organizing a fundraiser for her medical bills.
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