Dallas Local News

Historic Forest Theater in Dallas: From iconic past to a bright future

Dallas, Texas – In a deeply resonant nod to its illustrious past, an intricate new exhibit at Dallas’s NorthPark Center is divulging the multifaceted history of the venerable Forest Theater, an establishment whose revitalization is keenly awaited. Incepted in 1949 under the auspices of Karl Hoblitzelle, the Forest Theater originally joined the ranks of its architectural siblings—Lakewood, Inwood, and Majestic theaters—embodying the cultural zeitgeist of its era.

Forest Theater in Dallas has long history behind

Initially conceived as a sanctuary for the city’s then predominantly Jewish community in South Dallas, the theater underwent a transformative identity shift in 1956. Amid the changing demographic tapestry of the neighborhood, the Forest Theater recalibrated its offerings to cater to the emergent African American community. In doing so, it became an incubator for iconic performances, featuring a pantheon of musical legends that includes luminaries such as Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, Prince, and B.B. King.

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For subsequent decades, the edifice stood not merely as a monument to entertainment but as a linchpin for the South Dallas community at large. It donned multiple hats—serving as a consecrated locale for spiritual activities, a rendezvous point for local Girl Scout troops, and even metamorphosing into an arts center under the ownership of Grammy Award-winning singer Erykah Badu.

However, this cultural nexus shuttered its doors permanently in 2009 and has remained dormant since, eliciting a palpable void in the community’s cultural landscape. The exhibit at NorthPark Center not only endeavors to educate the public about this storied institution but also illuminates the path forward for its impending renaissance.

Forest Theater in Dallas was acquired by the nonprofit organization Forest Forward in 2017

In a redolent display of community commitment, the property was acquired in 2017 by the nonprofit organization Forest Forward. The enterprise has worked assiduously to marshal financial resources for the theater’s refurbishment and reimagination. Over the past biennium, Forest Forward has succeeded in securing an astounding $61 million, edging closer to their fundraising goal of $75 million—a testament to the organization’s unwavering commitment and the theater’s indelible impact on the local ethos.

“The black history in this theater is incredibly rich and iconic. We’ve had legendary performances like B.B. King, Gladys Knight. Even Prince has performed at the Forest Theater,” said Forest Forward CEO and Founder Elizabeth Watley. “The special thing about this space is it’s a connecting point. So many people have come and have a connection with this building. If these walls could talk, the stories we could hear!”

Envisioning a reinvigorated economic fulcrum for South Dallas, Watley ardently anticipates that the project will serve as a catalytic linchpin for both local industry and culture. Marked by an ambitious plan for physical expansion, the edifice will approximately double in size, evolving into a multifaceted arts education nexus. Notably, this transformed space aims to function as an invaluable resource for the Dallas Independent School District (ISD) as well as the Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy.

“You can have a podcast room, a design studio, a flex space. We’re adding on a new 200-seat studio theater. The concert hall will have 1,000 seats for shows, concerts, and performances. There will be a plaza area and my favorite amenity is the rooftop. It’s the first rooftop in South Dallas where you can see all of Downtown and all of Fair Park,” Watley said.

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As Watley contemplates the prospective landscape, her perspective is imbued with a potent optimism concerning the multitude of opportunities and employment prospects the project is poised to usher into the community. Amplifying her enthusiasm is the symbolic rekindling of the theater’s marquis, which is slated to be luminously reanimated for the first time in over half a century, thereby signifying not just a revival of the theater, but a symbolic rebirth of community aspirations and dreams.

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Sarah Smith

What sets Sarah apart from other journalists is her ability to make complex issues accessible to a wider audience. She has a talent for breaking down complicated topics and presenting them in a way that is both engaging and informative. In her spare time, Sarah can be found exploring the city, seeking out new stories and experiences to write about. She has a keen eye for detail and a talent for capturing the essence of a moment in words.

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