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The Forest Theater: From cultural epicenter to beacon of renewal

The NorthPark Center in Dallas has introduced an exhibit highlighting the rich history of the Forest Theater, a significant establishment founded in 1949 by Karl Hoblitzelle. This theater, alongside others like Lakewood, Inwood, and Majestic, represented the cultural spirit of its time.

Initially catering to Dallas’s primary Jewish community, the theater shifted its focus in 1956 to serve the growing African American community. It became a stage for famous artists including Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, Prince, and B.B. King.

The Forest Theater also played diverse roles over the years. It served spiritual events, was a meeting place for Girl Scout troops, and even transformed into an arts center under the ownership of singer Erykah Badu. Despite its significance, the theater closed in 2009.

The exhibit at NorthPark Center aims to educate visitors about the theater’s history and its future potential. The nonprofit Forest Forward purchased the property in 2017 and has since raised $61 million of its $75 million target for renovations, according to Dallas Metro News.

“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,” commented 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!”

Watley hopes the renewed theater will boost the local economy in South Dallas. Plans include expanding the space, which will become an arts education hub. The renovated theater will assist the Dallas Independent School District and 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,” shared Watley.

With optimism, Watley envisions the numerous opportunities and job openings the project will bring to the community. A notable feature will be the relighting of the theater’s marquis, symbolizing not just the theater’s revival but also the community’s renewed hopes and aspirations.

Gayle Gordon

As a college student, making an extra buck now and then was very important. I started as a part-time reporter since I was 19 yo, and I couldn’t believe it might become a long-time career. I'm happy to be part of the Virginian Tribune's team.

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