Jul 20, 2022 - News

Dallas' historic Forest Theater gets a second act

A rendering of the Forest Theater restoration project. Rendering courtesy of HKS

The Forest Theater, where artists like Prince, The Roots, Dave Chappelle and Erykah Badu once performed, has sat dormant for over a decade — but that's about to change.

Driving the news: Local organization Forest Forward plans to revive the historic venue as an entertainment and learning space with restoration and expansion starting in early 2023, Elizabeth Wattley, the organization's president and CEO, tells Axios.

  • The space could be ready by December 2024.

Details: The Forest's next act will feature a concert hall, rooftop deck and a creative lab with a black box theater, recording studio and a sensory immersion room.

  • Wattley says the goal is to ensure the space benefits South Dallas.
  • Students from the neighboring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy, known as a "baby Booker T," will be able to perform at the theater and take classes with professional artists.

Flashback: The Forest Theater initially opened in 1949 in a largely Jewish area that experienced major disinvestment as it evolved into a predominantly Black neighborhood.

  • Badu, who grew up in South Dallas, tried to save The Forest in the early 2000s by establishing an after-school program there and bringing out big-name performers — but it was costly and ultimately unsuccessful.
  • The theater hasn't hosted a show since 2008, but many people in the community fondly remember its glory days.

Of note: Dallas' Majestic, Lakewood, Inwood and Forest Theaters were all built by the same developer and are considered sister theaters.

  • The Majestic and The Inwood remain in use. The Lakewood closed in 2015 and is now a bowling alley.

The big picture: Reviving The Forest could help restore power to an area of Dallas that has long been neglected.

What's next: Forest Forward has $10 million left to raise for the $50 million project.

What they're saying: "We need to support the southern sector of the city but also Dallas needs a Black enclave," Wattley says. "We need a space where Black culture is celebrated … and just because we're celebrating Black culture does not mean that everyone can't participate. This is a benefit for the entire city of Dallas."

The Forest Theater's new rooftop will offer #viewsfordays. Rendering courtesy of HKS

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