Dallas’s NorthPark Center presents an exhibit showcasing the rich history of the Forest Theater, a significant establishment founded in 1949 by Karl Hoblitzelle. The Forest Theater, alongside others like Lakewood, Inwood, and Majestic, reflected the cultural spirit of its time.
Originally serving Dallas’s Jewish community, by 1956, the theater adapted its services for the growing African American community. This shift led to the theater hosting performances by famous artists like Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, Prince, and B.B. King.
For many years, the theater was a cornerstone for the South Dallas community. It served various purposes, including a place for spiritual activities, meetings for local Girl Scout troops, and even became an arts center under the ownership of singer Erykah Badu. However, it closed in 2009, leaving a gap in the cultural fabric of the area.
NorthPark Center’s exhibit aims to educate visitors about this historical landmark and highlight its future restoration. In 2017, the nonprofit organization Forest Forward acquired the property. Dedicated to refurbishing the theater, the organization has raised $61 million of its $75 million goal, Dallas Metro News reported.
“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 Elizabeth Watley, CEO and Founder of Forest Forward. “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 looks forward to the project benefitting both the local economy and culture. The renovated theater will double in size, offering resources for 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,” added Watley.
The renovation also includes relighting the theater’s marquis, symbolizing not only the theater’s rebirth but also the re-emergence of community aspirations.