Black Forest Theatre

1920 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard,
Dallas, TX 75215

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Forest Theatre...Dallas TX / Don Lewis / Billly Smith

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Forest Theatre opened in 1947, with 1,400 seats. In around 2000, it was being leased and hopefully rescued by recording artist Eryka Badu. It has a unique and magnificent towering vertical sign with lots of neon and the classic ball on the top, but sadly has been dark for many years.

The Forest Theatre is a remarkable example of the time when a builder would see how well something could be constructed rather than how quick. It needs work but is a survivor. The Forest Theatre is located in Dallas at Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Interstate 45.

Contributed by Don Lewis

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 27, 2009 at 4:53 am

This illustrated article about Interstate’s new Forest Theatre appeared in Boxoffice of December 3, 1949. The architects were Pettigrew & Worley.

matt54
matt54 on February 21, 2011 at 1:03 am

RE: Richard Keiffer’s 2005 comments, above. The Forest was neither the largest neighborhood house in Texas, nor was it the last theatre built by Interstate Theatres, in Texas OR in Dallas – don’t know your source but Interstate built many new theatres in Dallas and other locations after 1947, including the Medallion, Cameo, and Westwood, all in the late 1960’s. In fact, the Medallion was intended as the first of a new generation of prestige first-run venues intended to replace the old downtown venues (Majestic, Tower, and Palace) which were already slated for closing. There was to be a new single-screen Palace near LBJ and Montfort but the trend away from single-screens to multiscreens put the kabosh on those plans.

RoadsideArchitecture.com
RoadsideArchitecture.com on September 7, 2011 at 1:48 am

The building appears to house a health clinic now.
April 2011

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Described in this 1949 trade article: boxoffice

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 4, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I guess that the name Black Forest had a racial connotation, but it seems a dumb choice in light of the legendary Black Forest mountain region in Germany and such edibles as Black Forest cake and Black Forest ham. Does it really have a history as the Black Forest Theatre? I think it should be listed as just Forest Theatre.

Menelikk
Menelikk on August 7, 2012 at 12:16 am

Does anyone here have more information about the Forest Theater( the name of the owner…) I am working on a documentary related to this theater and any info would much appreciated.. my email is .. Thx for your help

matt54
matt54 on August 7, 2012 at 12:30 am

Seating capacity needs to be corrected from 478 (ridiculously low for a late 1940’s neighborhood house in Dallas) to the 1480 figure quoted in the July 4, 1949 boxoffice 1949 magazine article recently posted by Tinseltoes.

dallasmovietheaters
dallasmovietheaters on November 1, 2013 at 10:49 am

The Forest Theater was a Pettigrew-Morley & Company architected $350,000 property for the Interstate Theater Circuit designed to upgrade the former Forest Theater just blocks away. That theater would be renamed the Colonial Theater which Interstate would close shortly thereafter. Fiberglass screen by Nu-screen, ramp to the mezzanine instead of stairs, cry room, Acousticon hearing devices available for the hard of hearing, attached lit parking, and plush-back fitted seats were among the amenities. Between 4,500 and 5,000 people showed up to the opening events of the theater on July 30, 1949 which had square dancing and the film, “It Happens Every Spring.”

While the early days were kind to the theater business-wise, the theater staggered as the population shift was brisk. Interstate closed the theater briefly after the February 25, 1956 showings to covert the theater from a white theater to an African American theater beginning with a grand re-opening March 1, 1956 with “Helen of Troy.” It was billed as the largest African American theater in the South and ads carried the tagline, “now colored” for informational purposes. Early on, “The Ten Commandments” played for a month to large crowds and gave Interstate hope. But the business soon slacked off.

The Forest mixed in live rock and roll shows with the movies in search of audiences in 1957/8. But it wasn’t working so the theater began operating as a weekend-only establishment beginning in December of 1958 with new manager Victor Matthews. Somehow the Forest made it another 7 years — 16 years total — closing on September 27, 1965. Matthews said that support wasn’t there and the theater had operated for a loss for a lengthy period. So Interstate looked for subleasing deals.

The Forest was divided into a 900-seat house sometimes called the Forest Ballroom and later called the Forest Avenue Cinema. The other part was called the Central Forest Club and later the Forest Central Night Club. The first sublease arrangement appears to be with Reuben Willis who opened the Central Forest Club on October 13, 1967 operating primarily as a soul and blues nightclub. Willis booked acts including Redd Foxx and B.B. King into the night club. For Willis, the space was used as community center by day and night club by evening. That arrangement lasted about almost four years. Concerts West booked a few shows into the Forest Ballroom for a short period in summer of 1968. Wilson Pickett & Arthur Conley played the Club and The Byrds played the Forest Ballroom. One live show from 1970 at the Forest, the South Dallas All-Stars' Live at the South Dallas Pop Festival, was released years later as a live CD.

As for the property, Interstate held the Forest for 30 years. When Albert H. Reynolds bought the city block in 1979 housing the theater, the Forest transferred from the original owners, Interstate Theaters (then known as Plitt Southern Theatres) to Reynolds. The Forest Avenue Cinema used the 900-seat house to show blaxploitation films for less than a year to incredibly small audiences and a 485-seat portion operated as the Forest Central Night Club. (This could account for the 478 number that is referenced in some comments.) In the 1980s, the Forest was a night club called, City Lights under Tommy Quon. Delbert Knight was the next operator. Club Anthony was an R&B club that functioned for two years.

In 1991, now as a jazz club, the nightspot moved back to its original name of the New Forest Theatre booking Ramsey Lewis and Les McCann. Further bookings included Tuck and Patti but the New Forest closed in September of the same year. It had long stretches of vacancy. When singer Erykah Badu of Dallas bought the theater in 2003, it needed refurbishing. It became known as the Black Forest Theater in 2004, a reference to its operation as an African American house in 1956-1965. Film-wise, the Black Forest returned to its roots with the Black Cinematheque and Juneteenth Film Festival. But live music and community center activities were the main attractions for the space. The Black Forest Theater was used from 2004 until 2008. As of the 2010s, the Forest still stands with its original marquee.

Driveintheatre2001
Driveintheatre2001 on July 17, 2014 at 2:16 am

Last I was in the area (a couple of months ago), this Theatre was for $ale! RAC Photography 8-)

DonLewis
DonLewis on July 17, 2014 at 7:58 am

Let’s buy it Randy!

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