Nonprofit Forest Forward is raising funds to restore the historic Forest Theater to its former glory as a cultural hub for Dallas’s Black community. 


South Dallas's Forest Theater has a long history of serving the city's underrepresented populations. When it opened in 1949, it accommodated the area's largely Jewish community. By the mid-50s, when white flight began to affect the area, it became an important cultural venue among the Black community. As a theater, night club, and live music venue it hosted famed performers like Tina Turner, Prince, Gladys Knight, and B.B. King. 

Despite its significance as a mecca for art and music, as well as its service as a community gathering space for local groups, choirs, and even voting rights campaigns, the theater fell into disrepair. That is until local nonprofit Forest Forward came onto the scene and bought the abandoned venue in 2017.

Black and white photo of line of people standing outside historic theater
The Forest Theater was a hub for culture and the arts in the mid 1950s when this photo was taken.
| Credit: Courtesy of Forest Forward

For Forest Forward President and CEO Elizabeth Wattley, restoring the theater is a passion project that hits close to home. Growing up in the area, Wattley told The Dallas Morning News that the building has always been a part of her life. 

"I've always driven by it and felt like something is here. Some type of energy," she said. 

Forest Forward aims to restore the historic building, reestablishing its role as a cultural hub for the community and adding to its impact with new features and spaces. 

Plans for a renovated theater include a 500-seat concert hall, rooftop bar, café, motion rooms, multipurpose spaces, podcast studio, and recording booth. The theater will also be used as a performance space and community classroom for schools in the area including the Dallas Independent School District's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy. 

Empty stage with black and white tile floor
Renovation plans for the theater include a 500-person concert hall.
| Credit: Courtesy of Forest Forward

Currently, Forest Forward has raised around one-third of its fundraising goal of $75.215 million, which pays homage to South Dallas's 75215 zip code. In addition to being used for the theater's renovation and expansion, the funds will also support a nearby mixed-income housing development that will further catalyze the neighborhood's revitalization. 

Construction on the historic theater is set to start in a few months, with a projected completion goal of 2024—just in time to celebrate the building's 75th birthday. 

"It is exciting to be able to be part of something that will serve the community in such an important way," Wattley told The Dallas Morning News. "It is a real feeling of reclaiming, and it's something that is open and accessible to everyone."