The Old Forest Theater Remains Empty And in Desperate Need of a New Tenant

The Old Forest Theater Remains Empty And in Desperate Need of a New Tenant
Photo by R.C. Hickman

Spurred by that for-sale Byrds concert poster dating back to an all-but-forgotten June 1, 1968, concert at the Forest Theater, I drove by the place a few days ago to see if the historic haunt had found any takers. But, no: The Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard landmark built in the late '40s remains empty more than two years after Erykah Badu moved out. I also noticed that Elaine's Kitchen has moved up the street, but has since been replaced by another Caribbean eatery, The Jerk Shack. And the barbershop, there since the '60s, is also gone.

I'd meant to call the leasing agent, L.C. Cortez, for a status update but forgot -- till yesterday, when, while flipping through that extraordinary stack of R.C. Hickman photos for sale on eBay, I espied the one you see above. That photo, one of a collection of four being offered for a grand total of $50, serves a reminder of the theater's swinging heyday as a movie theater and a concert venue. I'd guess, based upon the film titles and performers (Jimmy Wilson's biggest hit came in '53, and he died here in '65), it was taken in the mid-'50s. (Here's another Hickman photo of the Forest in the Briscoe Center's collection.)

Cortez says this evening the place remains empty, in part due to ongoing legal tussles involving insurance issues dating back to Badu's days running the joint, then known as the Black Forest -- something to do with air-conditioning and plumbing issues having been "left in limbo," as he put it. He'd hoped to have it leased two years ago, when last we spoke, but it's been difficult. Which is a shame: With its nice strip of shops and restaurants -- two spaces remain vacant, and Cortez is admittedly "picky" about to whom he leases -- it could be to South Dallas-Fair Park what the Kessler is to North Oak Cliff.

"We would like for someone to do kinda like what Erykah did -- create an entertainment venue for southern Dallas," Cortez says. "It's a big location, a nice spot, and the downstairs is in good shape. The balcony was stripped out, but it's still got a penthouse -- a nice place with a nice layout. If you know someone who's interested, lemme know. You interested?"

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