By Greg Aragon
There is great news on the horizon this summer for Los Angeles theater-lovers. The John Anson Ford Amphitheatre is re-opening to the public after nearly two years of renovations to the historic outdoor venue. The 2016 Summer Season, performed under the stars in the Hollywood Hills, opens on July 8 and runs through Oct. 15.
I got to tour the construction site of the $65.8 million renovation project this week and things appear to be coming along splendidly, with massive amounts of new concrete up and framing to support a new visitor entrance, stage, elaborate sound walls, underground dressing rooms and back stage production areas, improved lighting and sound, a new 580-square-foot Grab and Go Marketplace self-serve food marketplace, and a new picnic terrace and concession stand, among other improvements.
Designed by Levin & Associates Architects with Mia Lehrer + Associates landscape architects, the project was initiated in 2012 and required a 21-month closure of the amphitheater, during which time the programming took place at venues off-site. Lead Architect Brenda A. Levin, FAIA, says the goal of the design was to create a state-of-the-art facility, while retaining the character of the historic neo- Judaic-styled structure, which she calls a cultural and architectural iconic venue.
Construction is slated to complete in August with a civic dedication ceremony. Plans for future project phases include a new three-level parking structure, 299-seat indoor theatre, box office, museum/gallery, and hiking trail.
The 1,200-seat Ford Theatres create an intimate concert experience that is a long-time favorite among Angelenos with a taste for the arts. Each summer, the Ford hosts a diverse roster of events representing music and dance styles reflective of Los Angeles County communities.
Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, the John Anson Ford Theatres is one of the oldest and most historically significant performing arts venues in LA. Located in a 32-acre county regional park, the theater was built in 1920 as the site of “The Pilgrimage Play.” The author of the play, Christine Wetherill Stevenson, an heiress to the Pittsburgh Paint fortune, believed the rugged beauty of the Cahuenga Pass in Los Angeles would provide a dramatic outdoor setting for her play.
Stevenson purchased the land along with the land on which the Hollywood Bowl now sits. A wooden, outdoor amphitheatre designed by architect Bernard Maybeck was built on this site and was called The Pilgrimage Theatre. “The Pilgrimage Play” was performed here by noted actors every summer from 1920 to 1929, until the original structure was destroyed by a brush fire in October 1929. The present facility, constructed of poured concrete and designed by architect William Lee Woollett in the style of ancient Judaic architecture to resemble the gates of Jerusalem, was built on the same site and opened in 1931.
“The Pilgrimage Play” was again performed here each year until 1964, with brief periodic interruptions, such as those caused by World War II and the construction of the Hollywood freeway. In 1941 the land was deeded to the County of Los Angeles. In 1971, a new 1,200-seat amphitheater was constructed along with an 87-seat indoor black box theatre built underneath. In 1976, the facility was renamed for John Anson Ford (1883-1983) in honor of the former LA County Supervisor’s significant support of the arts.
The John Anson Ford Amphitheatre is located at 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East in Hollywood, off the 101 Freeway between Hollywood and Universal Studios in the Cahuenga Pass. There is paid onsite parking as well as a free shuttle to the Ford at Universal City/Studio City Metro Station lot at Lankershim Boulevard and Campo de Cahuenga. For more information and tickets, visit: www.FordTheatres.org or call (323) 461-3673.