Ford Theatres: The Story of an L.A. Icon

Photo: Gennia Cui, Ford Theatres

Photo: Gennia Cui, Ford Theatres


Nestled in a picturesque setting in the Hollywood Hills, the 1,200-seat Ford Theatres has been one of L.A.'s favorite outdoor music venues for generations. Every year, the Ford hosts an eclectic calendar of international events that represent music and dance styles that span the diverse communities of Los Angeles County.

Ford Theatres terrace | Rendering courtesy of Levin & Associates Architects

Ford Theatres terrace | Rendering courtesy of Levin & Associates Architects

The landmark amphitheatre reopened in July 2016 after a $72.2-million renovation 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 amphitheatre - programming during construction took place at off-site venues.

Improvements include new lighting and sound equipment, a new two-level wood stage, new artist green room and dressing rooms, a new loading dock, a new sound wall to block noise from the 101 Freeway, a new concessions building with full kitchen, and a new 150-seat picnic terrace.

In August 2016, the Ford Theatres project was selected as a recipient of the prestigious 2016 American Architecture Awards as one of the best new buildings designed and constructed by American architects in the U.S. and abroad, and by international architects for buildings designed and built in the United States.

TAIKOPROJECT performs at the Ford's grand reopening | Photo courtesy of Ford Theatres, Facebook

TAIKOPROJECT performs at the Ford's grand reopening | Photo courtesy of Ford Theatres, Facebook

The grand reopening of Ford Theatres, the first show at the amphitheatre since 2014, featured performances by two L.A.-based groups: the GRAMMY Award-winning Chicano rock band, Quetzal and the acclaimed Japanese taiko drum ensemble, TAIKOPROJECT.

The Ford is owned and operated by the County of Los Angeles in partnership with the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Ford Theatre Foundation.

"The Pilgrimage Play" at Pilgrimage Theatre | Photo courtesy of Ford Theatres

"The Pilgrimage Play" at Pilgrimage Theatre | Photo courtesy of Ford Theatres

"The Pilgrimage Play"

An heiress of the Pittsburgh Paint Company and a patron of the arts, Christine Wetherill Stevenson had a vision to open an open-air theatre and produce her own plays. Stevenson realized her dream in 1920, when she opened the Pilgrimage Theatre and staged The Pilgrimage Play, her adaptation of the life of Christ. Stevenson died suddenly in 1922 - the Hollywood Pilgrimage Memorial Monument (aka the Great Hollywood Cross) was erected in her memory a year later. Her play would continue to be performed every summer until 1929, when the original wooden structure was destroyed by a brush fire in October.

A new theatre, built on the same site with poured concrete and designed to evoke the gates of Jerusalem, opened in 1931. The Pilgrimage Play was performed there until 1964, interrupted only by World War II. The land was deeded to L.A. County in 1941.

John Anson Ford in 1959

1959 photo of John Anson Ford with miniature gold Sputnik | Photo: Wikipedia

John Anson Ford

In 1976, the Pilgrimage Theatre was renamed the John Anson Ford Theatre in honor of the late L.A. County Supervisor and his important contributions to the arts in Los Angeles. Among his many achievements, John Anson Ford helped found the L.A. County Arts Commission, encouraged the Board of Supervisors to support the building of The Music Center, and led L.A. County's acquisition of Descanso Gardens.

The theatre was used intermittently for Shakespearean theater, jazz concerts, and dance performances until former County Supervisor Ed Edelman revived the historic theatre, spurring the creation of the Ford Amphitheatre Summer Season (originally called "Summer Nights at the Ford") in 1993 and obtaining funding for capital improvements to the facility.

Ford Theatres The Spring Quartet

The Spring Quartet | Photo: Ford Theatres 

Ford Theatres 2019 Season

The Ford Theatres 2019 season gets off to a jazzy start on April 27 when The Spring Quartet – comprised of jazz powerhouses Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese – take the stage for an “expansive, freewheeling rampage” (The Arts Desk), and comes to a triumphant conclusion in October with a spectacular two-day Día de los Muertos Concert and Community Celebration.

The 2019 season is filled with favorites like TAIKOPROJECT (June 15), Element Band (June 23), Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Co. (July 6), ¡Viva La Tradición! (Sept 7), celebrating some of the most influential female mariachi groups; the always romantic Boleros De Noche (Sept 15), and the return of Rock Out! with Wayne Kramer and friends (Sept 28). 

New faces at the Ford include visionary vocalist and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello; legendary electronic/funk/rock band Kinky, an evening of South African-inspired music by Siya Makuzeni and Thandi Ntuli, hosted by actor Don Cheadle with KCRW’s Garth Trinidad; and GRAMMY® Award-nominated We Are KING.

Special Lease Events include Johnny Marr (May 21) and John Prine (Oct. 1).

IGNITE @ The FORD!

IGNITE @ The FORD! brings the bold and the surprising: Last Whispers – Oratorio for Vanishing Voices, an immersive experience by Lena Herzog; hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris with FunkedifiedUrban Bush Women whose Hair & Other Stories is an exploration of beauty, identity and race; award-winning Spanish flamenco dancer Olga Pericet; and acclaimed Moroccan photographer, designer and filmmaker Hassan Hajjaj, recreating his My Rock Stars series live on stage for the first time, presented in collaboration with UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.

JAM Sessions

The interactive JAM Sessions series invites participants of all skill levels to release their inner artist with samba, tap dance, ukulele, Bollywood, son jarocho and more. JAM Sessions take place at the amphitheatre and public sites throughout Los Angeles County. These free events are participatory and centered around movement and music. All ages are welcome.

2019 highlights include Afro-Cuban Dance, Celtic Dance, Mexican Folk Dance, Caribbean Dance, Ukulele & Hula Dance, and Chicago Style Stepping.

Big World Fun

Music and dance events that represent the diverse cultural landscape of Southern California are presented at Big World Fun on Saturday mornings in July and August. Performances are appropriate for children ages 4 to 12 and their families. Children are admitted free and tickets for adults are $5.

Upcoming 2019 Big World Fun events include El Santo Golpe (July 6), Viver Brasil (July 13), The Get Down Boys (Aug. 3) and Leela Dance Collective (Aug. 10). 

Property of Discover Los Angeles
Photo courtesy of Ford Theatres

Live @ The Ford

If you missed a show at the Ford that you really wanted to see, not to worry. Each year, LA Channel 36 records 12 of the Ford Summer Season shows for their Ford Theatres Live series. Past episodes are available online. Episodes shot in 2019 will be airing on LA Channel 36 beginning in the late summer. Check your local listings.

 

Ford Theatres
2580 Cahuenga Blvd East, Hollywood 90068
323.461.3673
www.fordtheatres.org