Arts & Entertainment

Ford Amphitheatre reopens after 21 months and a $66 million facelift

Ford Theatres, Outfest 2014.
Ford Theatres, Outfest 2014.
Genna Cui
Ford Theatres, Outfest 2014.
Ford Theatres, 2006.
Paul Antico
Ford Theatres, Outfest 2014.
Pilgrimage Play Amphitheater circa 1931.
Bob Plunkett

The rumbling of construction equipment and the pounding of carpenters at the Ford Amphitheatre will, once again, be replaced by music after a $65.8 million remodeling project that took 21 months.

Built on a hill just across the freeway from the Hollywood Bowl, the Ford is much smaller than its neighbor but it's just as loaded with history.

This is third time the Ford has sprung back to life. According to its website, it was originally built 1920 but was destroyed by a brush fire nine years, reopening in 1931.

Ford fire in 1929.
Ford fire in 1929.
Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

This weekend marks the opening of the venue’s 2016 summer season and it features some boast-worthy improvements. But the most substantial aspect of the renovation one won't be seen by patrons.

One of the most significant motivations for the long overdue remodel was the lack of water mitigation, Adam Davis, managing director of the venue, told KPCC. Water literally ran through the building, which is set on a hillside, down into the basement, through a long corridor and into the performer’s dressing rooms.

He said the original architects didn’t know any other way to manage the flow of water from the top of the hill. The drains in the basement floor didn’t last long.

“It was eroding the hillside, eroding the walls, eroding part of the structure — so we needed to refurbish that,” he said.

The dressing rooms underneath have also been refurbished and water is now redirected and pumped outside the building.

It might’ve been tough to tell, but since the venue was built on a slope, Davis said, the old stage was slightly slanted. Artists who took the stage had to secure any equipment with wheels. Although nothing ever slipped off the original concrete floor, it has been leveled and replaced with wood — with a bonus lower-level stage.

Enhanced lighting towers located throughout the venue and newly installed catwalks by the stage are also meant to upgrade the audience experience.

This isn’t the end of the remodel, though. As the summer concert season continues, new additions to the theater will pop up until the project is fully completed at the end of September.

Phase two of construction includes building a 125-seat picnic terrace with a brand new cafe and a new sound wall in the back of the amphitheater.

“[It will keep] the freeway noise — or noise perhaps from the Hollywood Bowl — out and also keeping the beautiful music that we’re making inside, kind of like your cozy living room,” he said. 

The closeness is what Davis said makes the Ford Amphitheatre stand out from other outdoor stages like the Hollywood Bowl and Greek Theater.

“The artist is playing right to the audience and there’s that intimacy,” he said.

Apart from the differences in seating capacity and the experience that creates — the Ford accommodates a cozy 1,200 guests while the Bowl and Greek seat 18,000 and 5,000 people, respectively — the venue is also notable for the artists it showcases.

Run by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the Ford works with local artists who might not be as well known as those that take the stage at the Bowl, Davis said.

“I like to think about the John Anson Ford Theater as a place where artists or an audience member can come and express themselves and see themselves reflected in the art that we do, that is an example of Los Angeles,” he said “When you come to the Ford, you’re in an intimate seat. The last row is 96 feet from the stage.”

Artists that apply and are accepted into the season program work with the commission on marketing campaigns and pocket 80 percent of ticket sales, he said.

Residents of Los Angeles can now visit and choose from an extensive roster of performances.

“They’re going to enjoy the Ford the way it was always meant to be enjoyed, outdoors under the stars,” Davis said.