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Arts and Entertainment

Historic Ford Theatre Getting a $9.75M Upgrade

ford-theatre-concert.jpg
A performance at the Ford (Photo via Ford Theatres on Facebook)
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The John Anson Ford Theatre in the Cahuenga Pass will soon be getting a $9.75 million improvement, thanks to a unanimous vote Tuesday approving the funds for the project by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The funds will be put towards preservation and repair at the venue, which "is one of the oldest performing arts venues operating in Los Angeles," notes City News Service.

Renamed in 1976 for John Anson Ford, the late L.A. County Supervisor who helped found the L.A. County Arts Commission, the site has actually been home to an ampitheater for theatrical productions since 1920.

If you've noticed that the bridge crossing over the 101 freeway between Highland and Cahuenga in the Pass is called the Pilgrimage Bridge, you're on your way to the Ford's past. In the early 1900s, Hollywood resident, fervent Christian, and lover of the arts, Christine Wetherill Stevenson wanted to put on her own play she'd written about the life of Christ. The ladies over at the newly-formed Hollywood Bowl group weren't keen on the idea, so Stevenson and another wealthy friend bought the land across the Pass and there she built her own darn theatre.

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From our history of Pilgrimage Bridge:

The original venue on the property was built in 1920 for the performance of her play, and Stevenson "believed the rugged beauty of the Cahuenga Pass would provide a dramatic outdoor setting for the play." The structure was wooden, and was used for performances of the play every summer from 1920 to 1929, when a brush fire destroyed the theater. [...] It was, of course, called the Pilgrimage Theater. You will, of course, know the theatre and its location by its present name, the John Anson Ford Ampitheater.

Home to not only the outdoor stage that is popular in the summertime for their eclectic music, dance, and theatrical programming, the Ford also houses an 87-seat indoor theatre. This year, however, there will be no winter programming at the Ford, in prep for the improvements boosted today by the approval of the funds.

From the Ford site, Arthur Trowbridge, Production Manager, says:

"Although I'm sad that the winter play season is on hiatus this year, I'm excited that the Ford will be getting some much needed upgrades. We start this December with the removal of the seating in the amphitheatre, a complete resurfacing of the floor and the installation of brand new seating. Many more changes will be coming over the next few years, all designed to make your experience at the Ford that much more enjoyable."
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The county has spent about $6.1 million over several decades to keep the site and buildings in repair and up to modern safety standards, however it's come time to make a larger investment all at once in order to preserve historic features, and repair and replace building systems.