The John Anson Ford Amphitheatre is one of the oldest performing arts venues in Los Angeles still in use. The open-air amphitheatre sits on a 45-acre park-like setting in the Cahuenga Pass. It is now the home of the Ford Amphitheatre Season, a multi-disciplinary performing arts series running May through October, coordinated by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.
The amphitheatre was built in 1920 as the site of the Pilgrimage Play. The author, Christine Wetherill Stevenson, believed the rugged beauty of the Cahuenga Pass would provide a dramatic outdoor setting for the play. Together with Mrs. Chauncey D. Clark, she purchased this land along with that on which the Hollywood Bowl now sits. A wooden, outdoor amphitheatre was built on this site; the play was performed by noted actors every summer from 1920 to 1929, until the original structure was destroyed by a brush fire in October 1929.
The present theatre, constructed of poured concrete and designed 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 until 1964, interrupted only by World War II, when the structure was converted to dormitories for servicemen. In 1941 the land was deeded to the County of Los Angeles. The Pilgrimage Play continued to be presented until a lawsuit in 1964 forced its closure because of its religious nature.
The County continued to use the amphitheatre for a variety of concerts and performances, but public attendance dwindled. The structure gradually deteriorated until the late County Supervisor John Anson Ford obtained funding for capital improvements several decades ago. The Pilgrimage Theatre was then renamed in his honor. It was used intermittently for Shakespearean theater, jazz concerts, and dance performances until former County Supervisor Ed Edelman revived the historic theatre with the creation of the Ford Amphitheatre Season (originally called "Summer Nights at the Ford") in 1993.
Between 1995 and 2000, $4.3 million in capital improvements were made to the stage, backstage, and public areas of the Ford complex, including a $1.6 million renovation of the entryway. One of the goals of these renovations was to make the facility completely ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. These capital investments by the County of Los Angeles continue to bring the historic site up to modern safety, access and performance standards for the enjoyment of all.
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