The Fabulous Forum: A Venerable Venue with a Storied Existence Preps for the Future
While futuristic renderings of the L.A. Clippers’ under-construction Intuit Dome have been grabbing headlines of late, it is far from Inglewood’s first sports venue. Because the stately Forum arena, opened in 1967, is both the city’s most iconic building and historically intrinsic to its economic fortunes and identity.
The Forum is a living cultural monument almost unrivaled in Southern California as a place of collective experience. Decades of storied sports and musical events mean that there are few people who grew up in the Southland in the last third of the 20th century who can’t recall a formative experience there, be it a first concert, first “big game,” or even a first date.
So, it’s fitting that the Forum, which reopened in 2014 following a $100-million makeover, is once again at the heart of a thriving Inglewood, just as it was while home to Los Angeles’ Lakers and Kings franchises until 1999. Now revived as the nation’s largest indoor performance venue, the Forum is once again where memories are being made for millions, while also a magnet for the events and businesses that have helped fuel Inglewood’s recent renaissance.
Romanesque Rising: 1960s & 1970s
The Forum was built by Jack Kent Cooke, a Canadian former door-to-door salesperson turned multi-millionaire who was determined to bring NHL hockey to Los Angeles. He was laughed at for envisioning “sports’ answer to the Taj Mahal” in Inglewood. But, as owner of the Lakers and Kings, he realized his dream.
While the Forum’s classical motifs and soaring pillars were nods to ancient Rome, its engineering was state-of-the- art. Famed mid-century architect Charles Luckman employed a pioneering tension-ring suspended roof system, dispensing with interior columns. This allowed unbroken views of not only sporting events, but also performances by contemporary music superstars like David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and the Jackson 5.
The Forum hosted five NBA Finals in its first six years, including the Lakers’ 1972 championship-winning game. It was already earning its “Fabulous Forum” nickname, coined by longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, and sowing Inglewood’s “City of Champions” reputation.
Greater Glory: 1980s & 1990s
Cooke sold the Forum and his teams to Jerry Buss in 1979. Set on turning basketball into all-out entertainment, Buss established the Laker Girls cheerleading squad and the VIP Forum Club.
What followed were years of unprecedented success for the star-studded “Showtime” Lakers, including five NBA championships. The Forum also witnessed the 1982.
“Miracle on Manchester,” when the NHL’s Kings reversed a 5-0 playoff game deficit against the heavily favored Edmonton Oilers. This was the era when the Kings’ Wayne Gretzky and Lakers like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became legends, while A-list celebrities looked on courtside.
By also hosting 1984 Summer Olympics events and spectacular concerts by bands like Queen, Fleetwood Mac, and Guns N’ Roses, the Forum continued to highlight Inglewood, a city once obscure even to many Californians, as the new millennium approached.
Decline and Rebirth: 2000 - present
Everything changed at the Forum in 1999. Buss sold what was then known as the Great Western Forum, and the Lakers and Kings moved to the newly built Staples Center. A church bought the Forum and only occasionally leased it for entertainment events. Maintenance was neglected. As the Forum’s luster faded, mirroring the underutilized ground surrounding it.
But almost immediately upon being elected in 2011, Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. approached New York’s Madison Square Garden Company to rehabilitate the Forum. The resulting renovation maintained the arena’s historic architecture while creating a high-end contemporary venue with more seats, a new nightclub, and expanded concessions. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places upon reopening in 2014 and has boomed ever since.
In early 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, the Forum faced an uncertain future. While the MSG Company maintained control of the Forum, a conflict arose between their ownership group and the owners of the Los Angeles Clippers, who planned to build a brand-new basketball arena - now known as the Intuit Dome - just to the south. To prevent any further issue, Mayor Butts and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer made several quick, deft moves and deals, the shrewdest of all being Ballmer purchasing the Forum for $400 million. The Forum continues to operate with its existing leadership and now has the additional advantage of coordinating efforts for programming with the Intuit Dome, slated to open for the 2024 season.
As well as hosting world-class shows and domestic sporting events, the new Forum is slated to host Olympics gymnastics in 2028. Not only has the venue itself been revitalized, but it has served as a catalyst for Inglewood’s recent rebirth as an entertainment destination, including the new Hollywood Park mega-development and the imminent Intuit Dome. Local-hire provisions insisted upon by Butts have ensured that the reborn Forum brings tangible economic benefits to Inglewood residents, with forecasts that the renovation would create a $1.4-billion economic boon for the area within 30 years.
With that and a classic venue preserved for a new generation to enjoy, it’s a win-win for the City of Champions.