Local theaters strive to stay open amid new Inglewood venues

By Alysha Conner

Contributing Writer

INGLEWOOD — While the city continues to grow into a hot spot for sports and concerts, owners of smaller local venues are fighting to keep their doors open for more reasons than one.

The Miracle Theater, a live music and film venue located on South Market Street, is one of the businesses that continue to adapt to the changing economy. 

Due to government orders, all large in-person gatherings have been canceled because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Entertainment centers have had to resort to renting out their facilities as hosting sites for virtual events.

“At the beginning of this year, we had lots of sold-out concerts and were on our way to becoming an entertainment venue,” said Owen Smith, co-owner of The Miracle Theater. “But, because of COVID-19, we’ve had to return to our original vision. We’ve been doing television and internet productions.”

The Miracle Theater has managed to pivot its business amid the coronavirus pandemic by hosting outdoor and live-streamed concerts and events like the recent Power Fest 2020.

Community Coalition, a South Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides social and economic uplift, used The Miracle Theater to stream its annual music festival virtually this year.

“Community Coalition was looking to host their live stream event at a studio,” Smith said.

“Dexter Story was the one who went out on a limb and said, ‘Let’s keep it right here in South L.A., and let’s take it to Inglewood. … Once they arrived here, the group from the Community Coalition realized real quickly that they were in the right place.”

In addition to setbacks from COVID-19, local theaters are being forced to compete with larger venues for event hosting opportunities.

New establishments like the SoFi Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Ram, have become a go-to landmark.

The Inglewood Forum has also been an iconic facility for music, entertainment and event hosting.

Although the arenas create a spotlight for Inglewood, it takes business away from smaller community-based entertainment centers.

The construction of the Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Center, the Clipper’s new home for the 2024-25 season, will be another competitor for local venue owners.

“While we were in the process of acquiring the property, the Rams made the announcement about the new stadium,” Smith said. “So, that’s when we switched gears a little bit and turned it into a cultural event theater. An entertainment venue for music, conferences and community forums.”

In 2017, Owen and his wife, Mariana Smith, reopened The Miracle Theater as the new owners.

The couple refurbished the abandoned movie house into a cultural event center for live entertainment and programming.

Several artists and events have since occupied the stage, re-establishing the theater as a popular and well-respected venue in the Inglewood community.

Smith has been able to merge his 20-year career in the entertainment industry as a director of photography for “American Idol” to play an active role in re-imagining Inglewood.

“Previous to owning and operating The Miracle Theater, my background was in ‘American Idol,’” Smith said.

“So, for The Miracle Theater, the original vision was a production studio in the heart of downtown Inglewood. It’s an 8,000 square foot building. It’s got some outdoor space, and it’s the perfect kind of small sound stage.”

As local businesses strive to restructure their operations to cater to the changing economy, they rely on the community’s help.

That means utilizing local venues for events and reminding people that they are just as essential.

“Community engagement has been the lifeline for cultural event theaters in downtown Inglewood,” Smith said.

“As Inglewood becomes a global destination for sports and entertainment, the existing community and culture should have a home that people feel comfortable with and celebrate. That’s the role we want to play, that’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

The Miracle Theater, which was initially called The Ritz, was initially built in 1937 as an independent, community movie theater in the historic core of Downtown Inglewood.

By the late 1980s, other theaters located north on Market Street had either burned down or shut their doors.

In 1999, Market Street suffered a profound financial setback when the Lakers moved away from the Forum to Staples Center in downtown L.A.

The Miracle Theater was ultimately left abandoned by the early 2000s.

With the return of the sports scene to Inglewood, the hope is that longtime local businesses will preserve the city’s cultural history.

“In this day in age, we are all aware of branding, and Inglewood is fast becoming its own brand,” Smith said.

“But, it’s always been a ‘City of Champions.’ Inglewood has always been an important town within … Los Angeles.”

Although SoFi Stadium stands to be a competitor for local venues, the Los Angeles Rams have made an effort to participate in community outreach.

The Miracle Theater was recently celebrated by the Rams when they teamed up with Watts native rapper, producer, and philanthropist Stix.

Stix paid homage to the theater, and other significant locations within Inglewood and Watts, by showcasing them in his new “It Takes All Of Us” music video.

During the scene at  The Miracle Theater, Stix locked arms with Rams staff wearing “It Takes All Of Us/L.A. Together” shirts.

To learn more about the theater or inquire about booking virtual events, visit the theater’s website https://www.themiracleinglewood.com/.

Alysha Conner is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers Inglewood. She can be reached at conner@soiwrite.org.