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CROWE'S NEST

A funny thing happened along the way to the Forum

Former Lakers and Kings home has remained virtually unchanged under the ownership of a church.

May 17, 2009|JERRY CROWE

A quick peek inside the Forum reveals nothing.

It looks as if the Lakers and Kings never left -- at least until you look up and realize that the hulking scoreboard that once hung from the ceiling is no longer there.

Neither are the Lakers and Kings, of course.

They moved out a decade ago, trading in their cozier, funkier fixer-upper for the newer, gaudier Staples Center.

The Lakers, in fact, played their last game in Inglewood 10 years ago this week, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of a Western Conference semifinal playoff series.

The Kings played their Forum finale a month earlier, losing to the St. Louis Blues to cap a 32-45-5 season.

Since then, their former home at the corner of Manchester Boulevard and Prairie Avenue has remained virtually unchanged under the ownership of the Faithful Central Bible Church, which bought the building for $22.5 million in December 2000.

"It looks like it's stuck in time," says Ken Weiner, a senior associate athletic director at UCLA, which is eyeing the Forum as a possible temporary home for the Bruins basketball team while Pauley Pavilion is renovated during the 2011-12 season. "It's as if they closed the doors after the last game."

Actually, the doors have swung open quite often in the last 10 years, not only for religious services but also for concerts, video shoots, rehearsals and whatever else the owner can book into it, including USC and high school basketball games.

Even the Lakers are exploring the possibility of returning to the Forum -- for an exhibition game in October.

Their former center, Shaquille O'Neal, participated in graduation ceremonies at the Forum when he received his MBA from the University of Phoenix in 2005.

The concert scenes from Miley Cyrus' "Hannah Montana: The Movie" were filmed at the Forum, as were dozens of commercials.

The Forum also has continued to function as a viable concert venue, with major acts such as the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Stevie Wonder having played there in recent years.

Madonna, Janet Jackson, Coldplay and the Eagles are among the many acts that not only performed in the building but also rented it for rehearsals, Madonna hunkering down for three months.

The Forum may be owned and operated by a church, but it has not been converted into a house of worship.

"We never bought the Forum to turn it into a church," says Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, pastor of the Faithful Central Bible Church, whose congregation includes at least one parishioner who used to work at the Forum: Lakers guard Derek Fisher. "We bought it as a tool to continue the legacy of serving the community in terms of entertainment and of course for the economic impact it would have on our community in terms of jobs and revenue."

In 2003, the Lakewood Church in Texas bought the Compaq Center, former home of the Houston Rockets, and turned it into a glistening, multimillion-dollar religious shrine.

At the Forum, no religious icons or statues can be seen. Nor have pews, crosses or stained-glass windows been added.

Behind the scenes, several offices that formerly housed team executives have been turned into Sunday school classrooms. The lockers from the Kings' old dressing room are no longer there and a former weight room sits virtually empty, its mirrors reflecting only scattered couches and chairs used by visiting rock stars.

But the public spaces, including the Forum Club, remain mostly untouched. Even a Zamboni is parked in the same spot.

The Lakers' locker room also remains intact, as Jerry West discovered on a recent visit, reaching for a spot above his former stall to show a companion where he used to deposit gum.

The Lakers, whose possible one-night return would help kick off their 50th season in Los Angeles, understandably have great affection for the Forum, which opened Dec. 30, 1967, and where they hung six NBA championship banners -- all with Chick Hearn calling the action from "high above the western sideline."

The Kings, of course, also enjoyed their share of special Forum moments, among them the 1982 "Miracle on Manchester" and their Wayne Gretzky-led run to the 1993 Stanley Cup finals.

These days, Ulmer is content with smaller victories, such as keeping the building occupied as frequently as possible.

Faithful Central no longer holds services inside its venerable arena, having pulled out this year in a cost-cutting move. (The church rents the space from Forum Enterprises Inc., a for-profit corporation established by Faithful Central to operate the building.)

Ulmer, though, says the rockiest times have passed and that misconceptions about the Forum were clarified years ago.

"The first couple of years," he says, "we had to very consciously and aggressively market the fact that this was not a church. . . .

"We had to convince everyone that, 'Hey, man, a church owns this building, but it's operated through a for-profit corporation and it looks just like it did back in the Lakers' Showtime era.' "

Except, of course, for the missing scoreboard, which was disassembled a few years ago and put in storage.

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jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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