Learn the Story: History of Ford’s Theatre Building


(music plays) The building that contains Ford’s
Theatre on 10th Street Northwest Washington actually began its life as a church in
the 1830’s. John Ford, a successful theater owner and businessman, transformed it at the beginning of the Civil War into a working theater. Then in the
middle of the war, there was a fire here. He invested a lot of money in major
renovations and Ford’s new theater opened in 1863. Successful, a popular destination, the
President came here, and of course, he was here in April of 1865. Now, the theater was temporarily closed
after the assassination. It was a crime scene. But then, the government handed the
theater back to John Ford, and he made plans to reopen it and conduct plays. Now, that
created a backlash. Some people thought it was inappropriate
to have more drama and theatre here at that time, especially in the immediate
aftermath of the killing. And so the government
purchased the building and turned the former theater into a
kind of office space for decades after the Civil War, and served various departments in the government as
office and warehouse space, but then in the 1890s, there was a tragedy. A floor fell and nearly two dozen people died as a result, and then the government
essentially abandoned the building or used it as a warehouse, and for decades, in the twentieth
century there was a debate about what to do with
it. There was a plan, a movement to try to restore Ford’s
Theatre and make something powerful out of it. And that plan finally culminated in the
late 1960’s when Ford’s Theatre was reborn as a
working theater after 1968 and a historic site that would be paired
in tandem with the Peterson House where Lincoln died across 10th Street. (music continues to play)

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