Restoration of Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C

By George J. Olszewski | Go to book overview

PART II -- Ford's Theatre 1867-65


John T. Ford's plans for a new theatre called for the construction of a more elaborate edifice than the former converted church building which had been destroyed by fire. Ford's builder, James J. Gifford,1 who drew up the original plans for the present structure, also designed and supervised its construction. The work was started in February 1863 and the theatre, known as "Ford's New Theatre,"2 was opened to the public on Thursday, August 27, 1863, with Mr. and Mrs. C. B. Bishop, playing the leading roles in a "brilliant" performance of The Naiad Queen.3

As Gifford's original plans have been the subject of a never-ending search, especially during the past twenty years, without success, a few words on the significance of the present study may be appropriate. It was generally believed that Gifford's original "drawings," i.e. plans, "if such ever existed,"4 may have disappeared in the hectic history of Ford's Theatre following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Consequently, the history of Ford's Theatre had become surrounded with an almost impenetrable aura of rumor, hearsay and fiction. The failure to discover the original architectural drawings of the theatre naturally did little to dispel the unreality of the situation, especially when plans to restore or partially restore the theatre were contemplated by the Congress in 1954. Pursuant to Public Law 372 of the 83d Congress, a study of the Ford Theatre had been made by the National Park Service and submitted to Congress in July 1955.5 Due to the renewed interest in the possible full restoration of Ford's Theatre as part of the MISSION 66 program of the National. Park Service,6 and also as one of the outstanding features of the Civil War Centennial celebration, funds were appropriated under Public Law 86-455 of the 86th Congress to carry out "preliminary architectural and historical research, the preparation of construction drawings and for exhibit planning."7 As a result of this congressional action, the current project was begun in September 1960. The present Historic Structures Report represents, therefore, the results of these investigations.

One of the primary objectives of the current project has been to find the original plans used in constructing Ford's Theatre in 1863. Another objective has been to dispel the aura of unreality surrounding the multi-faceted aspects of the theatre's history and its architecture. As a result current investigations have led to the examination and evaluation of practically all known and related records of civilian and military agencies of the government which may have been connected with the history of the Ford Theatre building in one form or another since the tragic events of Good Friday, 1865.8 In addition contemporary

See Figure 8.
See Figure 12.
National Intelligencer, August 28, 1863. See also Appendix "B" for a complete "List of Productions at Ford's Theatre, August 1863 to April 1865." Ruby Overman and Stephen Fenster compiled part of this material.
Stanley W. McClure, Historical and Architectural Features Significant in the Restoration or Partial Restoration of Ford's Theatre ( Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior, N.P.S., N.C.P., 1956), p. 2.
See "Notes on the Reconstruction of Ford's Theatre, prepared by the Architectural Branch, N.C.P., for use in the report to be provided by the Congress as required by P.L. 372, 83d Congress," July 1955. Statement of Senator Milton R. Young of North Dakota at the Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate, 86th Congr., 2d Sess., on H.R. 10401 ("Making Appropriations for the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1961, and for Other Purposes"), ( Washington: U.S.G.P.O., 1960), p. 990.
Statement of Conrad L. Wirth, Director, National Park Service, Ibid., p. 723.
Recommendation of Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona, Chairman, Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Ibid., p. 1065. Act approved May 13, 1960, 74 Stat.,104.
Among the more important official records examined at the National Archives are the following: Record Group 42, Records of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capitol; R.G. 46, Records of the United States Senate; R.G. 48, General Records of the Department of the Treasury; R.G. 66, Records of the Commission of Fine Arts; R.G. 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, War Department; R.G. 79, Records of the National Park Service, Department of the Interior


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Restoration of Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Preface xi
  • List of Illustrations xv
  • List of Historic American Buildings Survey Drawings xvii
  • Administrative Data 1
  • Historical Data 3
  • Part I -- Ford's Theatre Building, 1833-1862 5
  • Part II -- Ford's Theatre 1867-65 13
  • Part III -- April 14, 1865 and Its Aftermath 53
  • Architectural Data 67
  • Furnishings and Exhibition Data 101
  • Appendix A--Lincoln at Ford's Theatre 105
  • Appendix B--List of Productions at Ford's Theatre 107
  • Appendix C 123
  • Bibliography 125
  • Index 130
  • Mission 66 137


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