On February 28, 1863, architect James J. Gifford began constructing a theater for John T. Ford in Washington DC. The new theater opened its doors in August, and had a seating capacity of 2,400. The theater was celebrated at the time as a “magnificent new thespian temple.”
Two years later, on April 14, 1865, the theater would be the stage for the first Presidential assassination in American history, as John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln during a performance of Our American Cousin. By act of Congress, the theater was appropriated by the federal government for the price of $100,000.
Congress further prohibited any acts of entertainment in its facilities. The building served the War Department until the beginning of the twentieth century. The theater was reopened in 1968.