April 15th is probably more-well known as being the deadline to pay one’s Federal and State Taxes foreshadowing a date that has gone down in history. The headlines magnified April 14th as the day the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was shot and mortally wounded, although Lincoln did not die until the morning of April 15, 1865.
This horrific event occurred in Ford’s Theatre, at the hands of John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor turned assassin. There had been a number of stories associated with the assassination of the President, including (years later) that Ford’s Theater was cursed since more than one tragedy occurred there.
Unless you are a history buff you may not have known Ford’s theatre was originally built in 1833 as a House of Worship until 1861, when the First Baptist Church of Washington, DC moved to a newly built structure. John T. Ford bought the church, renovated it for a theatre, only to be destroyed by fire one year later. Not to be discouraged, Ford rebuilt the structure and opened the magnificent “thespian temple” in August 1863. Its theatre fame, however, was short lived. Following Lincoln’s assassination an order was given that Ford’s Theatre was prohibited from being used as a public place for entertainment, thus the building was used for other purposes for a number of years.
Some 50 years later, January 30, 1968, Ford’s Theatre reopened with a gala performance. Since then the theatre has undergone another renovation and reopened in commemoration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday, February 12, 2009. It listed as a National Historic Site, along with the adjacent Petersen House; both which offer FREE admission, and are popular tourist sites today.
Washington, DC is filled with historic buildings and history in general. It is sad that many American’s are unaware of some of the nation’s historic treasures such as Ford’s Theatre. Preserving the past is important for the ‘cultural’ posterity of America.
A good many people are aficionados when it comes to historic architecture, and often their interest will focus on certain styles, eras and even types of structures, so it comes as no surprise that historic theatres and movie houses, such as Ford’s Theatre, are on many travel agendas. Here are a few other theatres and the like that are worthy of mentioning, and certainly visiting.
Air-conditioning in the South in 1925 was a luxury, but when the ‘movie palace’, namely the Alabama Theatre was built it was the first public building in Birmingham, Alabama to be air-conditioned. Not only did it seat near 2,500 people it was also known, in its early days, for its Mickey Mouse Club which had over 7,000 members and peaked at more than 18,000, making it the largest Mickey Mouse Club in the world.
The Alabama Theatre was close to being but a memory today, had it not been for (the non-profit organization, Birmingham Landmarks) and the ornate Mighty Wurlitzer organ that was a focal point of the Alabama; it would be a parking lot today.
The Alabama also hosted the Miss Alabama Pageant, and in 1993 was named the official state historic theatre of Alabama. Today it is home for the Alabama Symphony and Ballet and has theatrical productions of all kinds, musical concerts and special events. Plans are currently taking place to create a theatre district in conjunction with the Alabama, including the historic vaudeville theatre The Lyric; the Red Mountain Theatre and the Carver Theatre (now known as the Carver Performing Arts Center and home of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame).
Future blogs will appear on http://www.get-packin highlighting other historic theatres throughout the U.S. and the World.