When Booth was committing his deed at Ford’s Theatre on 10th Street, Lewis Powell was simultaneously entering a residence in Lafayette Square with malevolent intent. His mark was Secretary of State William H. Seward, an integral member of Lincoln’s cabinet and political team. Powell’s house-wide knife attack would wound five but none fatally.
The house the Secretary of State occupied was a stone’s throw from the White House. Commissioned by Commodore John Rodgers, the building would serve as the home of many important politicians like James Blaine, James Paulding, Roger Taney, and William Worth Belknap. When the White House was being renovated in 1845, President Polk used the house for his temporary residence.
In 1894, the Rodgers House was sadly demolished. The Lafayette Square Opera House was built on the house’s site.
In 1906, the theater was bought by new owners and became The Belasco Theater. The theater saw the likes of Al Jolson and Will Rodgers perform within its walls. As times changed, the Belasco converted into a movie theater, but its career as such was short lived. In 1940, the federal government bought the Belasco and nearby buildings. The inside of the theater was remodeled and used as office and storage space, not unlike Ford’s Theatre had been. During WWII, the building was reopened as a social club for Armed Forces members called The Stage Door Canteen. Aside from a temporary revival as a military club during the Korean War, the building was used as offices for the USO.
Finally, in the 1964, the end came for the old Belasco building. The old theater was razed in order to create the Federal Court of Claims building. The Court of Claims still resides on the property.
While the house that was a silent witness to the assault of Secretary of State Seward is long gone from Lafayette Park, the history of the site is not forgotten. While slightly hidden within the courtyard of the Federal Court of Claims building, there is a plaque to remember not only Lewis Powell’s presence on the site, but the other individuals and businesses that were once the President’s neighbors.
Library of Congress
Interesting piece Dave. I find it kind of ironic that a theatre was erected here after the old house was demolished. I always enjoy reading these posts over a cup of morning coffee.
Very interesting, Dave. It’s too bad that no extant floor plans/blue prints seem to exist for the Old Clubhouse (Seward’s house.) Linda Anderson and I are STILL looking for these!
Surprisingly, the plaque makes mention that Powell was “one of the conspirators who murdered Abraham Lincoln.” Supposedly when given the chance by Booth to assassinate Lincoln in February of 1865, Powell refused and walked away. The plaque also makes no mention of the facinating history of the house BEFORE the assassination – i.e. the Key-Sickles murder which occurred outside of it’s front door in 1859. Philip Barton Key was brought into the Old Club House as it was then called due to its designation as a Gentleman’s Club, where he expired after being shot by Daniel Sickles.