NATELCO works the Ford's Theatre National Historic Site
A challenging but rewarding project for NATELCO Electrical Contractors.
In 2007, major renovation work began on the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site in Washington, DC. The Site consists of:

  • the theatre where President Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865
  • a museum
  • the Petersen House where Lincoln was taken after being shot
  • the new Center for Education and Leadership

Since 1865, the Site has remained as an active theatre and museum and the renovations – designed to make it more modern and historically accurate - were planned to be completed in time for the celebration of Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday.

Hired by the National Park Service which owns the building, Forrester Construction served as the general contractor on the project. It was Forrester who involved NATELCO Electrical Contractors in the project.


NATELCO was responsible for wiring in a new lighting system and audio/video system in the three connected buildings, performing all lighting and electrical upgrades needed in the basement level museum, relocating and installing the old and all new fire alarm systems throughout the buildings and providing power and fire alarm systems for the newly installed elevator.


The project presented many challenges. First, the goal was to modernize the systems in the 144 year old building, but at the same time, because of its historical significance, the historical integrity of the building had to be maintained. The building had been damaged by fire in 1902 and not properly repaired until 1965 at which time some of the historical elements had been removed. The 2007 renovation project aimed to restore much of the building’s original historical appearance.


During the new renovation phase, contractors discovered surprises along the way including patchwork and “fixes” that had been done on the building over the years – much of which needed to be removed, replaced, relocated, or upgraded. In addition, asbestos was discovered in the attic forcing a slow down in the project and NATELCO team members and others to be taken off the job or relocated to other areas of the project temporarily.


Space and time proved to be additional challenges. The project had a specific completion deadline due to the celebration of Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday that could not be tampered with. Thus, many contractors were on the jobsite at the same time – resulting in a cramped and chaotic working environment at times. Furthermore, running conduit and ductwork through the limited ceiling and wall space was challenging. Portions of the ceiling offered only 18 inches of space with almost two of them filled with insulation. Conduit for the power source came through the museum ceiling (under the theater) into a new switchgear room located in the basement of building no. 517.


As backup power for the theatre, NATELCO installed an 80-kW generator in the back alley. In addition, 23 new distribution panels providing power for the new audiovisual and theatrical lighting system were installed.

Building 517 was completely gutted and the fire alarm was the only thing salvaged from the building. NATELCO removed and reinstalled it to serve the building’s three wings. NATELCO also provided power for the renovated office spaces onsite and power and fire alarm services associated with the new elevator.

NATELCO Project manager Gary Cooke said, “There was so much conduit required for these systems, and the theater is such a small space compared to other theaters with this kind of system,” he said. “It was a major challenge to get all of the conduit installed without affecting any of the existing conditions of the theater. There is no way this project could have been completed on time without the knowledge and experience of our foreman and our electricians,” Cooke said.

NATELCO ran a total of 160,000 feet of pipe for the audio/video system, 100,000 feet of pipe for the dimming system, and performed 1,800 dimming terminations. At times, there were as many as 28 NATELCO electricians on the job site.

In March 2009, NATELCO was awarded a Washington Building Congress Craftsmanship Award for its work on the Ford’s Theatre.