IT HAS BEEN 10 years since Ford's Theater reopened, 10 years of lively and often pertinent cultural life of the capital and the nation. Ford's was closed by order of the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on April 15, 1865, the morning after the tragedy that made it famous. For a century, the pleasantly plain 741-seat theater served as a warehouse. The building's restoration by the National Park Service started a heated controversy: Should the site of President Lincoln's assassination be renovated as a museum, or a shrine - a memorial to a moment of horror, as it were? Or should it also be resurrected as the place of joy and laughter that Abraham Lincoln cherished and frequented. One of those who rooted for the living memorial was Frankie Hewitt, who had worked on Capitol Hill, served as special assistant to U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, but did not, by her own admission, know "a diddly damn" about theater. She knew, however, how to persuade then Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and the right people in Congress.

Ford's opened as both a musesum and a living theater.

Mrs. Hewitt founded and leads the independent, non-profits Ford's Theater Society that produces the program and raises the money for it. She learned fast about theater. It did not take long for her productions to find their role and their audience, particularly with plays such as "Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope," Me and Bessie," "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God" and "I Have A Dream" - most of which also became Broadway hits and went on national tours.

It is sometimes said that Ford's is Washington's true home theater. It is - in the sense that Washington can be said to be every American's second time town.