Ford’s Theatre started out in life as a church.
The large brick building was constructed in 1833 as the home of the First Baptist Church of Washington.
When Catholic, Lutheran and Evangelical immigrants moved into the neighborhood, the Tenth Street Baptists decided to sell and merge with another Baptist congregation.
The building sat vacant until John T. Ford leased it for use as a theater in December 1861. The theater was greeted with protests from citizens, who thought no good would come from turning a house of God into a house of entertainment.
After some trial shows, Ford decided he could make a go of it despite the nay-sayers.
He renovated the building and reopened it as Ford’s Antheneum in March 1862. That December it was gutted by an accidental fire.
Ford still believed his theater could work. On August 27, 1863, he opened a well-engineered modern theater with a seating capacity of 2,500. Ford’s New Theatre was a runaway success until John Wilkes Booth shot the president.
Ford tried to reopen after the assassination, but Secretary of War William Stanton shut him down. The government leased the building for $1,500 a month, until Congress agreed to buy it for $88,000 in 1866. It added floors for use as offices.
The building’s string of bad luck wasn’t over. Without warning, at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, June 9, 1893, all three floors fell like a house of cards after a basement support gave way.
Employees and their desks slid into the breach. Every window was blown out. A cloud of dust rose to the roof. Twenty-two were killed; 68 were injured.
Source: Ford’s Theatre files and Ford’s Theatre.org