Ford's Theatre was first opened for theatrical performances in 1861. Prior to that the building was used by the First Baptist Church. Unfortunately, in 1862 a fire destroyed the building, originally constructed in 1833, and had to be rebuilt. Both the purchase after the church and the rebuild was done by John T. Ford, a Baltimore native and experienced theater manager. At the time of he purchased Ford's Theatre he also owned the Holliday Street Theater in Baltimore.
The new Ford's Theatre opened in August of 1863. It was a grand brick building, three stories high, with arched doorways facing 10th street. Inside, the levels were broken into sections; the lower floor - orchestra level, the second floor - dress circle, and the family circle on the third floor. In total, Ford's Theatre could seat 2,400 people. The Orchestra and Dress Circle seats were of higher value and the Family circle audience used a separate entrance and winding staircase to reach their seats. It was not attached to the orchestra or Dress circle areas.
The theater enjoyed much success up until Lincoln's assassination. After the assassination, Ford's Theatre was never reopened again to the public under private ownership. The federal government locked it down and had troops guard it continuously until the hanging of the conspirators. They gave the theatre back to Ford the next day, July 8, 1865, only to take control once again three days later. To compensate Ford for the loss of revenue, the government paid him $1,500 a month to rent the building. Then on June 1, 1866 ,after passing a bill through Congress, the government paid John Ford $100,000 for the final sale.
History of Ford's Theatre
A newspaper announcement notifying the public that Ford's Theatre will be closed until further notice, due to the President's assassination.
Source: Evening star., April 24, 1865, Page 1
John Ford, Ford's Theatre Owner and Manager
Source: Restoration of Ford's Theatre
The building was quickly remodeled into an office building and warehouse storage, for the Record and Pension Bureau of the War Department. In addition to this, there was an Army Medical Museum on the third floor from 1867 to 1887. All this remained, until June 9, 1893 when all three floors of the building collapsed due to work being completed in the basement. The accident occurred during the work day, causing the death of twenty two people and injuring sixty-eight more.
Later the building was transferred to the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks, in 1928, which was taken over by the National Park Service five years later. This began the process of transforming the building to what it's known as today. In 1946, bills started being introduced to restore Ford's Theatre to the state it was in at Lincoln's Assassination. Then in 1960 work began on architectural research, making way for construction to begin in 1964 after the funds necessary from Congress.
The reconstructed and restored building was finally opened to the public on February 13, 1968. It included both original and reproductions furniture, based on historical newspapers, old photographs, and drawings. In addition to being a historical destination, Ford's also began live performances as well. Unfortunately,due to the extensive damage of the collapse and multiple changing of hands, the exterior building of the present isn't much like the Ford's Theatre of 1865. Three of the outer walls (West/Street Facing Front, North and South sides) are really the only things remaining of the original building. The back wall, where John Wilkes Booth escaped had to be completely rebuilt.