The original building on this site was constructed in 1833 as a meeting house for the First Baptist Church of Washington. It was converted into a theater in 1861 when John T. Ford bought the building. At the end of 1862, the building burned down, and was reconstructed by architect and builder James J. Gifford in 1863. It was in use as a 2,400 seat theater from 1863 until President Lincoln was shot in 1865.
After Lincoln’s death, Ford wanted to reopen it as a theater, but due to public outrage, the U.S. gave Ford $100,000 and took over the building, using it for military records storage and offices. In 1893, three stories of the building collapsed and killed 22 people. The interior of the building was reconstructed. The government voted to restore it as a theater in 1964, and the work was completed in 1968.