Brooklyn Academy of Music, better known as BAM, is a multi-arts center located in Brooklyn, New York. Home to adventurous artists, audiences, and ideas, BAM has been synonymous with excellence in music, theater, performing arts, innovation, dance, opera, and film for more than 150 years. Brooklyn Academy of music features the work of modern masters and emerging artists.
In November 1903, the original building of the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Montague Street was destroyed by fire. Soon after, the scions of Brooklyn quickly got together and constructed an even grander structure. The cornerstone was laid at BAM’s present location in April 1906. Since then, 30 Lafayette Avenue has been where the artistic needs of the local and global community have been met and inspired further growth.
Where is it?
Brooklyn Academy of Music consists of three mixed-use and performance venues: The Harvey Theater, the Peter Jay Sharp Building, the Fisher, and the still under construction, BAM Karen on Ashland Place..
History of Architecture
The Brooklyn Philharmonic Society proposed the idea of building a cultural center in 1858, and the Brooklyn elite set that in motion. The original location of The Brooklyn Academy’s first building was 176-194 Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights. The Academy opened its doors in 1861, went through a renovation in 1884, and was destroyed by fire in 1903.
The first facility of BMA housed a large theater with a seating capacity of 2,100. There was also a vast “baronial” kitchen, a smaller concert hall, and dressing and chorus rooms. After the fire destroyed the building in 1903, Brooklyn Borough President Martin W. Littleton engaged prominent Brooklynites to relocate the cultural center to the then-fashionable neighborhood of Fort Greene.
Peter Jay Sharp Building
A famous theater architecture firm, Herts & Tallant, was tasked with designing the new Italian Renaissance-inspired building. The multi-story building featured iridescent details and decorated figures at the entrances with a main façade in the Beaux Arts style.
The 5,000-square-foot grand foyer offered the first place for social communion, where the audience members mingled before entering their intended venues. The Grand Opera, with two balconies and 2,200 seats, was the crown jewel of the Academy. A concert hall was used for concerts and lectures and had its entrance through the main lobby.
The space was later renovated to create four movie theaters, preserving the original decorative detail. A ballroom on the second floor was converted into a Lepercq Space, a huge “black box” theater. In 1997, Hugh Hardy later redesigned it as a multi-purpose area housing BAMcafé.
Half of the third floor, directly above the concert hall and east of the opera house balcony, constituted the Brooklyn Institute’s offices, classrooms, and a 400-seat lecture hall. It was later reserved for administrative use.
BAM’s main building has witnessed monumental performances and enlightening lectures by famous artists and influential figures, including Franklin D. Roosevelt and the 1962 American debut of Rudolf Nureyev.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music saw a sharp decline in the audience and support base after World War II. In 1967, Harvey Lichtenstein took charge as the executive director, and during his directorship of 32 years, BAM experienced a renaissance.
The BAM building was renamed for Peter Jay Sharp in 2004 and has since exceeded its original turn-of-the-century mission.
BAM Harvey Theater
The beloved Harvey venue was first inaugurated as the Majestic Theater in 1904. It joined the already established entertainment theaters in downtown Brooklyn.
Dramas, musicals, light opera, and vaudeville graced the Majestic, with brand-name stars such as Katherine Cornell. It gained a massive following in a few years and became a vital trial theater for productions ready for Broadway, including Noel Coward’s Home Chat.
The Majestic was transformed into a first-run movie house in 1942. A Parisian and his two sons, wealthy showmen who had fled the Nazis, were tasked with renovating the Majestic in an elegant European style.
By the 1960s, the times were changing, and the advent of television and the changing priorities of the public forced the closing and renovating of many theaters in the district.
The Majestic sat deserted for almost two decades. BAM President and Executive Producer Harvey Lichtenstein decided to survey the desolate building on his way to BAM in 1986. At that time, he was searching for a location to stage the acclaimed British theater director Peter Brook’s nine-hour production of The Mahabharata. By a stroke of luck, it looked precisely like what he was after. He had stumbled upon the likes of the famed Brook’s Parisian venue and Les Bouffes du Nord in Europe.
Lichtenstein started a fundraiser for the theater’s renovation that was completed in 1987 and went on to win many awards. Careful to retain the original architectural elements, the designers created an old, distressed look that looked like a visceral bridge connecting the past and the future.
In 1999, to honor a retiring leader Harvey Lichtenstein, the Majestic was renamed Harvey Theater. It now prides itself on being one of the largest venues in the US for adventurous artists and audiences.
As part of BAM’s 150th-anniversary celebration in 2012, the Academy expanded its campus grounds to include a 40,000-square-foot building named the BAM Richard B. Fisher Building. This building was named after a longtime friend and BAM Endowment Trust Chairman, Richard B. Fisher.
The building features a stage for BAM’s world-renowned Next Wave Festival, a 250-seat theater, a rehearsal and performance space, a classroom, a stage, Leavitt Workshop, Scripps Stage, Stutz Gardens, and Sharp Lobby. The BAM Fisher invites the artists and community, encouraging the audience to participate actively.
Karen Brooks Hopkins is known as the president emerita of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In honor of her service from 1999 to 2015, it was announced that a new cultural space in the Brooklyn Academy of Music would be named the “BAM Karen” in her honor.
The newest addition, a new 32-story tower, is under construction at 300 Ashland Place, right across the street from BAM Fisher and the Peter Jay Sharp Building. BAM Karen building will serve retail, residential, and cultural purposes.
The building will have more than 45,000 square feet of dedicated space for cultural activities, including a dance studio, the BAM Archives, cinemas, and a public plaza.