Clio Logo

The Brooklyn Academy of Music, reported to be the nation's oldest performing arts center, dates to 1861, when it opened on Montague Street. The building on Montague Street burned down in 1903 and the current location was chosen for its replacement. Originally consisting of one building, in 1987, the academy added the BAM Harvey Theater in 1987. The Academy is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


  • Brooklyn Academy of Music
  • Interior of the Brooklyn Academy of Music
  • Detail of the building's exterior

The Brooklyn Academy of Music was incorporated in 1859 to promote the arts and culture in the city. The building was completed in 1861 and was located on Montague Street. The 2,200-seat venue hosted a number of events, including an Edwin Booth performance of Hamlet, abolitionist speakers, and a reading by Mark Twain. The original building was destroyed in a massive fire in 1903 and prominent Brooklyn residents took the opportunity to build an even grander venue.

The new building was located near Fulton Avenue, then known as the Broadway of Brooklyn. After a competition, noted architects Herts & Tallant were awarded a contract to build the new theater. The firm was known for building elegant theaters, including the renowned New Amsterdam Theater. The new facility would be not only a theater, but a cultural center, featuring a lecture hall, an opera hall, and a large foyer that could be used as a banquet space, in addition to the theater.

Over the years, the theater hosted numerous luminaries of the stage, including Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, and Paul Robeson. In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt spoke at the theater. The building was filled to capcaity and thousands more listened from the streets outside.

In the years following World War II, Brooklyn's population shifted and the theater, like many across the country, began to decline. In 1967, Harvey Lichtenstein was appointed executive director of the Academy, and his 32-year tenure marked a golden age for the facility. During Lichtenstein's time as director, BAM once again became an internationally recognized venue. Today, the Harvey theater at the Academy is named in his honor.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a New York City Landmark.

Spellen, Suzanne . A Terra-Cotta Monument to Music: The Architecture of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brownstoner. March 26th 2018. Accessed March 26th 2020. https://www.brownstoner.com/architecture/brooklyn-academy-of-music-bam-architecture-30-lafayette-avenue-fort-greene/.

BAM Through the Years , BAM. Accessed March 26th 2020. https://www.bam.org/about/history/bam-hamm-archives/bam-through-the-years.