Time Travel to Civil War Brooklyn and Beyond via the BAM Online Archive

Circa 1909 Playing Card. Image courtesy of BAM Hamm Archives


It is always a cause for celebration when new archival history resources go online — especially for the enthusiastic digger of sometimes obscure history. Brooklyn history buffs have a new source of information (and distraction) thanks to the Brooklyn Academy of Music Leon Levy Digital Archive, which launched in June.

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Interior of the BAM Majestic Theater in 1987, prior to renovation. Photo courtesy of BAM Hamm Archives

The new online resource was part of a four-year project funded by the Leon Levy Foundation to digitize items from the BAM Hamm Archives. More than 70,000 individual items are now accessible online to the curious public. A wide range of materials are part of the project: photographs, posters, programs, audio recordings and video are all included.

Items date from the 1850s to the present and document the history of performances at the historic venue as well as the architectural history of BAM properties and, occasionally, the surrounding neighborhood. The documents show a who’s who of famous personages and performers from the 19th century to the present, including Laurie Anderson and Oscar Wilde.

The latter’s 1882 lecture tour on the “English Renaissance” was “incomprehensible to a great many in the audience,” according to a contemporary report in the New York Times.

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Exterior of the Brooklyn Salvation Army Citadel, now BAM Fisher, circa 1900. Photo courtesy of BAM Hamm Archives

The original BAM, built in 1859, was on Montague Street, then the business and cultural hub of Brooklyn. It was destroyed by fire in 1903 — and footage of that fire is now viewable online, thanks to the archive.

After the fire, a design competition was held for a new concert hall. The contract was awarded to Herts & Tallant.

The new building at 30 Lafayette Avenue opened on November 14, 1908. BAM also now encompasses the BAM Harvey Theater at 651 Fulton Street and BAM Fisher at 321 Ashland Place.

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The BAM parking lot circa 1970s. Photo courtesy of BAM Hamm Archives

The collection can be searched through a number of ways, including entering keyword, date or media type and browsing through collection categories such as building photographs or programs and playbills.

You can conduct your own search of the Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive here.

From 19th century photographs of interiors to 20th century views of the surrounding neighborhood, there are many handy resources for history buffs.

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