Founded in 1861 originally as the Academy of Music, BAM is the oldest performing arts center in the United States. It was planned to be home for the then Philharmonic Society of Brooklyn, now known as the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2005 this arrangement ended, and though the orchestra continues to play at BAM, they also play other NYC institutions, including Carnegie and Avery Fischer Halls. Following the unfortunate fire that destroyed the original site in Brooklyn Heights, the then named Brooklyn Academy of Music moved in 1908 to its present facility at 30 Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene.

Designed by the premier theater architectural firm of Herts & Tallant, the building houses both the Howard Gilman Opera House and the BAM Rose Cinemas. It is the main building of the growing BAM campus, with construction underway for the adjacent Richard Fischer Building and also the nearby Harvey Theater. The design is in the Beaux Arts style, drawn from Renaissance Italian features, and includes several of the pioneering innovations of the firm, including a cantilevered arch construction for the balcony that allows for no site line obstructions. The light colored brick façade is highlighted with multi-chromatic terra-cotta ornamental banding at the second floor and around the large arched windows facing the street. Barely noticeable in the brickwork are the names of famous historic composers. A new waving glass canopy shelters the five entrance doors that are surrounded with smiling cherubs was added by the firm of Hugh Hardy. This modern offset to the otherwise landmarked façade is the perfect image for BAM as the pioneer of new music.