Mission & History
Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC) is a theater of and for the community that it serves throughout northern New Jersey, by being a creative focus, educational resource, and engine of economic vitality. A not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) organization, bergenPAC’s mission is to make the live performing arts accessible to all by building a creative home and education center that guides and liberates the imagination of our young, inspires and expands the lives of our adults, and attracts established and emerging artists of excellence and relevance.
In the fall of 2004, the Bergen Performing Arts Center reopened the doors of the former John Harms Center, long considered one of the leading cultural institutions in North Jersey. Founded on April 30, 2003, bergenPAC was begun by a small group of dedicated individuals. Led by Frank Huttle III, they were determined to preserve this special theater that had brought some of the world’s finest performing artists “right next door” for so many years.
The John Harms Center was one of the largest performing arts centers in New Jersey and the largest arts center in northern New Jersey. When the Harms Center closed its doors on April 14, 2003, the public was stunned and there was a huge outcry. Through the creativity and efforts of bergenPAC’s founders, a new public/private partnership was formed that could coordinate and leverage the resources of community bodies such as the city, county and state, as well as private performing arts patrons and donors. Working together, bergenPAC has built the framework to enhance the quality of life for cultural devotees, families, and the community at large seeking entertainment and inspiration close to home.
The John Harms Center originally opened as the Englewood Plaza on November 22, 1926, built by the Reade chain as a movie-vaudeville house. The design of the Plaza was described as “late-Victorian luxury that presaged the art deco style of the 1930’s.” Builders incorporated special acoustic features to maximize the natural sound energy of the main stage.
Spring 1930 saw the advent of “talking” movies at the Fox Plaza, as it was known then. During the Forties the war effort was supported with patriotic films. United Artists purchased the building in 1967 and kept the doors open through 1973, when it closed. Through the efforts of a group of local citizens under the leadership of John Harms, the John Harms Center came to life on October 10, 1976 with the performance of the Russian pianist, Lazar Berman.
John Harms (1906-1981) was an organist and teacher who began his career as an impresario in 1941, arranging concert appearances in North Jersey of many famous and lesser-known artists. A one-man operation, he selected and booked performers, rented the performance space, wrote press releases, and personally telephoned or corralled over 1,200 contacts. His dream of a concert hall of his own became a reality when The Plaza came on the market. In the 1990s, two major renovation projects turned the John Harms Center into a modern concert hall and media facility, while preserving the vintage acoustics that made it a unique sought-after performance and recording site.
In 2003, bergenPAC reopened the doors of this historic cultural performing arts and education institution, enhancing the spirit and tradition of its original founders. It has become a nationally recognized home for recordings through its partnership with the Bennett Studios, a state-of-the-art recording studio with whom we are fiber-optically linked. HBO, PBS, The WB Network, A&E, MTV, QVC, Sony and many others have used the theater for international broadcasts. Tony Bennett, k.d. lang, The Count Basie Band, Sting, John Fogerty, Vanessa Williams, Dixie Chicks, The Bacon Brothers, Jamie Cullum, Jim Norton, Juanes, Govt. Mule, and Woody Allen are among the many artists who used this theater for recordings. Thus, this vintage acoustic hall became the home of a media production system that is unique and unparalleled. Tony Bennett called the acoustics the “best-sounding theatrical hall in the American song tradition.”
Most importantly, however, bergenPAC has become a leader in bringing world class cultural and educational opportunities to its community – both in New Jersey and broadcast throughout the world. Our education programs touch tens of thousands of families each year who otherwise would not have the opportunity to experience live performance. Each and every day bergenPAC works with its board, staff, volunteers and partners to ensure there is a world class Home for Arts and Education that is accessible and affordable to all