LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - The fate of the recording studios at Hollywood’s iconic Capitol Records tower could hang in the balance as members of the Los Angeles City Council prepare to vote on a nearby condominium development.
The construction project has sparked a furor among Los Angeles music unions and preservationists, who fear that the proposed development — which includes 85 residential units, 15,000 square feet of office space and an underground parking garage — will damage the acoustics at Capitol Studios, where the likes of Nat “King” Cole, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Celine Dion and Green Day have recorded.
The Los Angeles City Planning Commission approved the condo development in December. The City Council’s three-member planning and land use management committee is scheduled to meet June 24 to vote on the appeal by Capitol parent company EMI of the planning commission decision. The committee could ask the developer for further mitigation efforts to ease community concerns about the project, or it could approve it and forward it to the full City Council for final authorization to build.
EMI no longer owns the tower. The company agreed in September 2006 to sell the property to Argent Ventures of New York for $50 million and has been leasing back the building under a long-term deal.
In the meantime, the studios still represent a steady source of income, something EMI/Capitol is keen to preserve. The company’s arguments against the condo project are twofold: first, that recording at Capitol Studios would have to be halted for six to eight months while construction is under way; and second, that noise from the development’s underground parking structure would disrupt recording sessions at the studios.
The development is proposed for 6230 Yucca St., near the Capitol Tower, the Welton Becket-designed Hollywood landmark shaped like a stack of vinyl records that opened in 1956. The unusual subterranean echo chambers beneath the recording studios, which many musicians believe give Capitol’s Studios A and B a rich, warm sound, would be located about 15 feet away from the underground garage planned by the condo developer, Second Street Ventures of Marina del Rey, California.
Aside from a regular stream of pop artists, the location’s unique acoustics attract an eclectic variety of other clients as well. Foley artists — the sound effects creators for film and TV — frequently use the studios. And the orchestra that performs during the annual Academy Awards show records a backing track every year at Capitol Studios for use in case anything goes wrong during the live ceremony. Studios A and B can be opened up into one large studio that can accommodate a full-size orchestra, one of a dwindling number of recording facilities with that capacity.
Among those who have sent letters to the City Council arguing against the development of the site are Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, Society of Composers and Lyricists president Dan Foliart and Vincent Trombetta, vice president of professional musicians for Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians.
Parties on both sides of the issue agreed recently to third-party testing of the impact of construction on the studios, including the adjacent use of a jackhammer and backhoe on recording quality. Sources opposed to the condo development say the results of those tests indicate that construction noise would impair operation of the studios.
“Although certainly we live in an era of great technology where a lot of recording is done at home, the type of recording that gets done at Capitol is quite unique from an audio and sonic perspective,” Portnow said. “It isn’t something where you can go down to the local audio store and buy an echo chamber that’s going to be quite like what exists there. All of the engineers and producers we’ve spoken to just shudder at the thought of anything that would disturb it.”
Second Street Ventures said in a statement to Billboard that it is working with EMI/Capitol and city officials to address the label’s concerns and that “we remain strongly committed to ensure that our project meshes with the fabric of the Hollywood community.”
Development in Hollywood has been a hot-button issue in Los Angeles in recent years as upscale bars, clubs and restaurants have popped up in the area. While some projects arrive at the expense of mom-and-pop businesses, most have been focused on preserving historic buildings in the area. One example: the Avalon — which was originally known as the Hollywood Playhouse when it opened in 1927 and hosted radio shows by Fanny Brice and Lucille Ball — has become a performance venue, restaurant and club.