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The legendary Power Station recording studios are back in action in their Hell’s Kitchen home, three years after Berklee College of Music, the City of New York, and musician/investor Pete Muller formed a partnership to bring world-class music back to the venue.
From 1977, it became a recording home for artists from Springsteen to Bruno Mars, McCartney to Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper to Herbie Hancock, Bob Dylan to Tony Bennett. The albums produced there are legendary – Brothers in Arms, Bowie’s Changes, Born in the USA, and the Hamilton cast recording. Sting’s 2016 album 57th & 9th is named after the intersection he crossed every day to get there.
The 33,000 sq ft complex, on W53rd Street between 9/10th Avenues, is now called “Power Station at Berklee NYC” and has retained the world-renowned Studio A that can house a full orchestra and has a space that the New York Times described as “could be mistaken for Frank Gehry-designed saunas” — defined by wood slats, a hexagonal dome, and a vaulted ceiling.
Stephen Webber, executive director of BerkleeNYC, told us: “Hell’s Kitchen has a long history of being the neighborhood in Manhattan where recording, television and film studios were located, and we’re proud to be extending that tradition by keeping the legacy of the Power Station alive for future generations of artists, musicians, producers and engineers. Our guiding principle for the renovation of the facility is ‘Preservation through Transformation’, and we’re grateful to be given the opportunity to endeavor to reinvent what it means to capture live musical performances now and into the future.”
The building started its life as a Con Edison building providing power to the Ninth Avenue EL (Elevated Train) and had a brief time as a TV studio before being acquired by producer Tony Bongiovi in 1977. He was responsible for the Studio A design and the corner of Studio C (which has been preserved), a replica of Motown’s Snake Pit studio where he’d worked.
The Power Station went into bankruptcy in the mid-90s, with newspapers reporting on disputes between Jon Bon Jovi (who had worked as a janitor at the studio) and his second cousin (and studio owner) Tony Bongiovi. Each sued the other for the ownership of material in “John Bongiovi: The Power Station Years.” According to MTV, “Bongiovi takes credit, or at least tried to, for launching the rocker’s career citing all the free studio time he gave him in the early eighties.”
In 1996, under new ownership, the name changed to Avatar Studios. By 2015, the space was no longer financially viable — and property developers were knocking on the door to find a new use for the building. A few blocks away, The Hit Factory had been bought and developed into condos. The owners held out and found Berklee to take the building and bring it back to life as a recording studio. The New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment contributed $6 million to the $25 million project.
“This whole area used to be full of studios like this. There was Clinton Studios, and Columbia, which became Sony, and The Hit Factory,” said Webber, in an interview with W42ST in 2019. “That was when Hit Factory and Power Station had a big rivalry going on. The Hit Factory was the more chichi, upscale kind of place. Power Station was more working class.”
When Power Station was converted to a studio in 1977, it was the most high-tech studio in the city. Berklee has been careful not to change the way that any of the iconic studios look. However, they are redefining what it means to capture live musical performances by putting high-end video capability throughout all of the studios.
Part of their attention to detail has been to take the two years to refurbish much of the vintage equipment to working order. Power Station Chief Engineer, Roy Hendrickson, who joined the studio back in 1985, showed off one of the Rupert Neve mixing desks, proudly saying: “I started here in 1985. It was a very exciting time as a young man. I got to experience and witness a lot of magic that has happened in these walls. This console was installed in the facility in 1983 and we spent the last two years refurbishing it and bringing it back to its home.”
Berklee has added a brand new black box theater downstairs. It features an LED wall, along with a fully sprung dance floor.
There are also labs for DJs, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality. The front of the building has been transformed, with windows that had been bricked opened up. “There’s a new gallery space. We’ll be installing museum-quality exhibits tracing the history of the Power Station as well as the New York City recording industry.” added Webber.
He finished by saying: “Two years, millions of dollars, one pandemic, and the collective efforts of hundreds of construction workers, engineers, institutions, architects, contractors, and subcontractors later — we’re open!”