The last legendary notes of W54th Street’s recording past are set to fade out of history. The remaining studios of The Hit Factory have been listed for sale, with the potential for a future owner to unplug their musical heritage.
Once the playground of such musical heavyweights as Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, John Lennon, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, and Patti Smith, the majority of the Hit Factory studios on W54th closed in 2005 after the death of its creator, one-time singer and longtime A&R icon Eddie Germano.
Most of its once vaunted studios became sleek, generously-sized luxury condominiums that go for an average price of $2M and have housed rich, famous, and rich-and-famous New Yorkers like My Cousin Vinny director Jonathan Lynn.
The first floor studios of The Hit Factory — though smaller and lesser known than the hit-making hotspots of the higher floors — remained as fully-soundproofed functional recording space which last changed hands for $7.25M and were rented for guitar demonstrations by instrument manufacturer Gibson — until the brand went bankrupt, leaving the space empty. This month, it was put on the market with Bob Knakal and Jake Russell of commercial real estate firm JLL. The over 12,000-square foot space is composed of four studios with 16-foot ceilings as well as a 3,000 square-foot cellar (perfect for storing platinum records!), and is described as a versatile commercial lot available for “doctor/dentist offices, production companies, event space or gallery” use. To think, you may soon be able to get your teeth cleaned in the same building where Whitney Houston belted out I Will Always Love You.
Germano went through several Hit Factories before landing at 421 W54th Street, between 9/10th Avenue. Purchasing a set of studios on W48th Street in 1975, the producer famously hosted the recording of era-defining albums like Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder, Double Fantasy by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Station to Station by David Bowie, Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf, and Emotional Rescue by The Rolling Stones at his first Hit Factory.
The Hit Factory then went through multiple locations before landing at the 100,000-square foot building a few blocks west at 421 W54th in 1991. This space not only had room to record TRL-friendly early aughts smash-hits like Butterfly by Mariah Carey, Dangerously In Love by Beyonce, CrazySexyCool by TLC, and No Strings Attached by NSYNC but also to house and pamper many of its eccentric artists in its chic apartments, garage, gym, and steam room.
W42ST caught up with former studio manager Zoe Thrall in 2015 to share stories of Germano and his studio’s many artist shenanigans. Recalling Germano’s deference to the sometimes outrageous rider requests of visiting artists, Thrall said, “He was very savvy in terms of business, and he would bend over backwards for the clients.” This included making accommodations like a giant freight elevator for camera-shy artists to drive directly into the studio space, adding bales of hay so that a country music artist would feel more at home or even ripping up a studio carpet disliked by a certain musician. Sometimes, the studio would be a clubby, social space, chock-full of mingling musicians. Other times, the staff had to run interference to keep artists who preferred to work in solitude away from the mix.
Over the decades, The Hit Factory was credited with over 150 Grammy Awards, including nine album of the year Grammys, three Academy Awards for best original song, and over 400 gold and platinum records and singles for worldwide sales achievements. While its West Side headquarters is no more, Germano’s son Troy carried the legacy onward, operating studios in Miami, London, and eventually constructing a new Hit Factory in NoHo.
While W54th Street has sat silent for several years, there are still several recording studios in Hell’s Kitchen making music:
Ghostlight Records, started by Broadway mainstay Sheri Renee Scott and known for its many Original Broadway Cast Recordings as well as theatrical albums, is located at 9th Avenue and W45th Street.
There’s the Power Station, just a block away from The Hit Factory at W53rd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. Now owned and run by Berklee College, this 33,000-square foot complex that began its life as (what else?) but a Con Ed building boasts a hexagonal-dome of cathedral-like vaulted ceilings and the ability to host a full-orchestra, and has produced everything from the Hamilton cast album to great tracks from the likes of Bruno Mars, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper, Herbie Hancock, Bob Dylan, and Tony Bennett. Sting, ever fond of The Power Station, even named his album 2016 57th & 9th after the intersection he frequently crossed to get to the studio (then called Avatar).
While John Lennon recorded Double Fantasy at the Hit Factory, The Record Plant on W44th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue — now known as The Plant — is where he recorded his last session, two days before he was murdered.
Open for over 25 years, Threshold Recording Studios NYC on W41st Street and Dyer Ave was home to recording sessions by the likes of The Strokes, Slash, Carlos Santana, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, Rob Thomas, Foreigner, The Black Keys, as well as the OBC recordings of Kinky Boots, Something Rotten!, School of Rock, and Waitress before being damaged by the floods of Hurricane Ida. Luckily, the legendary studio was able to stay in the neighborhood and relocate to W45th between 10th and 11th Avenue.
On the cinematic side, Warner Bros Sound Studios on W55th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue serves as a vital post-production facility for film and TV hits like The Gilded Age, In The Heights, The Good Fight, and Succession.
James Walsh, owner of Threshold Recording Studios NYC, speculated that given the size of the historic Hit Factory space, it would likely attract corporate rather than creative buyers. “I don’t see how the economics of it works any more. For the money, it’s really more appropriate for some corporate entity that needs a showroom or showcase — like Gibson did,” said Walsh. “If it were downtown, maybe someone like a John Varvatos, with a corporate spin looking for a historical space, could take the spot — like he did with CBGBs. No one like me, who has been around for 25 years and understands the economics of the studio business, would buy that.”
And though there’s no word on who may be interested in purchasing the ready-made studio space (requests for a tour or comments from JJL have not been replied to), we can only hope that instead of yet another beige municipal office, the next generation of hitmakers might settle once more on the block that used to really sing.