Columbia Records Recording Studio – 207 East 30th Street – note the Empire State Building in the background left.
I’ve been wanting to post something about Columbia Records old recording studio on 30th Street for quite a while. As a real estate guy based in New York, and as a music lover who grew up about 65 blocks (3 miles) from here, I find myself fascinated by what I like to call the “history of place”. Although the building has long since been demolished (in 1985) imagine the sounds that were created there. Perhaps the residents of the high-rise apartment building (The Wilshire) that is now on the site hear the ghostly echoes of Thelonious Monk or Miles Davis or Lenny Bernstein.
The studio was nicknamed “The Church” and was operated by Columbia Records for 33 years from 1948 to 1981. It was highly regarded as one of the best sounding rooms every used for recording. Every genre of music was recorded there including some of the greatest jazz ever recorded. Mile Davis recorded his master work Kind of Blue there in 1959. Ellington recorded “Masterpieces” there the same year. Bernstein’s West Side Story was recorded there as well as albums by classical pianist Glenn Gould, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and Pink Floyd.
The Console Room at 30th Street during the Glenn Gould Goldberg Variations sessions.
The original building was designed by architect J. Cleveland Cady, and was dedicated on March 28, 1875 as the Adams-Parkhurst Memorial Presbyterian Church. It hosted a number of different congregations over the years and even was the home of radio station WLIB in the mid-to-late ’40’s. It sat vacant and unused for years until Columbia Records built the recording studio there. As you can see from the photo above, it was very much a working hodgepodge of gear. Not at all a sleek place like today’s studios.
The main studio had 100 foot high ceilings, and 10,000 square foot floor space for the recording area. The control room was a tiny 8′ by 14′, box on the second floor that was later moved downstairs.
On the classical front, Glenn Gould recorded his now iconic Goldberg Variations for his 1955 debut album. Vladimir Horowitz recorded his entire Masterworks releases at 30th Street. The list goes on to include Rudolf Serkin, Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky and Bruno Walter.
Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place include Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Dave Brubeck.
In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964.