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Power Down, Condo Up: Avatar is The Latest Recording Studio That Could Become An Apartment Building

Power Down, Condo Up: Avatar is The Latest Recording Studio That Could Become An Apartment Building

By Jeff Vasishta August 26, 2016
Photo courtesy of www.kbvmusic.com

In New York, eventually everything becomes a condo. Parking lots, night clubs, warehouses, schools and most recently, recording studios have all befallen developer’s visions for gleaming towers and resplendent profit margins. The latest slice of musical history to surely go the way of the condo is Avatar Studios, one of the last midtown enclaves renowned for hits and bricks.

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Located at 441 West 53rd St, the building was formerly, and perhaps most famously, the Power Station recording studio, a nod to its previous incarnation as a Con Edison power plant. In the 1970’s and ’80’s classic songs such as “Like A Virgin”, “Born In The U.S.A.”, “Tattoo You” and “Good Times” all came to life within its hallowed walls. Members of Duran Duran were so enamored with the place that they formed an offshoot group with Chic drummer Tony Thompson and vocalist Robert Palmer naming it The Power Station.

Photo courtesy of www.chron.com

Owner Chieko Imamura and her husband Kirk Imamura (who manages the studio) have said that they aim to preserve the building’s musical legacy by selling only to buyers in the music industry. If the neighboring conversions/demolitions of the storied Hit Factory and Sony Studios are anything to go by, brushed nickel faucets and Carrera countertops must one day await.

Ms Imamura purchased the studio out of bankruptcy from Tony Bongiovi (cousin of Jon Bon Jovi) in 1996 for $5.3 million and by current valuations it could sell for as much as $30 million. Though the Imamuras told the New York Times that they would be most inclined to sell it to someone in the music biz for less, the reality is New York is no longer a town where a recording studio is a viable business. The great acoustics for which Avatar is noted are not worth spending the money when music technology now allows home recordings to become chart topping hits. Instead, Avatar is often used to record jingles and Broadway soundtracks where its live rooms can be utilized.

Renowned recording mix engineer Dave Darlington has worked at Avatar often over the years and was effusive in his recollections:

“My first glimpse of inside Avatar Studios (then called The Power Station) convinced me that I had been admitted into music’s Holy of Holies,” he says. “The hushed tones of the reception area, the cathedral like ceilings of Studio A, the incredible array of technology, the high Priestess Diana Ross and her Prime Minister uber-arranger, Paul Riser all added up to convince me that I was somehow in a very exclusive club. It was breathtaking.

“Over the years I have made many wonderful albums there, known a great many staff members, engineers, managers and owners and I can honestly say the current climate at Avatar is as transcendent as ever. The building, the people, the ghosts, the music make Avatar an NYC landmark, a world heritage site for devotees of great musicianship and engineering.”

The studio has not completely forsaken its austere reputation as the Godfather of gold and platinum records. Recent hits recorded there include Lady GaGa & Tony’s Bennett’s number one jazz album, Cheek To Cheek. Scenes from the recently discontinued HBO drama Vinyl were also filmed there.

If Avatar was to turn into condos like the Hit Factory, it would surely play up its legacy as the birthplace of the soundtracks of our lives (for those of us of a certain age). A “studio” apartment, indeed. Couples might contemplate baby making where Springsteen recorded Born In The USA or wake each morning to where the Stones laid down “Start Me Up”.  Entering the lobby to platinum plaques from classic acts would be the fodder for dinner parties throughout the building.

Another of the studio’s hits, Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” may also, alas, be an apt description of the recent spate of recording studio to condo conversions stripping NYC of its musical roots.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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