Over the last 10-15 years, the recording studios that once dotted the Manhattan landscape have become rarer than an empty Yellow Cab in a rainstorm. One by one, the facilities have closed—Sony Music Studios, The Hit Factory, The Magic Shop and many others—all victims of a changing music economy and a skyrocketing real estate market that made the large spaces financially impractical. That same fate seemed to be awaiting one of the last surviving facilities, Avatar Studios, but after nearly two years on the market, the facility has been acquired by Boston-based Berklee College of Music to establish BerkleeNYC, a beachhead in the heart of the U.S. music industry.
When Avatar hit the market in 2015, the New York Times estimated the lucrative property at 53rd Street and 9th Avenue would go for a minimum of $27 million, but the studio’s manager, Kirk Imamura, told the paper that the studio’s owner, Chieko Imamura (his wife) and he would strongly prefer selling to an party that would keep the studio going, with Kirk noting, “We would take less from someone in the industry, of course, within reason. We are hopeful they are out there, but only time will tell.”
The studio was founded in 1977 when industry legend Tony Bongiovi bought a failed TV soundstage—itself a former Con Ed power plant—and converted it into a recording facility, christening it The Power Station. Since then, more than 400 Gold and Platinum records have been recorded at the site.
A brief run-down of artists who have made the trek to 53rd Street between Ninth and 10th Avenues to record includes Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Duran Duran, Lady Gaga, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, Nile Rodgers, David Bowie, Tony Bennett, Bob Dylan, Diana Krall, John Mayer, Donald Fagen, Sheryl Crow, Herbie Hancock, Muse, Trey Anastasio, The Strokes, Kings of Leon, Norah Jones, My Morning Jacket, Paul Simon, Roxy Music, Dream Theater and Cyndi Lauper, among countless others. Numerous Grammy-winning albums were recorded at the studio, and it has won 10 TEC awards over the years—five as The Power Station, and five as Avatar.
Berklee didn’t acquire the facility single-handedly; it did so with the support of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) and the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), all with an aim of renovating and reinventing the facility while keeping the doors open to outside recordists and alumni. Find out more in this new video, produced by the music school, that details its plans.