Sunday, June 22, 2008

Impending disaster at Capitol Tower

Los Angles may be close to loosing a land mark. In a city where almost nothing is old and a general sense of history is lacking, Capitol Studios is under threat. The Capitol Tower was designed by architect Welton Becket and opened in 1956 at 1730 Vine Street. A developer has purchased the land next door and intends to build a 16 floor condominium high rise, complete with underground parking. That subterranean parking would only be 18 feet away from the legendary echo chambers. The construction would make the chambers and studios unusable, at least temporarily. Of more concern is that the traffic in the garage might make them permanently useless. These are the very echo chambers and studios used on recordings by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, The Beach Boys, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and countless others.

The builders originally went to great lengths to make the studio as acoustically isolated from the surrounding as possible. The rectangular first floor that houses the studios is actually a separate structure, joined to the tower after completion. The exterior walls are 10 inch thick concrete with a 1 inch air gap separating the outer structure from the studio’s inner walls. The studio floor floats on a rubber-tiled 3 inch thick concrete slab, which itself floats on a layer of cork supported by a 6 inch concrete slab. The heating and air conditioning system use decoupled ducts, sound traps, and specialized vents. Even the ballasts for the fluorescent lights were mounted outside the studio to eliminate any source of hum. Les Paul designed the echo chambers, using similar construction methods 30 feet underground. They are capable of creating echoes that last for up to five seconds. It would be a shame if all of this hard work and good design was made obsolete so some yuppies can have a posh pad with underground parking.

For those in the LA area Capitol is encouraging people to turn out and show their support at a zoning meeting for a stay of execution. The Planning and Land Use Management, or PLUM (If only politicians would spent less time thinking up cute anachronisms and more time solving problems maybe we’d have better government.) is meeting Tuesday June 17 at 2 PM at City Hall in hearing room 350. The fate of Capitol records studios may very well be in our hands.


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