History of CBS Records 30th Street Studio NYC (many pictures)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by DMortensen, Oct 21, 2014.

  1. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    This thread will be a discussion of what many people believe was the all-time best-sounding recording studio anywhere. Those who believe otherwise are entitled to an opinion and may well be right, but that will not be the discussion here. Please take other studio talk elsewhere.

    This initial post will be an introduction and have some resources you can look to in order to examine the studio. There are links to a few videos and webpages to see and hear the studio in action and repose. No doubt others will be added as we proceed ahead.

    Background: I am the Spark Plug for the Friends of the 30th Street Studio, an organization I created at the last AES meeting I put together with my friend Frank Laico, who was an engineer at the studio for a little over 30 years.

    He moved to Seattle around 2006 and in 2008 another friend, Bob Smith, started bringing him to our local AES Section meetings and we discovered more about who he was and what he had done. We had one Section meeting devoted to Frank that June, and when there were no plans to do more Bob and I decided to do another in December. The process of preparing for that meeting kept peeling back layers of the incredible things Frank had done and what a good guy he was that we wound up doing six or eight more in-person presentations about his career and probably that many more on the Internet. When we first met him, he was 89 and mostly sharp as a tack, but the process of doing that first meeting really invigorated him and seemed to take off years for him as well as being fascinating for us. That invigoration process repeated each time we did a meeting, up until the last in-person meeting we did at his care facility on June 19, 2012. Each time, it was remarkable to see the years peel away and to go back with him to what in hindsight were really glory days.

    From him, we learned about the 30th Street studio and what made it special and how that specialness came out of a confluence of ordinary factors that were individually unspectacular but in combination were spectacular. That is the story I hope to tell here in what I intend to be an ongoing series of almost-daily posts.

    I can honestly say that almost all I know about big-time recording I learned from Frank, which is to say that I am not going to be able to answer questions about the recording process or specialized gear. That will have to come from the readers and participants. I have done live sound for concerts for 41 years and so have familiarity with microphones, mixers, speakers, wiring, and stuff like that. I also enjoy seeing pictures rather than reading descriptions, and will wrap up this post shortly and do a second one with pics.

    First, though, you should know that my intention is to go in roughly chronological order, starting with the construction of the building and ending with its demolition, a span of 107 years. The bulk of the pictures I have (~1700 or so) are from the early years, and I hope when we get to the later years that some of you will have pictures to post that I haven't seen.

    I do not expect to post 1700 pictures here, but a few a day with some discussion of what we are looking at.

    Next, I've divided the eras of the building into categories, and there may be more divisions which make sense that I'm not aware of. Here is what I think they are:

    1. 1875 to approx. 1945: Pre-studio, church era

    2. 1945-ish to 1952-ish: Pre- and early CBS studio era

    3. 1952-ish to 1961-ish: Upstairs West wall control room CBS era. Studio left alone, not cleaned up. Most well-known and well-regarded albums recorded during this time IMO

    4. 1961-ish to 1976?-ish: Main floor South wall control room, cleaned and painted studio, rotary fader console

    5. 1976?-ish- May 1981: Remodeled Main floor South wall control room and studio, cleaned and painted studio, linear fader console

    The building was torn down in 1982 and condos are now on the site.

    You can see that many of the transition dates are in question along with many other details as we shall see, and I hope as we go along people who know more will chime in and increase our understanding of what went on and why.

    Other resources you may enjoy:

    Wikipedia page, which seems to have less info as time goes by:


    Reeves audio website; Jim Reeves worked at 30th St for several years:


    An exceedingly amateur video of the first half of my first PNW AES meeting with Frank in 2008:

    (that all goes on one line, of course) (Hey, that embedded the video; don't know how I did that)

    Glenn Gould - On the Record 1959 First and most relevant half of CBC tv show


    Glenn Gould- Final sessions at 30th St. 1981


    Tony Bennett Harold Arlen's "So Long Big Time"


    A Brief History of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church


    Stravinsky @ 30th Street:


    Most of the pictures of the 30th St. Studio that we enjoy were taken by CBS Staff Photographer Don Hunstein, whose photographs were just as exquisite as the music that is enjoyed on a daily basis around the world.

    His most recent book, edited by Leo Sacks, is full of wonderful pictures of the studio and the artists who recorded in it. The book is a continually enjoyable read, and you can see it here

    http://www.amazon.com/Keeping-Time-...8&qid=1414180923&sr=8-1&keywords=don Hunstein

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 15, 2015
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  2. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    Era 1. 1875 to approx. 1945: Pre-studio, church era

    Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 12.12.55 AM.jpg

    The most common exterior picture, and in fact almost the ONLY exterior picture that you ever see of the studio, shows a very odd shaped building with a peaked roof, some flat roofs, some stained glass and arched window frames, some things that look like they used to be windows, and a very odd overall look.

    When we look back in time, though, we see a very nice Victorian-looking church:
    This picture is taken from the 1892 King's Handbook to New York City, and was sent to me by a current resident across the street from the studio site who moved there after the studio was gone.

    The building started its life as a Presbyterian mission chapel set up by the Madison Square Presbyterian Church to do religious instruction to otherwise religiously-unreached people in a large section of the city near the East River between 23rd and 42nd Streets. (A Brief History of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church p.37)

    The building property was located at 207-211 East 30th Street, which tells you that it was two standard New York City lots, each 50' wide and 98.75' deep, making a total property that is roughly 100' x 100'.

    The chapel was designed by architect J. Cleveland (Cleaveland) Cady.


    Cady also designed the original Metropolitan Opera House which opened October 22, 1883, as well as many churches and other buildings. One wants to think that perhaps his methods of designing acoustics for our church also resulted in his commission to do the Opera House and that there was a shared acoustical lineage, but I have no proof of that.

    Short timeline:

    1874, September 14 Cornerstone laid by Rev. William Adams D.D. (A Brief History of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church p.41)

    1875, March 28 Easter Sunday Dedicated as Memorial Chapel by Pastor Rev. Charles H. Payson (A Brief History of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church p.41)

    1886, January 21 Renamed Adams Memorial Presbyterian Church as an independent church with separate congregation (A Brief History of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church p.44)

    1896, November 14 First service of the Armenian Evangelical Church. Rev. H.H. Khazoyan, a seminary student, led the initial organization of the church and then became its first pastor. (http://aecnyc.org/about-us/our-history/)

    1901 Still in use by Adams Church and by Madison Square Church (The MSC library was housed here until completion of the Church House @E. 30th and 3rd Ave.) (A Brief History of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church pp.58 and 110)

    1906 The book that we are using as a reference “A Brief History of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church" was published under Rev. Charles Henry Parkhurst's name. (link to book in OP)

    This is a lovely drawing from that book

    Rev. Parkhurst was a noted and influential historical character.


    He was friends with Teddy Roosevelt who as Police Commissioner was trying to wipe out the various varieties of vice enjoyed by the lower classes, while IMO leaving the same entertainments alone as they were enjoyed by the upper classes. Parkhurst would go to low places in disguise on Saturday nights and preach Sunday morning about his findings of the night before.

    You can read about this in several places, including

    http://www.amazon.com/Island-Vice-Theodore-Roosevelts-Sin-Loving/dp/0767926196/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413932926&sr=8-1&keywords=island of vice

    The church was later renamed the Adams-Parkhurst Memorial Church.

    Here is a picture from the Armenian Evangelical Church's website showing it when they were apparently sharing it with the Presbyterians.

    This is looking West, and you can see the Third Avenue Elevated railway in the distance. There is no info about exactly when it was taken, only the caption that indicates that it is pre-1923.

    1923 December 25 Sunday Armenian Evangelical Church moves to its own building at 152 E. 34th St, where it still is today. (http://aecnyc.org/about-us/our-history/)

    I haven't yet found anything saying when the Presbyterians moved on, although the next picture seems to indicate they were still there in 1940.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 15, 2015
  3. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    This is a picture from Jim Reeves' website showing almost the same thing but a different angle and definitely later.

    It is a tax assessor's picture taken in either 1939 or 1940 for the 1940 update of the assessor's files which are used to determine taxes.

    The sign with the white arrow is in every picture of this type to indicate which building in the picture is the one; the "M" indicates Manhattan, Block 8 Lot 911.

    The sign above the door on the left says "ADAMS CHURCH", and the placards to the left and the right of it could describe service times, so it looks to me like it's still an active church.

    Here is a picture that hangs today in the tiny lobby of the apartment building to the right of the church in all the pictures.

    It is visible from the street, and I took it in 2012. I don't know how to date it since there's nothing but buildings visible. Although, looking at it closer, that could be horse poop and urine in the street, which would be an indicator of era. And if you compare it to the 1906 drawing, the pre-1923 Armenian Church and 1892 King's Handbook pictures, you'll notice the building entrance used to be into what is now the second floor, so it was later than those.

    The final picture for today is from the American Guild of Organists website, and is a tiny but fascinating picture.


    The original is only 150 x 150 pixels and my blowing it up reduces the sharpness considerably but lets us see the outlines of detail.

    In the distance to the right of the church is the Empire State Building, which is about 10 or so blocks away as the crow flies. It's notable because there is no TV antenna mast on the Empire State Building.

    Unfortunately that doesn't help us date the photo because the mast was added in 1946, which I will later show is about the time that I believe the church steeples will be removed to give us the building shape that we know and perhaps love.

    But that will be in the next installment.

    Note that you can download what I hope are full resolution pictures from my Flickr website, which is


    I will put everything in an album labeled "Friends of the 30th Street Studio".
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 23, 2014
  4. wave

    wave Forum Resident

    Allen Park, MI
    Looking forward to this thread!

    Is that 1959 Glenn Gould footage the earliest from 30th?
  5. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    I'm not aware of any earlier videos; pictures, yes, there are earlier ones for sure.

    Thanks for the likes!
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 23, 2014
  6. Lownotes

    Lownotes Senior Member

    Denver, CO
    This looks to be great. Thanks for taking the time!
  7. RelayerNJ

    RelayerNJ Forum Resident

    Whippany, NJ

    Hey Dan! Victor here. Good to see you on the forum, and of course the great 30th Street info. Keep it coming!
  8. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Already one of the best threads ever! That Gould film is great, even the shtick at the beginning, and seeing the studio and the rapport between Gould and George Avakian. I had a chance about 20 years ago to spend an afternoon with Mr. Avakian just talking about music, his amazing career, the early 45 vs. 33.3 format wars, everything. It was a real pleasure. Can't wait to hear and see more of your research.
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  9. lukpac

    lukpac Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    In "On The Record"? That's Howard Scott, not George Avakian.
    Dan C and crispi like this.
  10. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    My bad.
  11. lukpac

    lukpac Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
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  12. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    Yes, that one is also wonderful and shows the studio in it's middle era.

    I notice that in this forum there is not a way for the original poster to go back and amend the first post to add information that comes up later, so there is a single place to find all links, for example. Or am I missing something there?

    You posting here gives me an opportunity to discuss one reason that I'm writing this: a major purpose of setting up the Fo30S group was to share information about the studio and to keep its memory alive, along with memories of the incredible people whose work we enjoy daily. The problem, as you and I discussed, was transmitting what I find (and what other people have found) to a larger group. I've tried using GoToMeeting to talk to a group of people all at once, and while it works and is enjoyable to be virtually together, it is a commitment by the viewers that seems hard to make.

    Getting together in person is even more of a commitment, and the turnout at the last Fo30S gathering in NYC is evidence of that, even though it was an unforgettable experience for me and I hope for the others there. Had only one of those people shown up I would still have had a blast!

    I offered to share my entire picture archive with all who attended, but only two were able to take advantage of that. The collection is over 12 Gigs, and unless you have a Mac with iPhoto (which I've heard Apple is discontinuing soon :mad::confused::realmad::shake::cry::cry::cry:) you lose all the formatting and sorting that I've done to break down the mass of pictures into a more usable format.

    This amazing forum, with so many knowledgeable and interested people, seems like the best way to get the info out to people who will appreciate it, as well as a way to solicit answers to questions.

    Hey, Victor!

    Good to see you here, too. I was hoping to see you in NYC a month ago; we had a blast of which I will share details here shortly because it is directly relevant to the next era.

    And I should say that both Victor and Luke are members of Fo30S, and FYI I will announce this thread to the rest of the group today in hopes that they will come and contribute.

    Anybody who wants to be on the Fo30S email list should PM me your address, and I'll add you. This will be true on an ongoing basis in case you are reading this in the future.

    Thanks to everyone for the kind words and encouragement!

    I need to do something else for a couple hours, and then it will probably take a couple hours to compose a coherent next post.
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  13. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    Today's installment of our tale:

    Era 2. 1945-ish to 1952-ish: Pre-CBS and early CBS studio days

    The most obvious question to be answered is:

    How did the church with two tall steeples and a bunch of ground floor windows turn into what we later knew as the studio?

    Let's look at those two pictures again, hopefully this time on this page together:


    Awesome! They are visible, and side-by-side like I'd hoped! Thanks, Bob F!!

    You can see that the steeples are simply cut off in the middle of the belfry (place where the bells were), and that window-like opening has been bricked in, as well as what was a sloped roof between the steeple and the center part with the rose window (easier to see in the other old photos).

    Who would have time or money to do that?

    I propose to answer that question here, or at least posit a hypothesis.

    And before we move on note that in the 1940 photo, parts of the weatherproofing in the belfry (those angled boards which let the sound of the bells out but keep most of the weather from coming in) are missing on the left steeple. This could indicate financial distress on the part of the owner, or at least an unwillingness to spend money on upkeep for the property.

    Let's look at the Wikipedia entry for the studio:


    This is the entry from 5 years ago or so, but it will serve our purpose.

    In the lower history section, we've seen the first couple of occupants already. The German Lutheran congregation part is a red herring IMO; they may have been Presbyterians, too, and in any event they were basically tenants like the Armenians and didn't alter the space AFAIK.

    But then we get to a non-church organization, WLIB radio, which Wikipedia says was there from 1944-1952.

    How did they coexist with a church?

    And since we've been told that CBS bought the building in 1949, how did they coexist with a recording studio, and vice-versa?

    Following the reference in the footnote for WLIB, we get this article in the January 13, 1947 Broadcasting Magazine :


    in which we learn that the publisher of the New York Post newspaper bought WLIB in November 1944 for $250,000, that the station was currently occupying three offices in various places, and that all operations would be consolidated and moved into "new studios" at 207 E. 30th St. on February 1, 1947.

    Think about that. In the middle of the war, the newspaper had enough money to buy a radio station; is it too much to guess that they also bought a building to consolidate the station operations into, and that they would buy a church in need of repair? There was a three year gap between the station purchase and the move into the new home, which would have been more than enough time to do some considerable remodeling (but not too much- they just cut off the steeples where it was convenient and covered the remainder) and move in in 1947. (The actual move-in date was delayed till July or something like that, based on further research.)

    But what about the 1952 end date to WLIB's presence on 30th St? That is not addressed in the 1947 article, or anywhere else I could find...

    ...until today while I was eating breakfast, I did a search for "WLIB History" instead of just "WLIB" like I'd done in the past.

    There, I found this:


    from http-//www.angelfire.com/nj2/piratejim/nycamhistory4.html which is a radio station history site that someone runs.

    We see here that the New York Post was facing financial difficulties in 1949; they sold WLIB then for vastly less than they paid for it; and the station permanently moved to a new home on December 11, 1952.

    I submit that the Post also sold the building in 1949 to CBS as a motivated seller, and that CBS and WLIB occupied the building together from 1949 to 1952.

    Yes, that's nice to suggest, but do I have proof?

    You'll have to wait until the next installment to know that.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2014
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  14. MMM

    MMM Forum Hall Of Fame

    Lodi, New Jersey
    Thanks for putting this together, Dan. It was great when going through stuff in person. It'll be a great resource in one place here...
  15. Agreed thanks for posting this. very interesting to see where some of my favorites came from!
  16. RelayerNJ

    RelayerNJ Forum Resident

    Whippany, NJ
    I'm sorry I missed you guys too. I had classes all day and couldn't get a break. I hope you received my note before hand. Anyway, thanks again for starting this thread. The perfect forum for it.
  17. RelayerNJ

    RelayerNJ Forum Resident

    Whippany, NJ
    Thanks for sharing this. I've never seen it. I'm running through them now---great stuff!
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  18. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    Yes, that video is really extraordinary. Somewhere I read or heard (the DVD has commentary by Hal Prince, Elaine Strich, and D.A. Pennebaker) that the filmmakers replaced all the light bulbs with high output lamps that had something like a 12 hour life, and when the session ran into the wee hours the lamps started burning out with a POP. Fortunately there were so many that they still had enough light.

    When I got the DVD we watched it with Frank and his wife Colette in our living room, and it was great hearing their comments throughout. I later learned from someone else that they had definitely seen it before, but they must have forgotten because when we see Frank at the end they seemed very surprised and happy.

    There are several mysteries in that film, not the least of which is when the camera follows a guy in through some double doors and the room opens up in front of you, and there is a wall jutting out from the wall on the left. I can't for the life of me figure out where that is, and when I've shown it to the group nobody else can, either.

    We'll get to that later in the thread.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2014
  19. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff

    I think we've got all the photo issues straightened out in the first few posts now. Thanks @Bob F for your assistance. :)

    Great thread, Dan!
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  20. lukpac

    lukpac Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    Right at the beginning of the film? It *seems* as if the doors are roughly in line with the front wall of the control room, which we're looking straight at (from the side). When looking at the control room straight on (for example, a few shots during "Another Hundred People"), there are curtains on the left side, and the curtains in that opening shot seem to match.

    This shot is of that wall/corner, but it's too small to make out certain details:


    That's my best guess, anyway.
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  21. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    Nope, here is the sequence:




    Actually, in looking at it with two-year-older eyes and understanding, it might be the door on the West side of the building, with the control room to the right out of sight.

    It looks like the grain of the floorboards is running in line with our view; I'll have to look at some other pics to see if that aligns with this pic.

    OK, just did, and I think that is what's going on. That is the West door, I believe.

    We are getting out of sequence with the chronology, so I'll hold off further explanation and get into it at a later date. I'll post our best guess at a floor plan and this will make more sense.

    Back later with today's post in which someone who should need no introduction to this group will be introduced to the story of the studio.
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  22. lukpac

    lukpac Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    Ah, thanks for the photos. What's on YouTube is too dark and blurry to make out some of the details. What's clearly a white curtain in your screen grabs looks like a wall in the video. I definitely retract my earlier statement.
  23. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    The DVD is definitely worth having for a fan of the studio. Showing it on a big TV lets you wander through the space with the filmmakers. In color!!

    It has a lot of mysteries that maybe having two year older eyes will also solve. But I think we should do that within the chronology.
    lukpac likes this.
  24. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    Era 2. 1945-ish to 1952-ish: Pre-CBS and early CBS studio days pt. 2

    Now we will introduce someone to the conversation who was already very important in the story of the studio, but who has a new importance as we look closely at its history: Fred Plaut.


    Man, whoever wrote that Wikipedia piece really knew their stuff! Read that for what seems like a pretty complete look at his life.

    Fred's role as an engineer is undoubtedly well-known to this group, but his role as a photographer will help us as we continue to look at the studio's early years.

    His photo archive is at Yale University, and on September 17 Chuck Granata and I drove from New York City to Yale to view it.

    Here is Chuck in a candid shot perusing part of the archive


    You can see the negatives and contact sheets in the folder he is looking at, and there are many more folders in the open box, each with many negatives and contact sheets and sometimes other things. Each folder also has a typewritten sheet with possible identifications of who is in the pictures, but the information is spotty at best and almost completely lacking for people who are not famous, such as recording engineers, assistant engineers, and most sidemen.

    As an aside, if you haven't yet read Chuck's book "Sessions With Sinatra" you are really missing out. He describes vocal techniques and how different people arrange a song as well as looking in depth at Sinatra's recording sessions and methods and results. There are also a couple of sections that talk about the 30th St Studio. I just finished it last week, learned a lot, and enjoyed every second of reading.

    The Plaut collection is housed in manila folders inside rugged fiber boxes


    These are what we went through, although there are more. There are over 53000 negatives, enlargements, and other objects in the archive. We went through the boxes of negatives and contact sheets in the picture above as best we could, and the pics in this post (except for Chuck and the boxes) and many of the upcoming pictures are pictures of the contact sheet pictures, each of which is the size of a 35mm film frame (a little bigger than 1" x .75", I think).

    We were there a little over 3 hours and I took 960 pictures using a Nikon D7000 with Micro-Nikkor 105mm macro lens. The pictures that you'll see here will often lack depth or clarity, and that is due to being blowups of tiny little pictures that were only meant to direct you to the correct negative which will have much more information than the contact sheet print. But these were easy to get, and will show enough detail for our purposes most of the time.

    Interestingly, the collection that we saw almost exclusively focused on the earliest years of the studio, and there were very few pictures of the middle and later years. I have no explanation for that.

    Here are some pictures of Fred from MSS 52, The Frederick and Rose Plaut Papers in the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University:


    Apparently they had "take your dog to work" day back then, too.



    These pictures are in the old control room.

    That looks like an assistant engineer in the background; anybody know who he is?

    (Hmmmm, I'm being told I can't post with more than 5 images. The rest of this installment will be in the next post.)
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  25. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Seattle, WA USA
    Part two for today:

    Here's one of the few from the later era with the newest console


    I'm not sure that's in the 30th St Studio; it and its few companions from the era don't show enough beyond the console for me to identify location. If anyone else can tell, please comment. I'm guessing the red X means it was used for something.

    And, since George Avakian's name came up in this thread, here's a picture of him with Fred:


    I totally want to believe that they are in one of the rooms with windows on the second floor of the studio building and that the room is used as a workshop, but have no proof whatsoever, although there are other pictures of a similar room or rooms with equipment in various states of repair. Frank Laico repeatedly said he never went up to the second floor, so I so far have no way of knowing what was up there.

    This will need to be it for today. The next edition will be pictures of the studio that will surprise you as much as they did Chuck and I.
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