On the Cover: 25th Street Recording

Oct 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Tom Kenny


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Dave Lichtenstein at the API Vision

Dave Lichtenstein at the API Vision

“Actually, the first few months I spent convincing my wife,” he says with a laugh. “Then I went looking for a building, and that took about two years. I wanted a stand-alone structure, at least 4,000 square feet, with high ceilings and a nice concrete slab. Of course, once we got into the design with Fran, we ended up ripping that out and putting in floating floors, but it was a nice selling point for me.”

Fran is Fran Manzella, the noted studio designer from New York who had known Lichtenstein back when they were both working at Skyline in the early ’80s. The years went by, and then, as Manzella recalls, he “got this call out of the blue from an old friend who wanted to build a studio.

“Dave was in the process of buying the building when we first met, late 2009,” Manzella continues. “I came out for a site visit, and we literally drove into what would become the studio. It was a great host building, a British auto repair shop on the edge of a real up-and-coming area. Dave started to describe for me his vision, which I would describe as rough-and-ready, with a slightly unfinished look but absolutely professional in its infrastructure. Rough-sawn wood, custom-milled, local reclaimed woods. Nothing too detailed, nothing too perfect. The term he used back then was ‘a gallery aesthetic.’ And he was decidedly analog.”

Originally, Manzella submitted designs for both a one-room and a two-room facility. Lichtenstein acknowledges that from a business standpoint, two rooms may make more sense, but he wanted something that separated him from the competition, something that would make him unique, so he stuck with his original vision of a big, live tracking room.

From the initial site visit to the API console install in July 2011 was about 18 months, and while there were a fair amount of changes in the finishing, Lichtenstein stayed true to the original architectural and acoustic design, and he ended up taking Manzella’s advice—albeit a bit more costly—to float four slabs on springs and rip out two steel trusses in the ceiling.

“Dave really liked the look of the open trusses in the ceiling,” Manzella recalls, “but isolation was paramount, and once we decided to float the floors, we had to take them out. Then we decided to replace the roof, and I have to say, the ceiling is fantastic. It’s this old barn-style structure with four segments, so we put in some lighter-steel, bent I-beam construction and were able to maintain the height. Dave liked the height and wanted to keep it throughout. Twenty-one feet in the live room, Fourteen feet in the control room. As designers, we love that.”

While Lichtenstein definitely had a vision for the look and feel, he is not shy about seeking advice from other professionals. When he needed a contractor, all talk led to Dennis Stearns, one of the best in the country. “Dennis was just fantastic,” Manzella says. “A real professional who has been doing this a long time, with great insights and a huge breadth of resources. He has a top crew and a fantastic electrician [Tommy Thompson]. Do you know how hard it is to find a good electrician? They are rare. Dennis is also great with custom woodwork, so all those diffusion boxes and panels along the wall, with that rough-sawn look, he built them all according to the geometries of the spaces.”

Stearns also found the flooring for the studio at a lumberyard in Novato, Calif. It turned out to be reclaimed bleacher seats from a stadium at Southern Illinois University, refinished for floors. The ceiling and front wall of the live room is the rough Douglas fir, burned with an acetylene torch, then coated with five layers of a Brazilian oil. It looks stunning.

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