By Kurt Wolff
After dire warnings from preservationists that it might demolished, Nashville’s historic RCA Studio A now appears to have a future on Music Row.
The 50-year-old studio is part of an office building at 30 Music Square West that was sold to local Bravo Development this summer for $4 million. Bravo had plans to either sell the building to a new buyer or to raze it in order to allow for new development on the site. Preservationists, musicians and fans — including musician Ben Folds (who has rented Studio A for years and regularly produces artists in the space) — built a grassroots campaign to save the studio that gained national attention.
Now area philanthropist Aubrey Preston has stepped in, forming a trust in order to purchase and preserve the property. AMT Trust is currently under contract to pay $5.6 million for the property.
This isn’t Preston’s first preservation project. He was previously involved in revamping the historic Franklin Theatre as well as the nearby Leipers Fork area. He is also working with the Americana Music Association to create a tourist region called the multistate Americana Music Triangle, which will encompass an area from Tennessee to New Orleans.
In an interview with industry magazine MusicRow, Preston called the impending destruction of Studio A in favor of condos or other development on the site a “disaster for our town.”
For Preston, this wasn’t any ordinary building. His interest in the space, he said, “comes from my appreciation of the history of American music and the role that Studio A played in that.”
Built during the heyday of the Nashville Sound, RCA Studio A was designed by noted producer Norman Putnam and aimed at providing room enough to record larger groups and orchestras. It has been in operation since the mid-1960s and is larger than its better-known sister space RCA Studio B (which is now part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum). Artists who have recorded in Studio A include Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Dolly Parton, the Monkees, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kacey Musgraves, the Beach Boys, Tony Bennett, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert.
“I had no idea of the extent of legacy of this great studio until I become the tenant of the space 12 years ago,” Folds wrote in an open letter, when news of the buildings sale first broke. “I’ve recorded all over the world and I can say emphatically that ￼there’s no recording space like it anywhere on the planet. These studio walls were born to ring with ￼music.”
The closing date for the sale is Dec. 31.
As for what the eventual outcome for the building and RCA Studio A will be, that is yet to be determined. “There’s a lot of discovery that needs to happen as far as the best way to preserve it in the long run, which is our primary goal,” Preston said.
He admits that “There are things you want to do to update” a property such as this, but “in general” his strategy with past projects has been to “try to take the most pure path we can take, yet still kind of update the property to make it economically vibrant.” He said if he “was guessing right now,” his ideas might be to “try to make the property look and feel a lot like it did in 1965.”
Preston made clear, though, that he is not a Music Row investor, and has no current plans for purchasing or revamping other properties.
“This we’re seeing as a philanthropic kind of acquisition that hopefully over time, will heal itself from an economic perspective,” he said. “Clearly we’ve overpaid for the property from a pure economic perspective. It’s hard to make that kind of investment regularly and make it up on volume.”
Folds, for his part, is thrilled that Preston is involved.
“I’m encouraged about the news of the impending sale of the historic RCA building to my friend who is a proven preservation leader I greatly respect,” Folds wrote on his Facebook page. “I look forward to discussing with him what the future holds for the studio space once the deal closes.”
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