Sound studio

Brighton Sound Museum rehearsal space moves to make way for life sciences campus

For Jen Millis, her space inside the Sound Museum in Brighton is more than a place for group practice. There is a mural painted by his friend, the artist Massiel Grullón. Flyers of tours and shows she and her band Saint Ripper have performed adorn the space. The room is set up with the band’s gear, merchandise, and a mirror with light rings so the band can get ready to play a show. “Everything we needed to be in our group was in this training space set up for us,” she said. “All the spaces I’ve used have been really special places because we create our music there.”

As a musician in Boston’s punk scene for 20 years, with practice spaces in the city for 15, being kicked out due to development is all too familiar to Millis. “Although I’m happy to move and find a new place, obviously it’s getting harder and harder,” she said. “You can’t afford to live in Boston right now with the kinds of jobs that most musicians work. A lot of musicians work in bars, work behind ledgers. When Millis heard the news of the demolition project of the Sound Museum, it was yet another example of the potential loss of a space to make art.

Established by Bill “Des” Desmond 40 years ago and operating at 155 N. Beacon St. in Brighton for 32 years, the Sound Museum has long provided rehearsal and practice space for many bands and musicians, including The Cure and Iggy Pop. . Although those of international renown have graced the Sound Museum, local musicians who have found a community there.

Brighton Sound Museum owner Bill “Des” Desmond walks down one of the long halls of the facility’s studios. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Providing practice space for 300 musicians and one of the few 24-hour facilities in the city, the Sound Museum is one of the few businesses still occupying the building. Previously owned by The Hamilton Company, San Diego-based life sciences developer IQHQ bought the building for $50 million in March 2021. Desmond said rent has increased every year for the past five years under The Hamilton Company. In IQHQ project notification form submitted to the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA), the building was characterized as “a nondescript older building, approaching the end of its useful life”.

The BPDA organized a virtual meeting public meeting for 155 N. Beacon St. on January 18, attended by over 140 people. IQHQ presented its plan to demolish the building and replace it with a life sciences campus totaling approximately 409,395 square feet. During the public comment portion, attendees raised concerns about the implications of the development and the developer’s lack of transparency, asking for documented confirmation of the construction of a new sound museum, as mentioned in the press release. from IQHQ on January 12. (The Boston Landmarks Commission received a Section 85 Demolition Deadline IQHQ request on the day of the public meeting: In 1995, Boston’s zoning code was changed to include a demolition delay policy. the comment period for property ends February 4.)

In IQHQ’s press release, the company said it is working with Desmond to build a new museum of sound that includes practice space, performance space, and two recording studios. “We’ve hired a broker, we’ve hired an architect, and we have our own in-house people who handle our leasing,” said David Surette, senior vice president at IQHQ. A new location has yet to be determined, although IQHQ and Desmond are recon sites in Boston. “We’re not going to be kicked out onto the streets until the facility is built,” Desmond said.

Bill, owner of the Brighton Sound Museum "From" Desmond in one of the studios in Brighton.  (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Bill “Des” Desmond, owner of the Brighton Sound Museum, in one of the Brighton studios. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

According to Surette, construction projects of the scale proposed for 155 N. Beacon St. typically take 30 months. This project will mark IQHQ’s first collaboration with artists. “[We’ve] learned a lot,” Surette said.

However, the commitment to find new space for the Museum of Sound was not mentioned in the Project Notification Form (PNF), nor in IQHQ’s presentation at the January 18 meeting. During the meeting, Jennifer Schultz, licensed attorney for IQHQ, answered questions from the public about the omission, saying the process had just begun and there were more to come. “We formed the conceptual approach to development,” Schultz said during the meeting.

On September 13, 2021, IQHQ filed a Letter of Intent for the project. The city’s elected officials responded with a comment letter on October 12 opposing the project in its form at the time. A January 18 letter to Caitlin Coppinger, project manager at the BPDA, from city officials noted that IQHQ had not responded to their letter of comment and made no material changes to the proposed project in response. to concerns. The letter read, “We will not support this project until 1.) The promoter agrees to include an on-site rehearsal and recording facility at 155 North Beacon Street, and 2.) Adequate measures are taken to ensure that this space remains permanently accessible and affordable for musicians in Allston, Brighton and Boston. The letter was signed by Councilwoman Liz Breadon, State Representative Kevin Honan, Deputy Majority Leader Michael Moran, Councilman Michael Flaherty, Councilwoman Ruthzee Louijeune, Councilwoman Julia Mejia and Councilwoman Municipal Erin Murphy.

IQHQ’s presentation at the meeting focused on its detailed plan for the development of a sprawling life sciences campus comprising three buildings, two-level underground parking for 328 vehicles, retail space and a green space. The company has already made its mark in Greater Boston with developments such as Fenway Center, Alewife Park and 109 Brookline Avenue. According to Matt Formicola, director of design at IQHQ, the proximity of 155 N. Beacon St. to Boston Landing will attract more visitors. Formicola and Schultz went into detail about open spaces, pedestrian and cyclist safety, campus design, community benefits and sustainability. Their plan includes building a teaching lab at Brighton High School so students can be prepared for employment in neighborhood life science labs.

Chelsea Ellsworth, a musician and tenant of the Sound Museum who runs a recording studio in the building, was unhappy with the plan presented by IQHQ. “It was almost completely unanimous from everyone in the entire meeting of 140 people that [the plan] is not good enough at all levels. The questions certainly weren’t answered,” Ellsworth said. Regarding IQHQ’s discourse on sustainability, she expressed her opinion: the demolition of the existing building will have negative effects on the environment by increasing traffic and air pollution.

A mixing desk sits above a piano in one of the Brighton Sound Museum's studios.  (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A mixing desk sits above a piano in one of the Brighton Sound Museum’s studios. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The Ellsworth recording studio, one of the few transgender-owned in the state, prioritizes low-income and marginalized musicians who don’t have the opportunity to record at other facilities. “It really feels like every entity in Boston is working against the idea that marginalized creative forces can sustain themselves.”

Boston artists have already lost EMF to Cambridge, Great Scott to Allston, OBERON to Cambridge and more. “There are always rooms gone, it’s become nearly impossible to book shows anywhere without at least three months’ notice,” said Brian Poulin, a musician and former Sound Museum tenant who has lived in Boston since. 11 years old. “If people don’t have a place to play their music, there won’t be new music coming out of that place.”

With this trajectory, Poulin said the city will continue to lose the people who shape the culture. “You’re not going to see so many cool flyers posted anywhere. You won’t be able to walk down the street and hear a band you’ve never heard play and be like, “I wonder what’s going on in that building.” —– city.”

In one of the Brighton Sound Museum studios.  (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
In one of the Brighton Sound Museum studios. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Although Desmond acknowledged the negative impact of the development on the city’s art spaces, he remains optimistic about the future of the Sound Museum. “Yes [IQHQ] help me, I’m the one everyone’s been under for all these years. I mean, we’re the largest independent rehearsal complex in the Northeast,” he said. “The mission is to continue what we do and keep it as affordable as possible.”

IQHQ plans to hold an open house during the week of February 21, which the company says will be an opportunity for people to meet the developers. The company will also launch a website detailing the design and development schedule. BPDA will host another meeting of the Impact Advisory Group, although a date has yet to be confirmed at the time of this writing.

Millis said she would like to see artists’ concerns taken seriously, but in her experience of being expelled from EMF, she and her comrades tried to make their voices heard at meetings, but “nothing came of it.” got out”.

As the Sound Museum faces demolition, Millis stressed the importance of affordable, centrally located practice spaces. “For most of us, [playing] music pays no bills. So it’s for fun, to express ourselves, to entertain each other and for ourselves,” she said. “I look at the Sound Museum and I’m like, ‘How about from here [at 155 N. Beacon St.]?’ How about this space being cleaned up and improved and there is room for musicians? »