Hundreds of musicians who rent rehearsal space at the Sound Museum in Brighton could be ringing in the new year with their gear soon to be on the sidewalk. A week before Christmas, tenants at 155 N. Beacon St. were notified they must vacate the building by the last day of January.
The notice arrived to the surprise of many of the musicians, who believed they had been promised they would not be displaced after a developer bought the building in 2021. Last winter, Bill “Des” Desmond, the founder and longtime owner of the Sound Museum, and the San Diego-based commercial real estate agency IQHQ said they would partner on a “cutting-edge rehearsal and recording facility” for the musicians before work begins on the new development. Now, unless an announcement is forthcoming, a large chunk of Boston’s music community will be without a home on Feb. 1.
“We were told, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to have a new space ready before you get kicked out,’” said Moses Carr, an MIT librarian who has shared space at the Sound Museum for his band and solo projects for the last several years. There are more than 100 rooms in the block-long building, which Desmond began renting out more than 20 years ago.
“We knew this day was coming, but we had this idea that we were going to hear about a new space,” Carr said.
IQHQ, which bought the old warehouse from the Hamilton Company for a reported $50 million, plans to raze the building and replace it with a 400,000-square-foot life science campus. The new complex will abut the fast-rising Boston Landing neighborhood, where the Bruins and Celtics have both built training facilities and the Bowery Presents recently opened its 3,500-capacity concert hall Roadrunner.
Since the elevation of the city’s chief of arts and culture position during Marty Walsh’s tenure as mayor, city government has lobbied on behalf of arts organizations feeling the squeeze of Boston’s development boom. The city helped broker a deal to keep the Huntington Theatre in its century-old location, and it recently worked in conjunction with an artists’ collective that bought the Humphreys Street Studios in Dorchester.
In a statement published a few days after the distribution of the eviction notice, the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture indicated that IQHQ has purchased an unidentified building near 155 N. Beacon with the intention of gifting it to the city for the new rehearsal space.
“This proposal is currently being reviewed by the City and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) with a priority for quality space, long-term affordability, and soonest availability,” read the statement.
Kara Elliott-Ortega, the city’s arts “czar,” said her office has been scouting for rehearsal facilities that could be used as “swing space” for the musicians while they wait to hear about a new Sound Museum location. But if bands end up scattering all over the city, she acknowledged, they will lose the sense of community that a shared rehearsal space can offer.
“We do know that once a building is closed, it’s really hard to re-create that,” she said. “I hope something is in the works on the Sound Museum side, and we’re looking at other options ourselves. It might not be perfectly seamless, but we’re doing what we can.”
Replying to a text message, Desmond wrote that he would answer questions about the future of the Sound Museum “when the time is right.” Kim Thai, who represents IQHQ in Boston, did not respond to e-mails.
In an interview with the Globe in February, Desmond lauded the deal that would create new rehearsal space for artists who have counted on the Sound Museum for decades. “If we could stay right where we are forever, that would be wonderful, but it’s not going to happen,” he said. “So this is the best-case scenario for me, my small company, and my musicians that have been with me for so many years.”
Jim Healey has rented space from the Sound Museum for all of his adult life, going back to his first bands in the ‘80s. His hard rock band Set Fire won the Rock & Roll Rumble in 2019; his latest project, Blood Lightning, features members of Sam Black Church, Gozu, and Worshipper.
“A rehearsal space is far more complex than meets the eye,” he said. “It’s not simply a room you can go and practice in. It’s a creative space. So much emotive energy is dispensed in a place like that.
“Multiply that times the number of rooms there, and that’s a huge intangible that’s completely discounted by the general public. The amount of songs written there, the bands that got together there — that type of stuff, you can’t really put a price on it.”
Healey has known Desmond for a long time.
“I know Des cares,” he said. But as the landlord of the various Sound Museum locations over the years, Healey said, Desmond’s first priority is his business’s bottom line.
A group called the Art Stays Here coalition, formed during the Humphreys Street negotiations, has been working to unite the Sound Museum musicians. When a rumor arose that a replacement space might be in the works in West Roxbury, a network of community leaders in the neighborhood — affectionately known as “Allston Rock City” — voiced strong opposition to a move to another part of the city.
“What’s happening here sort of follows a pattern of what’s happening around Boston,” said Carr. “If there’s a conflict between arts space and support for the arts versus big money making condos or life science space, the money tends to win.
“Boston claims to value the arts, but it needs to put its money where its mouth is,” he continued. “Otherwise people are going to move away. I’m thinking of moving to Worcester.”
James Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.