For nearly two years, Studio 52, Allston's warehouse-turned-artist-space, has been accommodating and exceeding the needs of the local music scene. Floor by floor, general manager and owner Rich Anton and director of operations Glenn Michael transformed the former clothing factory, beginning with a the removal of a mammoth steel conveyor that ran through the ground floor and eventually constructing the rooms that are now rehearsal spaces for more than 200 bands. Studio 52's newest addition is a performance space called Allston Rock City Hall (ARCH), set to be up and running early this year.
The name and concept for the venue were conceived, as are most of the best ideas (that typically don't make it to fruition), over drinks slung in plastic cups across a sticky bar in a dark, noisy rock club. It was back last April, after a night of the Rock 'n' Roll Rumble at T.T. the Bear's, when Anton, Michael, and Studio 52 employee Nick Grieco started to form a plan.
"It was pretty much having a few beers, and some good ideas, and we were like, 'Let's do this!' " recalled Anton. He and Michael took on Grieco, guitarist for local rock outfit the Field Effect, as the consulting manager for ARCH, and after four months of groundwork, construction began.
"For me it started off as a place to throw fun shows, to give the basement scene some legitimacy, and to make a showcase room for all of the bands in the building," said Grieco, who back then could not anticipate the resounding response from the community. "All of a sudden so many companies and representatives came to check out the space, telling us, 'You have no idea how hard it is to find a room like this to do things in Boston.' "
As longtime members of the music scene themselves, the Studio 52 team were aware that a need for a lasting showcase room in Boston had existed for years, knowing, too, that this demand had been increasingly difficult to satisfy given the city's rigid permitting laws.
"We have been trying to make sure we do everything right, by the book, to make that space permanent," said Anton, a Massachusetts native with a background in real estate and property development.
In its early stages of operation, ARCH will operate as a private event hall. That means the venue will not sell alcohol or allow public admission. Ticketing for these events will be available through online event registration sites (like Eventbrite) that promote across social-networking spheres.
Though Anton hopes to one day acquire one of the city's precious liquor licenses, not having one will not dampen the good time. Events from birthday parties to art galleries to rock shows can be sponsored by companies including local radio stations, alternative magazines, food trucks, and yes, brewing companies.
It's that collaborative, communal mentality that sets this venue apart from a typical bar or club. Though ARCH is fully equipped with lights, sound, and recording capabilities, the goal is to evoke the DIY-spirit and intimacy of a basement show. "I wanted it to be a representation of what Allston is and what makes people love it, including the grungy-ness, the music, and the art," said Grieco.
The aesthetic is shabby-chic, professional but inviting. The stage is hardly more than a foot above crowd level. Chandeliers made of broken skateboards donated by Orchard Skateshop hang below a maze of black-painted pipes that cover the high ceilings. Liquor-bottle lanterns will run along a countertop that stretches nearly the length of the room. (If you ask if that's a bar, you'll be told something like, "No, bars have liquor — sure looks like one though.")
"It's more than just a room, it's part of this whole community we have at Studio 52 and within the entire scene," said Michael.
The fresh-paint scent still fills the entire building as finishing touches are made to construction. The smell is of constant work in progress. It represents not only the force that drives ARCH to completion, but that brings bands to these practice spaces every day. It's the stuff a homegrown creative community needs to survive.
"It's been a few stages of hustle and planning. Here we are 2½ years later, almost done," said Anton. "Now we can focus and reach out to other people to do more groundbreaking things for the scene."