As the sun set over the Arts District on Sunday and a spattering of illuminated skyscrapers lit up downtown L.A., an exodus of musicians was underway.
With only 48 hours left on their leases, guys in jeans and ponytails, with dirtied shirts and calloused hands, began their final load-out from the 25-year-old Downtown Rehearsal band practice space. They packed the freight elevator to the brink of collapse, carting their instruments, sound equipment and mini-fridges downstairs to the loading dock as they prepared to leave behind their beloved recording and rehearsal venue.
Downtown Rehearsal has fostered friendships and job opportunities, served as an artistic source of inspiration and even provided an (illegal) home for some musicians in need. John Tyree, drummer for the band Dirty Eyes, has been practicing at Downtown Rehearsal for eight years and has been secretly living in his room there for the last two.
“Up until the couch left yesterday,” he said, with a wry grin. “Y'all are the first people I told.”
Tyree, 28, described Downtown Rehearsal as a “great enabler,” where he could play music every day and live off very little money.
“It’s the crown jewel of L.A.,” he said of the rehearsal space.
As of this week, Downtown Rehearsal on Santa Fe Avenue is shutting its doors and the exclusive, hip Soho House will be taking over. This chain of private clubs will be opening its newest outpost in what was once the site of impromptu punk shows, frightening elevator malfunctions and copious weed smoking.
Daniel Pouliot, drummer for Horse the Band, was in a state of “disbelief and shock” when he heard he’d lose the Downtown Rehearsal room he held for 11 years. He hit the jackpot when it comes to spaces, being one of the few tenants in the building with windows that open out onto a fire escape. The bands were prohibited from going out there — so naturally, it became a go-to location for smoking and drinking.
“On a clear day it looks so pretty from up here,” he said. “It’s usually smoggy and kind of crappy looking, but when the wind is strong and the rain is strong, it looks incredible.”
Pouliot has even used his room to host a live rock show after a venue cancelled on him last minute. Although he expected the event to be an intimate gathering, it quickly turned into a full-scale blowout that nearly got Pouliot and his band evicted.
“Before we knew it there was like 80 people in here,” said Pouliot. “People were smoking blunts and drinking, and then the bands were like selling shirts in the hallway.”
Jonny Nunes-Simone, 32, decided to say goodbye to his room by hosting a send-off party. On Sunday, his band Paper Chains played a live set, and as music pumped from room 511, a group of young revelers spilled into the hallway, drinking beer and getting rowdy.
Nunes-Simone has been practicing at Downtown Rehearsal for about three years and said it was love at first sight.
“I came off the elevator and I saw the room, I was like, ‘Please, this is what I’m looking for,’” said Nunes-Simone. “We looked forward to coming here.”
By a few hours into the farewell party, weed smoke poured through the hallway and an alarm was sounding after someone tried to open the locked door to the roof.
But for many Downtown Rehearsal musicians, this final chapter was a more somber occasion. The lifers, those who had built their careers at Downtown Rehearsal, were alone in their rooms, wrapping cables or piling up trash.
As they sipped a beer under the stark light of a single light bulb (most had already gotten rid of their lamps), they were more than happy to indulge in reflection.
Jimmy Gimelli, 36, has practiced there for 15 years. Gimelli often plays with a band of eight to 12 people and his room was big enough to accommodate this large crew, a rarity in rehearsal spaces. In addition to logistical benefits, Gimelli marveled at the fact that he spent almost half his life at Downtown Rehearsal.
“I’ve never stayed in an apartment for 15 years!” he said.
On Sunday night, an enormous dumpster was parked outside the loading dock, overflowing with the discards of decades of music making. Upstairs in John Tyree’s room, his walls were still covered in posters and memorabilia, and there were shoes and other remnants of life scattered across the floor.
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Tyree’s headed to San Francisco soon to work on some music, but has no long-term plan now that Downtown Rehearsal is closing.
“It’s like a day-at-a-time type thing,” said Tyree. “The more I play, the better I live I guess. The less I have to wash my feet in the sink, and sneak out of here to try and catch a shift in the morning.”