At the edge of the downtown L.A. Arts District, a few blocks south of the upscale Bestia restaurant and a stone's throw from the neon-lit Playpen strip club, sits a 98-year-old, five-story building, which for more than two decades has housed a beloved music rehearsal and recording space. Under the buzzing fluorescent lights, Downtown Rehearsal's scuffed concrete floors look well-worn, covered in scrapes and smudges left by toiling musicians who muscled gear down the hallways and onto the sticker-coated freight elevator.
L7, Fishbone, The Melvins and Macy Gray are among the musicians who have honed their craft at Downtown Rehearsal. “Pretty much every cool band in L.A. at the time spent some time there,” says Kamran V, who in the early 2000s managed a band that practiced there, and who now runs his own rehearsal space, Bedrock L.A., in Echo Park.
“This is home, man,” says drummer Dave Ferrara on a recent evening at Downtown Rehearsal. “This has been home for me for a long time.”
Ferrara has been practicing at the space for more than a decade. In his rehearsal room, in addition to recording equipment and instruments, are two mini fridges filled with Budweiser, a microwave, a couch and, on the wall, large banners emblazoned with his band's name, Ritual. Ferrara's practice space even has windows (a rarity for most rehearsal spots) that look out over the downtown L.A. skyline.
“At 3 o'clock in the morning, with the windows down, we can play as loud as we want and point the amps out the window,” Ferrara says. “It's an industrial space.”
Or rather, it used to be an industrial space. In recent years, the Arts District has filled up with critically acclaimed restaurants, posh lofts and specialty coffee roasters. Prior to the gentrification creep, it was a ghost land, populated only by the occasional homeless encampment.
That's why Ferrara, like many musicians at Downtown Rehearsal, was shocked to hear that uber-hip, private club Soho House was taking over the location.
“It's truck stops and strip clubs, and tons and tons of junkyards. If that's what rich people want to look out at and see,” he says. “They're never gonna get rid of that shit smell, though.”
Although popular real estate website Curbed first reported the takeover months ago, no one knew if or when Downtown Rehearsal's bands would get the boot. Finally, in September, Ferrara and others received a 90-day notice to vacate the premises.
The notice, signed by Downtown Rehearsal general manager Mike Daugherty, began: “After over 25 years of operating the best lockout studio business in L.A., we are sad to report that the Downtown Rehearsal Santa Fe Avenue location will be closing effective December 1, 2015.” The letter offers renters priority on the waiting list for space at Seventh Street Studios, a sister location, as well as first dibs on a new Downtown Rehearsal space should one open.
Daugherty didn't respond to requests for comment, but a media representative at Soho House confirmed that it's slated to open a new downtown location in 2017. Soho House is a self-described “private members' club for people in the creative industries,” with locations across the world, including one in West Hollywood.
City records show that Soho House has paid for expedited processing and faces an upcoming hearing on Nov. 18. Listed under the company name L.A. 1000 Santa Fe LLC, Soho House is applying for a variety of permits for the new site, including those that allow dancing and live performance, as well as the sale of alcohol.
The planned club will include a music venue, spa and salon, rooftop pool, gym, screening room, bars and an observation deck, according to the Notice of Public Hearing. Most of these amenities will be accessible to club members only, but the ground floor will be open to the public, and set up like an upscale public market or food court.
Musicians have already begun their exodus from Downtown Rehearsal, moving equipment out of the space and leaving behind a trail of discarded furniture and old instrument cases. On a recent Tuesday, halls typically filled with the din of drums and electric guitars are eerily quiet.
“This is fucking creepy,” says Jeff Edeker, a seasoned bassist who's been in and out of the Downtown Rehearsal space for about 20 years.
Edeker, a friend and previous bandmate of Ferrara, reflects on his years at Downtown Rehearsal with great fondness. In addition to the space's epic musical history, Edeker has his own deep personal connection with it.
“The friends that I've played with in this building … the songs that I've written with other musicians in this building,” he says. “Every room, every floor, everybody feels like that here.”
The facility's 24/7 lockout policy, which means every band has round-the-clock access to its own rehearsal room, was a huge draw, Edeker says. Musicians were given key-card access to the building and could come and go as they pleased, a boon in a business in which many work atypical hours.
“It might be 1 o'clock in the morning and you're like, fuck it, I'm gonna jump in my truck and just crank the fuck out of my amp and just go jam for an hour or two,” Edeker says.
Unlike some other rehearsal spaces, he adds, the building was clean, well-maintained and safe. “I felt more secure having my stuff here than I do at my own house.”
Some tenants have been making the best of the increasingly quiet rehearsal space. Brandon Jordan, 36, decided to record an album with his band, Heart Condition, in the little time they have left at Downtown Rehearsal. “We're going to be, like, tracking and packing at the same time,” he says.
After a few months of scrambling to find a new practice spot, Jordan landed at Downtown Rehearsal's sister location on Seventh Street, just across the L.A. River. Others haven't been so lucky. Many local practice options are smaller, more expensive or just booked up, musicians say. Some bands are headed to Vernon or out to the Valley, to less centrally located studios that, in many cases, will make it harder for them to get to gigs.
Many in the local music industry mourn the demise of Downtown Rehearsal, even those who could stand to benefit from its closure. “It's just displacing a lot of what made downtown as cool as it is,” says KamranV, who says he's seen a recent uptick in bands moving from Downtown Rehearsal into his Bedrock L.A. rehearsal rooms.
Though he understands the need for new development, he worries that increasing rents across Los Angeles hurt the growth of creative communities. “Improvement at the cost of credible art culture can be really damaging long-term.”
With the smell of sweat and spilled beer still in the air, Downtown Rehearsal should be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Instead, there are no official plans for a party before its Dec. 1 closing date.