First, the Good News

A rehearsal space opens, a club closes

Ever since the Downtown Rehearsal building was sold in October 2000, practice space has been as hard to come by as a full Xanax bottle in the Jeb Bush household. But beginning March 1, local musicians will have a new place to practice, thanks to the opening of Soundwave Studios, a 151-room space in West Oakland. Owner Alan Lucchesi manages several other complexes, none as large as this newly renovated and soundproofed building. Prices run a little high -- from $450 to $1,000 per month -- but considering that six months ago no one seemed willing to open any new space, the cost of the rooms shouldn't deter bands from flocking in droves. One warning to rockers who like to use noms de guitare in hotels while touring: On the Soundwave application, it asks that you list all other names you've used within the last three years. To schedule an appointment to look at the studios, call (510) 763-2201 or go to www.soundwavestudios.com.

If you're wondering why SoundSafe, the nonprofit organization that received $500,000 toward a new rehearsal space from the Downtown settlement, hasn't found a home yet, blame the slow-grinding gears of city politics.

When asked about the proposed location in the Pier 70 project ("Trading an axe for a shovel," Pop Philosophy, June 13, 2001), SoundSafe President Anthony Bonet said, "We're finding out the million different ways for a city project to get bogged down."

Part of the problem is that SoundSafe's vision of the project hasn't linked up with that of developer AMB Properties, which is the city's choice for the contract. "We're trying to get the builders to say, "We'll build you more than a tin shack on the water,'" Bonet says. "We're looking for something more presentable. We want a practice room and auditoriums and learning spaces -- like the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We don't want to just showcase bands from Downtown; we want to find a safe haven for all the arts, like a lot of cities have. Like Oakland and the Alice Arts Center."

Sounds like a reasonable request. Then again, reasonable requests often fall on deaf ears around City Hall.

And now the bad newsOver the past several years San Francisco has been hemorrhaging cultural institutions faster than an Enron official sheds stock. The latest nightclub closing won't occur until this summer, but it's a doozy: Club Townsend, the city's largest gaycentric dance club, will shutter its sweat-encrusted doors in July.

"The lease is up in July, and I had to fight to keep the space open until then," Townsend owner Audrey Joseph says via phone from her office.

Joseph took the reins at Club Townsend at the beginning of 1992. The venue had previously held mostly one-offs, including parties by early house outfits such as Toon Town, Care Free, and Club Skirt. The venue's first big weekly was "Pleasuredome," begun in 1992 by Bill Camilo and now the city's longest-running men's night.

In July 1994 Joseph and Ty Dakota added the second jab of Townsend's one-two punch with "Club Universe." With its extravagant light show, pounding sound system, and weekly changing décor, "Universe" soon garnered a nationwide reputation, even earning the dubious honor of "the most New York of San Francisco nightclubs" from Vogue. In addition to its renowned resident DJs, the Saturday night event hosted sets by house big-shots Frankie Knuckles and David Morales, as well as live acts like Nine Inch Nails, Grace Jones, and Erasure.

Even with Club Townsend's growing popularity, Joseph remembers some lean -- even dangerous -- times. "We wore women's bulletproof vests for a while," she says with a raspy laugh. "I could tell they were women's because they had darts."

Joseph discovered that the best way to separate her venue from all the other dance spots was to get specific, so she hosted individual parties for Asian men ("Club Asia"), Latin men ("Futura"), cowboys ("Sundance Saloon"), and lesbians ("Club Q" and the new monthly "Juice," which the press release says will be like Coyote Ugly without the men). Sadly, all her clubs will be looking for new homes come July, unless Joseph stumbles across a miracle.

"I have plans, but they won't reach fruition by the time we close," she says. "I need a space of 20,000 square feet. I'm not willing to do it half-assed, and I need something cost-effective." Joseph has looked at several warehouses off Third Street and spoken with the city about spots along the waterfront, but none has proved doable.

"I feel like the gay community is losing a home, and I don't know what to do about it," she says.

For special closing events over the next months, go to www.clubtownsend.com or call 974-6020. There will be a reunion for everyone who ever worked at the club on April 28.

 
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