Highway Plan Threatens Historic Detroit Recording Studio
DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - A plan to increase the size of a Detroit freeway is threatening a recording studio that welcomed the likes of Aretha Franklin, Berry Gordy and Eminem.
The United Sound Systems building on Second Avenue at Antoinette Street is the spot where Gordy cut a record that would lead the way to the Motown dynasty and where Franklin laid down the vocals to her 1980s hit, “Freeway of Love.”
Now, the structure could be leveled as part of a project to reconstruct I-94 by adding new lanes from Conner to I-96 in Detroit. Preliminary plans show the land where the studio is located as being transformed in favor of a off-ramp from westbound I-94 to M-10.
It’s not going to happen without a fight, however.
Leaders with the Detroit Sound Conservancy, a nonprofit working to preserve and share the city’s music history, have started the process of trying to find an alternative to destroying the revered music house.
“United Sound Systems ought to be the linchpin, the centerpiece of a 21st century Detroit soundscape. It is Exhibit A of Michigan and Detroit’s impact on global sound. It should be alive and cooking,” Carleton Gholz, who founded the Detroit Sound Conservancy, told The Detroit News. “Preserving it is going to take a lot of money and a lot of imagination and a lot of people.”
Calling the predicament a “worst-case scenario,” MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi said nothing is set in stone yet, and plans could change as the project moves forward.
“What we did was a study, justification that this is needed. But we have not completed it,” Morosi said. “Either we can alter the design of the service drive, or we could move [the recording studio]. We’re not just putting our hands up and saying, ‘It’s got to go.’”
The United Sound Systems building, which became Detroit’s first major recording studio in 1933, reportedly hasn’t been used regularly for more than a decade.
“We’ve got to have an overall plan,” Gholz said. “This is Motown. Do we care about the musical history or don’t we?”
The building doesn’t have a historical marker or federal protections, even though it is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Wood boards now cover the windows where Funkadelic recorded most of their music.
Other icons who recorded music at United Sound Systems include Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, The MC5, The Rolling Stones and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
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