The Sound Wave Finally Crashes

After seven years of running Oakland's flagship rehearsal space, Al Lucchesi backs out.

Two decades of renting out rehearsal studios in Oakland turned Al
Lucchesi into a veritable music incubator. The ponytailed former UC
Berkeley math major opened his first warehouse studio on 43rd Street
and Telegraph Avenue in 1985, continued with Chinatown’s now-famous
Jackson Street Studios in 1989, and moved his operation to West Oakland
in 2002. There, he leased two new buildings — a moderate hourly
space on Wood Street and a three-story, 166-room Goliath on 21st and
Union. The 21st Street building is one of the largest of its kind in
the Bay Area and it helped cement Lucchesi’s legend. At Soundwave,
Lucchesi ran a space where gangsta rappers, metal bands, and electonica
gearheads could all coexist peacefully, then run into each other in the
hall — and maybe even combine forces. In a January 7 profile for
this newspaper, I wrote that Soundwave “shows no sign of
faltering.”

Evidently, I was wrong.

On September 15, Lucchesi backed out of his long-term lease and
returned the 21st Street building — now christened the Oakland
Music Complex — to owner Peter Sullivan. Lucchesi apparently
couldn’t rent enough rooms to keep the business operating and also make
improvements on the property, according to new building manager Chuck
Stilphen. In fact, when Stilphen stepped in, roughly 50 of the 166
studios were vacant, he said. (Lucchesi did not respond to requests for
interviews in time for publication.) Stilphen operates the Trappist Bar
in downtown Oakland, inside a building that Sullivan also owns. Aside
from that, he’s spent the last twelve years running several rehearsal
spaces of his own: two in Sacramento and one in East Oakland, all under
the name Rehearse America Inc. Thus, he’s sympathetic to Lucchesi’s
plight. “The economy sucks and people aren’t renting rooms — I’m
just trying to stabilize things,” said Stilphen, who said he will
probably stay at Oakland Music Complex for the next few months. He said
it’s in the owner’s best interest that the building remains a rehearsal
studio (since it’s already set up that way) and that rents stay
relatively stable. Right now, he explained, some rents are below market
rate, and some are higher than they should be. “It’s not gonna change
dramatically, but there might be some adjustments,” he said. Meanwhile,
Stilphen doesn’t expect a mass exodus any time soon — and he’s
doing his best to preempt one. “My whole motivation is I don’t want to
see 100 bands booted out in the streets,” he said. “To my knowledge,
there’s not a whole lot of places they could go … unless they just
move back into their mother’s basement or something.”

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