“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
On September 30, an icon of Capitol Hill’s music scene closed its doors for good. Chophouse Rehearsal Studios, formerly located in a historic building on 11th Avenue & East Pike Street, was one of the only large rehearsal spaces available for the numerous musicians on and around Capitol Hill. Since 1984, it has housed more bands in its 30 practice rooms than can ever be counted, including the Presidents of the United States of America. But, in a story that has become commonplace as the Hill becomes increasingly urbanized, the building’s owner Liz Dunn has opted to tear down the building in favor of replacing it with a new apartment complex.
Kevin Cluppert, a member of the soul and funk group Breaks and Swells, who has practiced at Chophouse for over two years while playing for several different groups across many of the location’s rehearsal rooms, was one of the last people to use the space before it closed last month.
“I had a love-hate relationship with the place,” Cluppert said. It was pretty grungy, thin walls and poor sound-proofing. And they had a lot of metal groups practicing, and we were playing quiet acoustic music, so we were constantly moving from room-to-room. It was a perpetual search for a quiet space. But it depended on when you went in there; I loved Chophouse between 2 a.m. and 10 a.m. And by the time we left, we had a really good place near the top.”
While Cluppert said that the building wasn’t perfect, he also stressed that the location was one of the few affordable places in the entire city for a starving artist to be able to practice at all.
“I’m not sure if [Chophouse] was held in the highest regard, but it was somewhat of a necessity for the Hill,” Cluppert said. “It was somewhat of a cheaper option for practice. The last room that we were in was $600 for the entire room, and we split that between a handful of groups, so our portion was just $300. We had a really good deal that was pretty reasonable for the price.”
According to Cluppert, Dunn’s decision to replace the building with an apartment complex is representative of what’s been happening to Capitol Hill over the last few years as the artistic environment that once defined the area makes way for a bar scene populated with high-income, white collar workers.
“[The area] is already pretty well gentrified,” Cluppert said. “Where it once was an art hub, it’s becoming ‘yuppified.’ Sort of a second-level gentrification.”
Perhaps the most paradoxical part of Chophouse’s closure is that Dunn has famously opposed the destruction of old buildings along the Pike/Pine corridor in the past. As a member of the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council (PPUNC) Dunn has sought to preserve the neighborhood’s old buildings in fear of the area losing its defining characteristics.
“Old buildings can support lower rents, attract a variety of unique retailers, restaurants and arts users, and, in turn, attract people to visit from outside the neighborhood,” Dunn said in a March 2009 letter to fellow PPUNC neighbors.
But later that same year, Dunn announced the plan to replace the building with a new development. In an interview with The Stranger in 2009, Dunn said that the decision to tear down Chophouse Rehearsal Studios doesn’t go against her won inclination to preserve most of the neighborhood’s old buildings.
“I don’t think every building needs to be saved nor should be,” Dunn said to The Stranger’s Dominic Holden. “What the city would require to seismically retrofit it would be essentially rebuilding it from scratch.”
Regardless of how the musicians who once occupied the space feel about the decision, construction on the new residential complex is slated to begin soon, and now they will be left to find another, likely more expensive location to practice in. While it may not replace the character of Chophouse, Cluppert says that a new spot on the Hill should soon be available to many of Chophouse’s former clientele.
“They’re still doing construction on it, but a new place called “the Jam Box” further up on 12th, and it should, hopefully, be opening up on November 1,” Cluppert said. “Right after Chophouse closed [manager Doug Wilkerson] took his favorite people from Chophouse and we all started putting down deposits there.”