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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