Steve Crimmel had wanted to book acts to perform at his Painted Sky Studio out to November, but now he can’t plan more than 30 days ahead.
That’s how many days he’ll have to evacuate the historic Cambria building he’s occupied for the last 15 years when the owners decide — as they have suggested — that they want him out to make room for storage.
“I’m not really ready to hang this up,” Crimmel said.
The odds of finding another place suitable for a studio are slim, he said. And in this day of increasing technology — when many musicians are using computer software to record at home — it might not even make sense to look for one.
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“I don’t know, with the future of the recording business,” he said, “if it makes economic sense to spend all the money to take a raw space and build it into a studio.”
The Bridge Street building, erected in the 1890s, has seen many changes through the decades. But for the past 15 years, it’s been a steady location for musicians to both record and perform their craft.
Crimmel, who previously recorded artists like Lionel Richie, Kenny Loggins and Neil Diamond as a senior staff engineer at Ocean Way Recording in Los Angeles, decided to open a studio in Cambria in 1996.
The building, which had been vacant a year and a half, had previously housed a wood shop, a café and — most colorfully — a raucous saloon locals nicknamed Bucket of Blood.
By the mid-1990s, the aging building, with its corrugated steel exterior, didn’t seem to have much potential.
“When I first saw the building 15 years ago, I had to think twice: Do I want to take this on?” said Crimmel, who also lives in Cambria. “But, it has good bones. It has wooden walls and ceilings, which is good for acoustics.”
Crimmel renovated the inside of the building, adding isolation rooms, sound proofing, a control room and $100,000 worth of equipment. He also transformed the building into a concert venue, booking acts like Chris Hillman, formerly of the Byrds, 103-year-old ukulele legend Bill Tapia and bluesman David “Honeyboy” Edwards.
But after the owners sent Crimmel a letter earlier this month, saying they had other plans for the building, the future of the North Coast’s only recording studio has been uncertain.
The building is owned by Jim Evans and Tom Gerst, who grew up in the county and moved to Los Angeles more than 40 years ago. Now in their 80s, the college buddies have long operated Evans & Gerst Antiques, selling European and Asian furniture and art.
“We initially opened the shop pretty much with things we’d bought when I worked at the Hearst warehouses,” said Evans, a Coast Union High School graduate.
After decades in Southern California, Evans added, he and Gerst are now ready to return. Yet, he said, they’ll bring back lots of inventory.
“This is a terrible business once you get into it,” Evans said. “You never want to quit buying. You always have more stock than you probably should.”
Evans didn’t rule out the possibility of using the Cambria space for another antique store — or as living quarters, as it once was. But he made one thing clear: Once their West Hollywood property sells, Crimmel is out.
“I hope Steve’s able to find some other venue there,” he said. “I’m hoping he’s going to continue his involvement with the recording studio.”
Crimmel hopes the owners will reconsider, as do friends and customers, who have sent letters asking them to keep Painted Sky on Bridge Street.
“They’re very nice,” Evans said of the 30 or so letters he’s received. “They’re just expressing their interest in it.”
But when asked if there’s any flexibility in their plans, Evans didn’t waver.
While Evans said he’s sympathetic to Crimmel’s dilemma, Crimmel doesn’t think the owners appreciate Painted Sky’s cultural role in Cambria, a close-knit enclave with an artsy reputation.
“I have a feeling they just don’t understand the community here,” he said.
Acts like the Cadillac Angels of Santa Barbara and Cambria’s hit songwriter Jude Johnstone have recorded at Painted Sky. And celebrities like Jackson Browne and Pat Sajak have stopped by. But mostly, it has been used by regular people, such as 69-year-old Bob Ayanian, who traveled 600 miles round-trip this week to lay down vocal tracks for his upcoming Christian folk album, “Rose of Fire.”
Ayanian, a former Cambrian, took up guitar after retiring as an economics professor at Cal State Fullerton. And when dozens of songs began coming to him, he decided to put them on CDs.
So he walked into Painted Sky a few years ago, not knowing what to expect.
“I’d never been in a recording studio,” he said, sitting near Crimmel’s mixing board. “I learned a lot here. Steve is very patient, and he is a great teacher.”
Even after he moved to Placerville to be close to his grandchildren, Ayanian continued to record at Painted Sky, making the six-hour trek to the coast.
“I didn’t realize how good this studio was until I recorded some things elsewhere,” he said. “And then I came back here.”
Painted Sky’s only hope might be a poor real estate market. Because, Evans said, they will only move once they sell the West Hollywood building that houses both their business and home. But, according to Crimmel, the property, listed for $1.9 million, is already in escrow.
Still, Crimmel hopes the owners will be swayed into letting him stay. And he’s even offered to help them find storage somewhere else.
“It seems like something could be worked out,” he said.