Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Commercial Recorders, 149 Natoma (between 2nd and 3rd and Mission and Howard), San Francisco, CA

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – This photo of the crew and mascots United Fire Patrol Company 1A was taken in front of their quarters located at 147-149 Natoma Street. The building is still there and privately owned. It has Underwriters Fire Patrol Company in the masonry above the doors.
I am coming to believe that 147 and 149 Natoma were both part of the same firehouse. See the address above the firemen's heads.
1916...close enough! The building was constructed in 1907.

United Fire Patrol Company 1A
Organized: 1918
Location: 147 Natoma Street
» 1943 July 1st – Company disbanded and transferred to San Francisco Fire Department as Salvage Company 1A

» 1918 to 1930 – American LaFrance 1914 Type-10 Salvage Wagon ALF#567 / Vehicle shipped SAFD 7-22-1914 / SO#54277 / 4-cylinder 70HP
» 1930 to 1936 – Reo Salvage Wagon 1929 Reo#FE-3444 / Continental 6-cylinder 67HP
» 1936 to 1940 – International 1936 Salvage Wagon / International#C-50-2362 / Continental 6-cylinder 79HP
» 1940 to July 1, 1943 – International 1939 Salvage Wagon / International #D-50-904 / Continental 6-cylinder 79HP

Salvage Company 1A – San Francisco Fire Department
Organized: July 1st, 1943
Location: 147 Natoma Street

» 1950 – Relocated to quarters of Engine Company 6 at 356 7th Street
» 1951 – Company disbanded to organize Salvage Company 1
» 1939 – International 1939 Salvage Wagon / International#D-50-904 / Continental 6-cylinder 79HP
» 1950 - Mack 1950 Model Type-50 Salvage Wagon – closed cab / Mack #2064 / Mack 6-cylinder 110HP

 Salvage Company 1 – San Francisco Fire Department
Organized: 1951
Location: Assigned to quarters of Engine Company 6 at 356 7th Street

» 1955 – Relocated former quarters of Salvage Company 1A at 147 Natoma Street
» 1956 – April 9th relocated to quarters of Engine Company 6 at 356 7th Street
» 1976 – July 1st placed in unmanned reserve status due to budget cuts
» 1980 – Company disbanded
» 1951 to 1959 – Mack 1950 Model Type-50 Salvage Wagon – closed cab / Mack#2064 / Mack 6-cylinder 110 HP
» 1959 to 1960 – American LaFrance 1948 – 700BEO Tanker Wagon / ALF#9090 / ALF V-12 275HP
» 1959 – Conversion to salvage unit with pump, tank, and hose reels removed
» July 1, 1976 to 1977 – Unmanned special unit / Ford 1975 C-1000 tilt-cab Salvage Wagon / Ford#B-35395 / Caterpillar 8-cylinder diesel 225HP
» 1977 to 1980 – Unmanned special unit / American LaFrance 1948 – 700BEO Tanker Wagon / ALF#9090 / ALF V-12 275HP

In 1962, bassist Lloyd Pratt and piano player Steve Atkins started Commercial Recorders in a building that used to house one of the original turn-of-the-century San Francisco firehouses. A photography studio operated on the first floor of 149 Natoma between 2nd and 3rd and Mission and Howard Streets in the heart of downtown.
With the arrival of Pratt and Atkins, one of the city’s most successful jingle studios kept the second
floor abuzz with activity.

Prat is rumored to be the only white man to have played with The Count Basie Band.

During its seven-year run, Pratt and Atkins hosted, on average, 90 percent of the commercials running on San Francisco radio, assembled in both large and small scale in the studio’s 40×40×20 (width × depth × height) recording room.
A pole, left over from the building’s fire station days, ran through the middle. Partly because of the studio’s high ceilings, Pratt and Atkins elevated the control room to about shoulder height. That control room housed an old 2-bus RCA tube console, praised by those who used it for its warm, musical sound. Recording options included an Ampex ½-inch 3-track (later converted to 4-track), as well as two Ampex 350 2-track stereo machines and about 15 microphones. Live echo chambers resided in the basement.
Much like today’s commercials, some of Commercial’s radio ads combined voice overs with music libraries, although the clients with deeper pockets brought in some of the best musicians in town. “The top musicians always get the calls for recording, because they’re the top musicians,” says Atkins.
“That holds true to this day. When you’ve only got one hour to do a lot of work, you want the best possible people in there.”

Jazz luminaries such as Vince Guaraldi and Cal Tjader could be found playing as part of a trio or quartet, usually conducted by Atkins if he wasn’t sitting in on the sessions himself. “We could have anything from a trio to a 30-piece orchestra in there, depending on what was going on that day,” he says.
Celebrity vocalists could sing through an old RCA ribbon mic or Telefunken tube in the spacious room, which Dan Healy says had a sound that would knock your socks off . “Every day we’d have somebody famous reading a spot,” he says. Healy got his start at Commercial Recorders in 1964—mopping floors. For free. “This was in the heyday of Willie Mays when the Giants ruled the baseball world, and we did all of the Giants commercials with Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, two legendary baseball announcers. They’d come in two to three times a week.” Healy came in right around the time Atkins left  the company to pursue more work writing and producing jingles from an office in Columbus Tower, which housed Columbus Recording.

Healy was just a teenager when he volunteered his services to Pratt and Atkins, but he came from a strong musical background and, like a lot of budding engineers, had liked to fiddle with radios as a kid. He learned the art of engineering and producing at first via osmosis, taking care of his janitorial and maintenance duties at night so he could “hang out” during the day.
“I got to watch, and I got to learn,” Healy says. “The ad agencies bought the time, and each agency had these famous crack commercial producers. So I got to not only watch the engineering, I got to witness and watch the producers direct the announcers in how to speak, talk, and direct the commercials. I got a fantastic education that in later years really paid off for me.” Healy produced a number of commercials and radio broadcasts in later years, but during his time at Commercial, his interests leaned more toward his friends’ rock bands.

He lived on a houseboat in Larkspur, a short walk down Boardwalk 3 from concert promoter Bobby Collins, who often let the guys from Quicksilver Messenger Service crash on his floor. Nobody really had much money in this small bohemian community; a broken guitar amp often meant a missed gig. “We were the rebels-without-a-cause group, so we didn’t have the normal connections, either. We were outcasts and we wanted it that way,” says Healy. It didn’t take long for the neighbors to figure out that Healy had a day gig at a studio and that he knew important things, such as how to fix a guitar amp so they wouldn’t miss the next gig. A friendship with Quicksilver Messenger Service, especially lead guitarist John Cipollina, developed, and eventually Healy made it to one of their gigs. Opening act: The Grateful Dead. As the story goes, Healy was called on stage to figure out why the music suddenly stopped (probably a broken amp). He ended up fixing the problem, and then hung around backstage shooting the breeze with Jerry Garcia. Healy never did catch Quicksilver’s set like he promised, but he did catch a clear vision of his future as a studio and live engineer.
Still on the clock at Commercial, Healy switched his cleaning shift  to days and snuck in his friends’ bands at night. “Of course Lloyd Pratt and the guys would come in the next morning, and everybody would just be out of there by the time they came in,” Healy recalls. “The place would be thick with cigarette smoke, and there I’d be, sweeping the floors! Lloyd never said anything about it.”

A couple of years later, when the record labels began scoping out the happening San Francisco rock scene, Commercial Recorders made a deal with Mercury Records. One of the first majors to set up
offices and studios in the city, Mercury pursued a handful of what they felt were the most promising bands for demo deals. Commercial, knowing they would need a cheap place to record their demos, off ered the label a budget weekend rate. Neither Pratt nor Atkins really wanted to work on their days off and they weren’t too familiar with the new rock music anyway, so they turned to their resident maintenance guy/janitor/engineer-in-training Healy, who happened to be way into the rock scene. An insider, the musicians knew him, liked him, and partied with him outside of the studio. “The music community wasn’t that big then,” Healy recalls. “All the bands knew each other and hung out together. I guess because the whole scene was a bunch of people who had gotten out of high school and had some sort of wanderlust and left  home. We all somehow gravitated to San Francisco and stumbled into each other and the whole music scene was born.”
Because of his close relationship with many musicians, Mercury saw Healy as a missing link between their structured corporate world and the independent, go-with-the-flow hippie bands. “There was a lot of friction between the straight engineers and studio scenes,” says Healy. “So they were immediately looking for a new generation of engineers that could interface with the new generation of musicians.” Healy’s insider status and musical knowledge led to a one-year producer contract with Mercury, and he moved up from demo recordings to full-blown album projects. He was 20 years old. During that year he produced Tex-Mex group Sir Douglas Quintet’s career-boosting album, Mendocino, the band Fifty Foot Hose’s sole album, Cauldron (for the Mercury imprint Limelight), and a few others. By that time, the four tracks at Commercial Recorders weren’t enough for what Healy wanted to accomplish, so he sought out another studio and found one in the basement of one of the most recognizable buildings in North Beach—Columbus Tower—the same address that Steve Atkins had moved to just a few years before.

After Atkins and Healy moved on, Pratt continued to run a busy jingle production business. In 1969, Pratt merged his business with Coast Recorders, giving Coast even more muscle in the advertising world. Not long after, Bill Putnam named Pratt director of agency recording. Sadly, Pratt didn’t have much time to settle into his new position. He died of a heart attack in 1970.(2)

We owe these demos to Dan Healy, a friend of ours who is a technology wizard and has done amazing things for Quicksilver. It is at Commercial that the Dead make demos of many of the songs that will appear on our first album. A few arrangements of traditional tunes, two or three of our own songs, and that’s pretty much it.
Dan Healy was indeed an engineer at Commercial Records studio - he said in an interview with Sandy Troy: “Along about 1963 I moved into San Francisco and got a job in a little recording studio called Commercial Records. It’s defunct now. At the time it was the state-of-the-art studio in San Francisco. It had a 3-track tape recorder on half-inch tape. That was big time in those days, when 4 tracks were really rare… I worked days in this studio.”
Healy confirmed briefly that he did tape bands in the studio after-hours: “Because I was working in a studio which only operated from daylight to dark (8:00 to 5:00), after they locked up the studio at night we’d sneak in and record. So I would take all the bands in there. That was really a good trip.”

The book Skeleton Key also mentions: “Healy would sneak the Dead into Commercial Recorders at night, and they would record until dawn.(1)

Calif. Community Dispute Services resides there now, 2011.

Jerry recorded here after hours in
1966 Grateful Dead
The book Skeleton Key mentions: “Healy would sneak the Dead into Commercial Recorders at night, and they would record until dawn.(1)

2.)^Johnson,Heather, If These Halls Could Talk: A Historical Tour through San Francisco Recording Studios


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