After only two years in service, Bill Putnam's United Recorders in Los Angeles was booked to the limits of its capacity. The biggest recording artists of their time went in and out in a continuous stream, led by Frank Sinatra and his infamous Rat Pack. Putnam's operation urgently required an extension, and so, in the early '60s, United's sister studio, Western Recorders, opened its doors at the famous 6000 West Sunset Boulevard location, separated from its older sibling only by a parking lot.
Many established artists continued to record at United, as they still do today, though it is now known as Ocean Way. However, the Western portion of Putnam's flagship studio became home to a younger, emerging crowd. In its heyday, the United Western complex was a veritable recording empire, with each of its halves boasting a large live room (a "miniature concert hall”, as current Ocean Way owner Allen Sides put it so eloquently), complemented by a couple of smaller rooms that were nevertheless still very impressive.
Studio 1, the heart of the Western complex, has a very distinctive look, with its cream-coloured floor and walls. Putnam's original acoustic design has been retained to this day, and the room is considered to be among the best-sounding recording spaces on earth. Dean Martin favoured Studio 1, Elvis recorded his 1968 Christmas Special here, and the title themes to films and TV shows such as The Godfather, Hawaii Five-O and Mission Impossible were recorded in this room.
Western's Studio 2 is clearly smaller, but equally beautifully designed, with its distinctive wood-panelled walls. By comparison with the two main rooms, the 40-square-metre live room of Studio 3 seems almost claustrophobic — but despite this, it became Brian Wilson's favourite playground, and it was the place where one of pop music's greatest miracles, Pet Sounds, came to life. It is hard to believe that Wilson was able to fit 15-piece ensembles into this room, including drum kits, organ, a baby grand piano, and sometimes even a string section. As Jim Cogan and William Clark wrote in their beautiful book, Temples Of Sound, there is a "jarring disconnect” between the sonic scope of the record and the actual size of the room.
In 1977, Allen Sides acquired the entire facility, renaming the former United portion Ocean Way. He sold the Western part of the complex to Internet pioneer Rick Adams in 1999. Renamed Cello Studios, the famous Western rooms were then catering for rock bands such as Green Day, Blink 182 and the Stone Temple Pilots.
Despite their famous clientele, Cello went bankrupt in 2005, and the premises almost fell into the hands of real-estate speculators, whose main goal almost certainly would not have been the preservation of these historically significant — and still great-sounding — recording spaces. But in early 2006, Doug Rogers and his software instrument company EastWest came to the rescue of the complex. While Studios 1, 2 and 3 were kept as Bill Putnam had designed them, the entire rest of the building was remodelled in the following two years. This process was overseen by French designer and architect Philippe Starck, who redesigned the lobby, the office spaces and virtually all other parts of the building except the main studio rooms, in his incomparable fashion. The photos in this article show the newly renovated building in 2009, only weeks before its grand reopening. Today the 2000-square-metre premises at 6000 West Sunset Boulevard are home not only to the three classic Western Recorders studio rooms, but also to the EastWest offices and editing suites, which provide work spaces for a couple of dozen employees.
The recording equipment kept in the studios is certainly on a par with the sonic excellence of the rooms themselves. Studio 1 boasts an 80-channel Neve 8078 console, while the custom 8028 in Studio 2 features no fewer than 40 channels of famous Class A Neve input modules. In Studio 3, a legendary — and very rare — Trident A-Range console has been put into service, and EastWest also retains one of the few remaining operational tube-based EMI REDD.17 desks, among many other pieces of classic outboard gear.