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Sound Museum closure cues worry for Allston music future

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The city and local musicians are scrambling to deal with the impending closure of the Sound Museum in Allston, where locals fear the ongoing disappearance of rehearsal space is another sign of continued erosion of the “Rock City” neighborhood’s once-thriving cultural scene.

The various artists who rent space at the longstanding rehearsal space at 155 N. Beacon St. have to be out by the end of January, as the Sound Museum building will soon make way for another biotech development to join what’s become quite a few of them in Allston.

This latest one, by developer IQHQ, which didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday, will involve knocking down the current structure and replacing it with a “life science campus totaling approximately 409,395 square feet,” per the description on the Boston Planning & Development Agency website.

“The Project will replace an older, nondescript building — nearing the end of its useful life — with new, sustainably designed buildings that will reflect the scale and character of the adjacent residential neighborhood, and programmed to encourage public accessibility and the activation of North Beacon Street,” the BPDA description continues.

But the trouble, artists and activists in Allston say, is that that “nondescript building” contains one of the last few practice spaces around, and one that’s provided a throughline for new generations of musicians who have fewer footholds than ever in the neighborhood.

The Sound Museum is a 40,000-square foot building divided into what several current and former tenants estimate to be nearing 100 rented-out rooms, each of them shared between a couple of different bands that pool together monthly leases. No one seems to know quite how many musicians are paying some sort of rent at any given time, and the owner, under advice from counsel, isn’t talking.

Sound Museum owner William “Des” Desmond, whose family has run the assorted Sound Museum locations for decades, declined to comment, but wrote in a flier given to tenants that with a “heavy heart” the lease was up come Jan. 31.

“We are working on finding a location to rebuild as soon as possible but there will be some time between our vacating and when we will will be able to provide alternative practice space,” Desmond wrote earlier this month.

Different stakeholders point fingers in various directions, but few of the locals are happy that this particularly large and relatively cheap space is out.

“It’s always been very much a nexus for the Boston music scene,” said Nick Greico, an arts activist and musician who said he’s been a Sound Museum tenant various times over the years. “The city needs to push the BPDA to approve and enforce an adequate space from IQHQ, and it needs to be managed properly.”

The city’s aware of the buzz around this, sending out a letter earlier this month saying that IQHQ will be gifting them a building nearby as a replacement, and that they’re working on short-term solutions in the meantime as the yet-to-be-finalized substitute building gets figured out as a future large, cheap practice space.

“We recognize that this new space may not be ready for immediate use and the current tenants will be impacted by the closure of 155 N Beacon Street. Our office will work to find solutions and support for musicians wherever possible. We know this outcome will affect a large community and impact working musicians in our city, where lack of available space is already a critical issue.”

The BPDA said much the same, asserting that it’s “working intently with IQHQ and the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture to ensure there is proper mitigation agreed upon so that the musicians have a long term solution to affordable rehearsal space in Allston-Brighton.” The BPDA added that the city “has requested that the musicians be supported through this transition,” and that it’s awaiting more information from IQHQ, after which there will be more public hearings.

City Councilor Liz Breadon, who represents Allston-Brighton, said she’s working with the city to “identify swing space in the interim.” She added that in the bigger picture, she plans on continuing to try to move for an arts district in Allston to try to help preserve some of what makes the neighborhood well known.

“The music scene has been a very important part of Allston for decades,” she said, “and we’ve lost many small venues that are likely the proving ground for so many acts, so we really have to make a decision – are we going to support this part of the economy, or are we not?”

Allston, long called “Allston Rock City” for its music scene — as opposed to other and equally apt moniker “Rat City” — has been known for its music scene, but, as Breadon noted, the heavy development of the area and rising rents have led to many closures, including the legendary Great Scott music club.

“There’s a history here — there’s an identity here in terms of arts and culture and it’s so much of who we are,” said Anthony D’Isidoro of the Allston Civic Association. “It really strips us of a bit of who we are.”

And, he said, if the city’s not careful, even the future gifted building from IQHQ could come too late.

“If something down the line does develop, are there even gonna be any artists left around to show any interest?” he said.

Scott Matalon, another tenant, said he’d bounced around with the Sound Museum as it was priced out of Alewife and other sites decades ago.

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