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The City of Philadelphia’s Committee on Historic Designation unanimously voted yesterday to recommend the former Sigma Sound Studios be designated a historic space.

The building that was the birthplace of countless classics, from David Bowie’s “Young Americans” to Erykah Badu’s “Otherside of the Game,” has been in limbo since the studio closed in 2013. A developer bought the two-story grey brick space at 12th and Spring in 2015, with plans to convert it to condominiums, but the music community rallied in opposition.

“I didn’t need convincing about Sigma because of what I already knew,” said Emily Cooperman of the Committee on Historic Designation in yesterday’s Zoom meeting after the vote passed. Nevertheless, she was impressed with the density of information prepared by advocates and presented to the City. “It gets me in my Philly heart is all I can say.”

The former studio site first came up before the Committee at its August meeting, when representatives of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, as well as Aaron Levinson of University of the Arts and Max Ochester of Brewerytown Beats, spoke in favor of making the building a historic space. Philadelphia attorney Nino Tinari also appeared at that meeting to represent the property owners — an investment partnership going under the name 210 North 12th Street Investments LLC and 212 North 12th Street Investments LLC — and he requested additional time so “we can get an opportunity to put together our defense.”

Tinari was a no-show at yesterday’s meeting, and after asking for him several times — as well inquiring if anybody in the Zoom meeting was there to speak for the property owner — Cooperman called for the committee’s vote.

Many of Sigma’s advocates reiterated their support at the meeting. “Artists used this as a home away from home,” Ochester said. “In the music business, that’s an incredible thing.”

Michael Tarsia, son of studio owner / operator Joe Tarsia, spoke of the importance of preserving Sigma to maintain the city’s cultural heritage. “So many cities [do this],”
Tarsia said. “You go to Memphis, there’s Sun Studio. You go to Nashville, there’s RCA. In Philadelphia, the arts of music aren’t represented as well as the arts of painting, sculpture…the visual arts.”

Tarisa also spoke of Sigma as an inclusive space that embraced all cultures, genders, and religions, something echoed by commenter Dana Fedeli. “This building was home of the physical and sonic manifestation of post-Civil Rights Black history…an enduring style of music that is still [played], sampled, and enjoyed across the world today.”

With yesterday’s unanimous Committee vote, the matter of the Sigma Studio site advances to the City of Philadelphia’s full Historical Commission, who ultimately decides whether or not the space is designated historic and listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The Historical Commission’s next meeting is Friday, November 13th, at 9 a.m. via Zoom, more information can be found here.

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