The Victor Record Pages
Philadelphia, or New York?
By Allan Sutton
When I first received the manuscript for John Bolig's Victor Green, Blue and Purple Label Series in 2006, I was concerned that the studio locations he cited were often at odds with those published in Rust & Debus' Complete [sic] Entertainment Discography. Queries to both authors concerning their sources brought no response from Mr. Rust, but a quick and definitive one from Dr. Bolig, who cited clear evidence from the original Victor files at the Sony-BMG archives (New York). In those many cases in which Mr. Rust's and Dr. Bolig's city listings are in conflict, the latter's citations are clearly correct based on the documentary evidence.
Further investigation has led to the discovery that Rust and Rust's many plagiarizers, in other published works, have cited many other Victor recording locations that either are not listed in, or are plainly contradicted by, the Victor files. However, the problem has turned out not to be limited to Rust and Rust-derived works. Recently, another well-known discographer has admitted to having guessed on the Victor recording locations in his published works. He reasoned — logically but erroneously, as inspection of the files reveals — that ethnic artists living in New York would have chosen to record there, rather than making the trip to Camden. The flaw in his reasoning stemmed from apparently not realizing that decisions concerning which studio was to be used for a given session were made by the Victor managers, not by their artists. This can be seen in surviving Victor artist contracts, which clearly state that recordings were to be made "at such time and place" as determined by the company.
Until 1914, Victor file details on recording locations are sparse. No doubt that is the reason for the absence of recording locations in Fagan & Moran's otherwise highly detailed Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings — like Dr. Bolig, Ted Fagan and Bill Moran refused to pass off guesswork as fact. The inheritors of the Fagan and Moran project at UC-Santa Barbara do cite speculative (and often apparently incorrect) recording locations on their website. To their credit, however, they clearly identify them as guesses and have recently cited this article in relation to their ongoing attempts to determine the correct recording locations.
The New York sessions, which constituted a small minority during Victor's early years, generally are indicated as such in the files. However, locations of the far larger number of "home laboratory" sessions usually are not noted with any consistency in the files until the mid-'teens. Here, however, we are fortunate to have the memoirs of the Sooy brothers as a guide. Recently published online by the Sarnoff Library, the memoirs of Raymond and Harry O. Sooy — Victor's leading recording engineers from the earliest days of the company — clearly state the opening and closing dates of Victor's many studios.
The following list of Victor studios in operation from 1900 to 1920 is taken from the Sooys' memoirs, correlated with what can be gleaned from the Victor recording files. After 1913, the files become increasingly explicit on studio locations, and by the mid-'teens there is rarely any doubt as to where a Victor recording session took place.
CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY — MAIN STUDIOS:
1890s: Collings Carriage Factory Building
c. February 1900–September
1901: Johnson Factory Building
Note: From September 1901 until November 6, 1907, most Victor recordings were made in Philadelphia. A relatively small number (virtually all of them by Red Seal artists) are documented in the files as having been made in New York during this period. There is no documentary evidence of any commercially issued Victor recordings having been made in Camden during this period.
6, 1907 – 1930s: Front & Cooper Streets (Southwest corner)
On March 13, 1911, the studios were moved to the newly added seventh floor of this building. New studios were added at this location over the years, the last major addition being a large room for orchestral sessions in late 1924. After RCA's acquisition of Victor in 1929, the Camden studios were slowly phased out during the 1930s in favor of New York.
NEW JERSEY — SUPPLEMENTAL STUDIOS:
1918 – 1930s: Church Studio
N. 5th Street)
Victor's Philadelphia studio was located on the second floor of an office building at the corner of Tenth and Lombard streets, formerly the site of the Berliner Gramophone Company offices. A matrix-plating plant was located in the basement, and a blank-processing department was opened on the third floor in January 1904.
During its stay in Philadelphia, Victor also operated supplementary studios in New York for the convenience of their Red Seal artists. The first Philadelphia Red Seal session did not take place until July 22, 1907. Harry Sooy stated, "Red Seal engagements in [Philadelphia] were few, as we moved in November to our new Laboratory in Camden."
As far as can be ascertained from documentary and circumstantial evidence, no commercially issued recordings were made in Camden while the Philadelphia studio was in operation. Thus, the many published citations of Camden recording dates from September 1901 to November 5 or 6, 1907, are in error. The Philadelphia studio was vacated in early November 1907, after Victor opened its new main studio in Camden.
Initially, Victor maintained New York studios primarily for the convenience of its Red Seal artists. Other artists were required to travel to Philadelphia, or later Camden, with allowances made for travel and lodging expenses. Harry Sooy stated that all Red Seal sessions prior to July 22, 1907, were held in New York, and file evidence seems to support his assertion.
26, 1903 – October 8, 1904:
Carnegie Hall Annex (Room 826)
8, 1904 – June 1, 1909: 234 Fifth Avenue
June 2, 1909 – (?): 37–39 E. 29th Street
(?) – January 18, 1917: 22 W. 37th Street
19, 1917 – January 5, 1921: 46 West 38th Street (12th floor)
Note: This article also appears in the Autumn 2009 edition of Vintage Jazz Mart (UK).
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