Fantasy Studios, internationally renowned film and music studio, to close its doors

Carter Beauford, Adam Munoz and Herbie Hancock in Studio A of Fantasy Studios in Berkeley which will close on Sept. 15. Photo: Fantasy Studios

Fantasy Studios, which has been a center of the music and film scene in the Bay Area since 1971, is shutting down.

On Friday, the operators of the company, which is located in West Berkeley, sent out an email to its community stating that it would close in about six weeks.

“We are sad to inform you that the Berkeley building at 2600 Tenth Street in which we operate is being sold, and that Fantasy Recording Studios will be closing effective September 15th, 2018.

We wish to thank you for your patronage and for the privilege of working with you on the incredible projects you have completed at Fantasy. We are grateful and proud that your works of art will represent us forever.

Our wonderful staff engineers and producers have freelance relationships with other studios and production spaces, and would love to continue serving you going forward.

Again, thank you for everything. Jeffrey, Jesse, Adam, Alberto, Robert, Cody, and James send you our best wishes on your future endeavors.

The Fantasy Studios Team”

Rich Robbins, the founder of Wareham Development, which bought the building and the license to the Fantasy name in 2007, confirmed by email that the studio would close in six weeks. The building will go on the market soon, he wrote. He promised to provide more details to Berkeleyside on Monday.

News that the studio would close prompted an outpouring of sadness on social media. Dozens of people wrote about how they had recorded music there or done film-related work there.

The list of accomplished artists who have recorded at Fantasy include Green Day, Tony Bennett, Bobby McFerrin, Country Joe McDonald, Creedence Clearwater Revival, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Flora Purim, Journey, Santana, Robert Cray, Aerosmith, Counting Crows, Chris Isaak, and many more. The building has also been a film center for almost 30 years. At least three Academy Award-winning films, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient, were produced there.

Fantasy Studios’ storied past

Two brothers, Max and Sol Weiss, founded Fantasy Records in San Francisco in 1949. It was primarily a jazz and comedy label.

In 1955, Saul Zaentz, who had worked with Norman Granz, a jazz producer and promoter, started to work for Fantasy Records. In 1967, Zaentz and a group of investors purchased the label and then, in 1971, moved it into a two-story building on Tenth and Parker streets. Fantasy went on to become the largest jazz record label in the world.

Fantasy hit the big time when it signed a rock band, The Golliwogs, led by a Fantasy shipping clerk, John Fogerty. The group rechristened itself Creedence Clearwater Revival and went on to sell 5 million albums.

Zaentz formed The Saul Zaentz Company in 1972 and moved into film production with the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, based on the book by Ken Kesey. It won a Best Picture award and Oscars for its director Milos Forman and its stars, Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher.

The financial success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest enabled Zaentz to add a new seven-story building in 1980 that became one of the defining features of West Berkeley’s skyline. The new structure contained a fully equipped dubbing stage and picture and sound editing suites. Zaentz added a second film mixing stage and additional editing rooms in 1989.

Films produced by the Saul Zaentz Company

The building became known as The Zaentz Media Center and was used by filmmakers and musicians from around the world. Numerous successful albums were recorded there, including Green Day’s 1994 Dookie and Santana’s 1999 Supernatural, which went 15 times platinum and garnered nine Grammy Awards. In 2014, a documentary, Facing Fear, which was produced and edited at the center, was nominated for an Academy Award in the short documentary section.

The Zaentz Media Center provides a state-of-the-art sound recording and mixing in the building as well as post-production services. It records audiobooks as well as interviews and podcasts with news outlets like NPR and Mother Jones.

“As an integral part of the Zaentz Media Center, we provide services for the music, film, video, and game communities,” according to its website. “Fantasy continues to be one of the most requested recording studios on the West Coast with an extensive selection of microphones, outboard gear, instruments, and natural echo chambers. Our facility is comprised of three legendary recording and mixing rooms, all equipped with ProTools HDX. We also have two concert quality grand pianos. We offer services such as ISDN to link to studios worldwide, comprehensive media transfer work, editing and on-site mastering. We are available for film, video, photo shoots, live streaming, conferences, and special events.”

The Fantasy building at 2600 Tenth St. in Berkeley. Photo: Google Street View

In 2004, the Concord Music Group purchased Fantasy Records for a reported $83 million. The building was not included in the transaction, but the record company continued to lease space there.

In 2007, Wareham Development paid more than $20 million for the 2.64-acre property. The Fantasy Building has been used since then by independent filmmakers, musicians, gamers and television producers from around the world. Fantasy has also given free recording time to musicians with the Berkeley High Jazz Program.

Wareham Development, the Saul Zaentz Company, and the city of Berkeley all jointly fund the Berkeley Film Foundation, which supports local filmmakers

Zaentz died from complications from Alzheimer’s Disease in 2014. He was 92.