Throughout it’s initial ‘hey day,’ RKO’s Castle Hill movie theater in The Bronx was filled with neighborhood kids cheering Saturday matinees. Live performances added to the theater’s allure, with guest appearances by The Three Stooges and other stellar attractions performing on stage before their films unspooled. Eventually, as the neighborhood changed and television eroded the movie-going audience, the Castle Hill closed and waited patiently for its next incarnation.
In 1983 Aimee Garcia-Cortese, a young pastor who “received the call from God,” returned to her old neighborhood and founded the Crossroads Tabernacle in a small storefront just down the street from the shuttered movie house. Over the next twenty-five years, the Crossroads congregation far outgrew their storefront home. A search for larger quarters made the now deserted theater an obvious choice. When a sizeable donation from a wealthy parishioner funded the purchase, Pastor Cortese began to look for an architect who could turn it into a contemporary church. Given the size of the building and the growing needs of the community, administrative facilities with a children’s educational wing were included in the plans as was one rather unusual request, a professional recording studio.
Pastor Aimee’s son Joseph had been a successful musician, touring with Roberta Flack and other celebrated recording artists. When Joseph returned home to The Bronx with his wife and family, he was anxious to offer his musical talents to the church. Joseph built a small 16 track analog studio over the original storefront church, and used it for religious recordings as well as for young rap and hip hop artists from the neighborhood who were combining their music with messages of faith.
Keenly aware of the many benefits music held for the young people in the congregation, Pastor Aimee was committed to building a professional level studio for the new Tabernacle. In 1998, when she retired and passed the congregation on to her son, she insisted that he find the very best possible designer for this integral part of their new home. Starting out at the top of his wish list, Joseph approached renowned studio designer/acoustician John Storyk of NY’s Walters-Storyk Design Group. Intrigued by the challenge of building a high-end studio for a church, Storyk asked Pastor Joe who was designing the Sanctuary, offices and children’s center. Soon WSDG was awarded the entire project.
“Though our reputation was established in the pro audio field, we’ve designed distance learning centers, corporate conference rooms, schools, classrooms, etc. We were able to provide Pastor Joe with a flexible design and an affordable construction package through Chris Bowman and his CHBO Construction firm, with whom we have a long-term relationship” Storyk says. “We have close working relationships with a number of skilled specialists, including lighting designer Robert Wolsch and HVAC expert Marcy Ramos, both of whom brought their talents to this project.
“Our goal for the sanctuary was to carve a handsome and beautifully-sounding chapel out of that cavernous theater. We also needed to insure Pastor Joe that services could be held throughout the construction period. We accomplished this by draping the large hall with a huge, 50 foot long, floor-to-ceiling polyurethane curtain that kept the worshipers relatively plaster-free during Sunday and Tuesday services. We’re extremely proud of the fact that Pastor Joe didn’t miss a single service in the entire three-year-plus construction process.”
Interestingly, the Studio On The Hill was completed before the Sanctuary. “Pastor Joe’s mandate was to get the studio up and running as quickly as possible,” Storyk says. “We designed a 1000 sq. ft. studio and provided variable acoustics for the live room with the installation of special hard-wood panels which are lined with 2″ thick insulation and covered with attractive cloth faces. Opening the panels gives the room an absorptive ‘dead’ sound. Closing them changes the room’s reverb time, making it more suitable for horns and acoustic instruments. The studio also features three isolation booths for vocals or solo performances.”
The control room is outfitted with a Sony DMX-R100 digital recording console which features 48 full-function channels, 24 analog input channels and 5.1 Surround capabilities all for around $16k. Storyk has long been a fan of Genelec 1038A monitors. The studio is wired to provide high-quality 48 channel recording of live concert events and services held in the sanctuary.
Pastor Joe had always intended that the studio be available for outside recording projects. Since the room opened in 2003, a number of gospel and contemporary Christian music albums have been recorded and mixed there. “We are very conscious of our mission,” he says. “Many studios develop niche followings, and we are blessed that the artists and producers who chose to work here share our commitment and faith. The word is spreading about the sound quality and capabilities of the room (it is also wired for video production). Clients are also intrigued by our connection to countless gold and platinum albums through the many high profile studios designed by John Storyk. Few professional recording studios cater exclusively to faith-based music, but this is our true calling, and we have managed to keep our rates extremely affordable so these artists are able to bring us their projects.”
In addition to religious services, the Sanctuary’s 800 seat theater is used for concerts, dramatic performances, and neighborhood outreach events. Both a new stage (with wheelchair access), and fixed-tier seating have been incorporated into the design. The front of the Sanctuary has also been designed with a flexible, multi-purpose open space between the stage and the fixed seats. This area frequently serves as a banquet hall for as many as 300 guests, and numerous community events are held throughout the year beneath the high, light blue ceiling dome.
WSDG partner/interior designer Beth Walters provided the Sanctuary with a simple, un-ostentatious look that kept within Crossroads’ budget but never stinted on quality. “Selecting the most appropriate colors, paying special attention to lighting and fixtures, and very, very careful shopping enabled us to create a warm, inspirational motif for this room that we are all proud of,” she says.
Beyond the look of the Sanctuary, Pastor Joe has received many compliments on it’s sonic qualities. “This is hardly surprising,” he says, “as WSDG is known as a leader in room acoustics. To achieve optimum listening capabilities for the large hall, Storyk treated the dome ceiling with a coat of K-13 spray-on acoustical foam. The walls were also outfitted with an innovative special treatment. “We are always looking for new, cost-effective methods of controlling sound reflection,” Storyk says. “Just before we began work on the Sanctuary we discovered Topakustik Absorption Panels, a new Swiss-made absorptive material fashioned from wood. We had excellent results with it in a NYC recording studio, and I felt it would provide an attractive and affordable option for Crossroads. It met all of our aesthetic and ergonomic requirements, and everyone is very pleased with the results.”