• Tue. Dec 6th, 2022

By Ashley Moor and Katie Griffith, CityBeat Maya Drozdz & Andrea Gutmann Fuentes with research support from Ohio History Services Corps

On Sept. 6, the King Records studio buildings, at 1536-1540 Brewster Ave. in Evanston, were officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Being placed on the National Register of Historic Places will not only provide certain tax credits, easements and grants for those developing the property, it will also give King Records even more “gravitas,” as Charlie Dahan, co-author of King Records’ nomination proposal, calls it.

Dahan, said, ”The federal government is saying this is a significant place in American history — that it’s not just significant in Cincinnati and Ohio, but is significant to every U.S. citizen from Alaska to Florida to Maine.”

King Records crossed racial lines and recorded bluegrass, jazz, funk, soul and more. It is argued that the label produced some of the first rock n’ roll ever recorded.

Historic photo of King Records building Source: Cincinnati Enquirer Story on King Records, 2015 Date: 1940s-1960s. Photo: Hailey Bollinger

King Records’ spot on the National Register of Historic Places cements its status as an iconic fixture in the nation’s music history. From the 1940s into the early 1970s, the Cincinnati label produced several celebrated and legendary musicians, including James Brown, Bootsy Collins, Philip Paul and Otis Williams.

King Records was an important record label owned by Syd Nathan that was active from 1943-1968.

Back in June, the Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board approved the nomination of the King Records complex to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nominations for properties in Ohio are processed by the State Historic Preservation Office, and then the approved proposals are sent to the National Park Service, which ultimately makes the final decision.

King Records’ old studio/office on Brewster Avenue was named a historic landmark by the city in 2015, and in 2018 Cincinnati City Council approved a land swap with the existing owner of the former studio property, who had been threatening demolition of the dilapidated buildings.

King Records Employees, c. 1950. Source: Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 1940s-1950s

When that space operated as King Records, the building on the first parcel had two floors. The second floor held offices, storage, a remix studio and the art department. The first floor contained a large studio and areas for shipping and receiving, printing, inspection and insertion, plating and testing, machine shop, press room and mill room, according to a sketch in The King Records Story by Darren Blase.

Since forming in 2020, the King Records Legacy Foundation has been busy crafting a vision for a historic complex that will permanently mark Evanston as the birthplace of a special sound that influenced the nation. This placement on the National Register of Historic Places will aid in this vision, which includes the creation of a learning center on the property that features interactive aspects, including a recording studio, performance space, rotating and permanent exhibitions and an abundant collection of historic artifacts.

This building in Evanston served as King Records’ business offices, recording studio and pressing plant until 1971. The label was founded in 1943 by Jewish businessman Syd Nathan. King Records is credited as the first racially integrated workplace in Cincinnati. Black men and women made up 20% of the factory workers at the record press, and held integral creative, managerial and directorial positions within the company. Its vertically integrated mode of production made the creation and distribution of records extremely efficient. Singles could be recorded, mixed and mastered, pressed, and sent out to radio stations within a matter of days. King became the 6th largest record company in the US, capable of pressing one million records per month. Nearly 500 of its singles made the R&B, country and pop charts, with 32 number one singles. Syd Nathan was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2008, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame placed a historic marker in front of this building. The City of Cincinnati purchased it 10 years later to save it from demolition.