This Day in 1977: Studio 54 Opens

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
This Day in 1977: Studio 54 Opens

40 years ago, one of the most famous dance clubs of the ‘70s – indeed, some would say that it was the only club in New York City that mattered during the disco era – first opened its doors.

The establishment known as Studio 54 originally began life in 1927 as the Gallo Opera House, a facility designed by noted architect Eugene De Rosa and named for the man who owned it, Fortune Gallo, but within two years it had proven to be such a financial failure that the property suffered the indignity of foreclosure. Its new owners renamed it The New Yorker, but it was no more successful under its new guise. In fact, it wasn’t until 1943 that things turned around for the property: that’s when CBS bought the theater, renamed it Studio 52 (it was the 52nd studio purchased by the network, in case you’re wondering about the significance of the number), and turned it into the home of such radio and TV shows as What’s My Line, The $64,000 Question, Password, To Tell the Truth, Beat the Clock, The Jack Benny Show, I’ve Got a Secret, and the one and only Captain Kangaroo. In 1976, however, the studio was put up for sale, and that’s when things started to get interesting.

Although a number of members of the NYC art and fashion community had been interested in the idea of turning the studio into a nightclub, it was Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager – with a little help from Jack Dushey – who actually turned the idea into a reality. It took six weeks and $400,000 to turn Studio 52 into Studio 54, but once it opened, it was clear that it was worth every penny.

Given how legendary it became, it’s a little surprising that the original glory years of Studio 54 only lasted from April 1977 to February 1980, but when Rubell was quoted as saying that the club had made $7 million in its first year and that “only the Mafia made more money,” you could hear the collective eyebrows of the IRS rising all the way in Washington, DC. One raid later, and Rubell and Schrager were under arrest and charged with tax evasion. End of story.

Well, not really. In 1981, Studio 54 reopened its doors, this time lasting until 1986. But the original magic of the disco era could never be recaptured.