STUDIO 54: DIVINE DECADANCE
From 1943 to 1976, the former opera house at 254 W 54Th Street was owned by CBS and used as a production studio for To Tell the Truth, Beat the Clock and Captain Kangaroo. When the network moved to the Ed Sullivan Theatre, they sold the W 54th St building in 1976 to Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, who had the financial backing of Jack Dushey. In early 1977, Schrager and Rubell converted the the building into a nightclub/disco named for after the location’s previous use and street address. For the opening of Studio 54, a 4” layer of glitter was laid across the floors, which Schrager said was “like standing on stardust.” Weekend DJ Richie Kaczor, usually dressed injeans and t-shirt, manned the turntables; he turned Gloria Gaynor’s 1979 b-side “I Will Survive” into a #1 single by championing the song at Studio 54. The minimally-clad bartenders and busboys ensured many open bar tabs.
The clientele was a blend of A-list celebrities and beautiful, exhibitionist unknowns. The exclusivity of Studio 54 allowed celebrities to let loose without worries and the club quickly became a second home for the likes of Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, Halston, Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, Calvin Klein, Elton John, Tina Turner, Divine, Margaret Trudeau,Sylvia Miles, Francesco Scavullo, Truman Capote, Margaux Hemingway, Janice Dickinson, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Diana Ross, Cher, Salvador Dali, Diana Vreeland, John Travolta, Jacqueline Onassis, Brooke Shields and Martha Graham.
In December 1978, the coke-addled Rubell was quoted in the New York newspapers as saying the Studio 54 had made $7 million in its first year and that “only the Mafia made more money.” Shortly thereafter the nightclub was raided and Rubell and Schrager were arrested and charged with tax evasion; it was later revealed that they had failed to report over $2.5 million in revenue. They were the first people to be convicted of tax evasion for a single year. On 4 February 1980, with a guest list that included Ryan O’Neal, Mariel Hemingway, Jocelyn Wildenstein, Richard Gere, Gia Carangi, Jack Nicholson, Reggie Jackson, and Sylvester Stallone celebrated their last night before entering prison where they each served 13-months.
Schrager and Rubell sold the building, leased it from the new owners and on 12 September 1981, Studio 54 re-opened with Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein, Cary Grant, Lauren Hutton, Gloria Vanderbilt and Brooke Shields in attendance. Although the club was popular in the early 1980s, the velvet rope policy had to be considerably relaxed, which drove the glamorous and the famous to other venues like Danceteria, Area, The Church and Nell’s.