From Bianca Jagger's entrance to the club on a white horse on her 30th birthday to the massive neon sculpture of the man in the moon with a cocaine spoon under his nose, Manhattan's Studio 54 is more frequently associated with the excesses of the Disco era than any other club. Clearly designed to financially capitalize on the late 70's Disco explosion, for a time Studio 54 was a fabulous success. However, within 3 years, the Studio 54 empire had come crushing down and the original owners were in prison. The Studio 54 name and stories of decadence and debauchery are continually revived as 70's nostalgia, but the true glory days of the club were brief.
Studio 54 was located at 254 West 54th Street in a building that had hosted an opera, theater, and television studio at various times in its history. Former model Uva Harden initiated the first plans to convert the building into a state-of-the-art disco. He approached gallery owner Frank Lloyd to help finance the project, but this financing plan fell through when Lloyd lost a 9 million dollar lawsuit to the estate of artist Mark Rothko. Carmen D'Alessio, who had already signed on to be the primary promoter of the club, suggested that club owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager might be interested. The pair had been friends since college and were enjoying some success as owners of the club Enchanted Garden, located in Queens. When Enchanted Garden began to have difficulties getting along with its neighbors, Rubell and Schrager decided to pursue their options with the ex-television studio in Manhattan. Harden was pushed out of the project and Carmen D'Alessio was given control over much of the design of Studio 54. The massive project of turning the space into an operable disco proceeded at a breakneck pace to prepare for opening on the night of April 26, 1977.
With A-list connections across New York City, Carmen D'Alessio lined up celebrities to attend opening night. With the New York media focused on the club's opening, Bianca Jagger, Brooke Shields, Cher, Margaux Hemingway and Donald Trump all shared the spotlight. Chaos ensued outside of the club with hordes attempting to get in. Some celebrities such as Mick Jagger and Frank Sinatra failed to make it inside. The guarding of the door and sometimes seemingly random determination of who made it inside and who didn't became an infamous trademark of Studio 54. In an effort to combat somewhat disappointing attendance early on, Carmen D'Alessio came up with the idea of hosting a 30th birthday party for her friend Bianca Jagger. With former husband Mick, Liza Minnelli and fashion designer Halston in attendance among others, Bianca entered the club on a white horse. The resulting media coverage firmly established Studio 54 as the preferred club for New York celebrities. Within its first two years of operation, Studio 54 counted the President's mother Lillian Carter, Elton John, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, and Elizabeth Taylor among those who shared in the festivities.
Although Studio 54 possessed an outstanding sound system installed by Richard Long, the club was always more about celebrity than about music. Richie Kaczor was hired as primary DJ and for the first few months of its existence the Gallery's DJ Nicky Siano spun the records during the week. The music of choice for Studio 54 was mainstream Disco. Apparently, after a few months, Steve Rubell believed Siano's taste in music was too underground and he was let go. Studio 54 revelers came to celebrate the Disco music that was swiftly taking over the mainstream Pop music business.
Studio 54 became a world-famous icon for Disco and the hedonistic life of the 'beautiful people.' Unfortunately, it was also soon as powerfully associated with drugs and questionable financial practices. Federal agents raided Studio 54 on December 14, 1978. Financial records were confiscated and Ian Schrager was arrested for cocaine possession. Legal wrangling continued throughout much of the following year and in November of 1979 Rubell and Schrager pled guilty on charges of embezzlement. By March of 1980 they were serving time in federal prison. Their original sentence was 3 1/2 years, but that sentence was reduced to 13 months when they agreed to share information with federal agents. Studio 54 continued on for a time. The club was sold to hotel and restaurant owner Mark Fleischman for 5 million dollars. Financial success and stability continued for a number of years, but Studio 54 would never return to its glory days and the doors were closed permanently in 1986. Steve Rubell died from AIDS complications in 1989. Ian Schrager has pursued a lucrative career in hotel and resort ownership. In recent years Studio 54 hosted the phenomenally successful Broadway revival of Cabaret. Today Studio 54 is home to a run of Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins.