Downtown Phoenix gets more entertainment from Walter Studios

The folks behind Walter Productions are in the midst of a busy summer. As well as getting their fantastic art cars ready for Burning Man later this month, the local Immersive Entertainment production company has recently added to its small empire of event venues around the Valley.

During the last week of June, they opened Walter Studios, a 16,000 square foot venue located at Seventh Avenue and Roosevelt Street. Much like the company’s other venues, including popular immersive art/music space Walter Where? House and the arty brewery Walter Station, the cavernous venue fulfills a number of roles.

Walter Studios is described as an “evolving community concept [and] house of fun” on his Facebook page. The 4,500 square foot main venue, dubbed Studio A, hosts concerts and electronic dance music events.

Meanwhile, there is an art gallery on the premises, as well as a bar, restaurant, lounge, and hangout called the Honey Bar on the side of the building facing Roosevelt Street.

Walter Productions owner Kirk Strawn describes the location as a “multi-dimensional concept” that embodies one of the goals of the company, which was founded in 2008.

“A big part of establishing our roots in Phoenix over the years has been creating spaces where people want to come and gather,” he said recently. Phoenix New Times. “And so our vision is to be a place where you can go from breakfast until late at night and be a community gathering place. It’s a platform for artists and we want a place where people find the inspiration and where they feel comfortable expressing themselves.

Walter Studios has been busy every weekend since it opened with EDM gigs from well-known DJs/producers such as UK legend Lee Burridge, Desert Hearts collective Mikey Lion and Dirtybird Records signee Ardalan. DJs perform from Kalliope, a massive art car and mobile stage that is currently parked inside Studio A.

Local DJs also perform regularly at Walter Studios. Phoenix-based Recordbar Radio launched its RBR Live event series at the venue in June, and weekly brunch DJ sessions take place inside the Honey Bar on Sunday afternoons.

Click to enlarge

Mikey Lion of the Desert Hearts collective performs at Walter Studios.

Peter Speyer

Studio A also functions as a recording studio (hence its name) for film, television, and music production, which dates back to the property’s origins as the headquarters of the legendary local Native American-focused label Canyon Records. Built in 1948 by label co-founders Ray and Mary Boley, the building has hosted recording sessions for Southwestern musicians, including Navajo singer Ed Lee Natay. In 1953, the couple started now-defunct Canyon Films, which shot various commercials, movies, and TV shows on the property.

“It was built to be a studio, so we really wanted to celebrate that part of its history and adapt it,” says Strawn.

Walter Productions bought the property in 2014 after Strawn saw “only possibilities” there.

“We walked in and there were audio recording and editing bays, a big soundstage and one of the biggest [cyclorama] walls of the valley,” he says. “We thought, ‘We could really do something here’ and create a unique space.”

They were perhaps the only ones. In 2014, this part of Seventh Avenue would have been best described as “sleepy.” Located about halfway between the art havens of Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Row, it was a cultural dead zone with mostly offices and only a handful of family restaurants in the area.

“When we acquired the building and told people it would one day be a gathering space, the common reaction was, ‘No one will ever go there because it’s too far from Roosevelt Row and in the middle of nowhere,” says Strawn.

Things have changed a bit in the region over the past eight years. Popular nightspot Gracie’s Tax Bar and several high-end apartment buildings have since opened in the area. which is now known as the Triangle Neighborhood (because it is bordered by Grand Avenue, Seventh, and Roosevelt).

“If you look at the growth of Grand Avenue and the migration in some ways that’s happened there in terms of arts and entertainment, we’re right in the middle now,” Strawn says. “We’re on the northeast corner of the Triangle neighborhood, which has become this cool, diverse area.”

It took Walter Productions several years to transform the property into its current form, as it was largely used as storage for the company’s fleet of art cars (including Kalliope and a huge VW Bug called Big Red) .

Click to enlarge

The interior of the Honey Bar at Walter Studios.

Peter Speyer

In 2020, renovations began on the building, including converting Studio A into more than one venue. Lighting fixtures were added to a large circular beam, a sound system was installed, former locker rooms became restrooms, and offices were transformed into a Honey Bar. The cyclorama wall, however, remained intact, as Strawn says they wanted to project video feeds onto it.

“Projection as a medium really has a lot of potential, so we thought it would be perfect for that purpose,” he says. “It adds so much to the space [during events].”

The circular truss is also used to hang a silver metal sculpture by local artist Sean T French called PsyRen. Strawn says one of their goals for Walter Studios is to exhibit art in unique ways.

“Instead of having a disco ball, we wanted to show Sean’s work,” he says. “It will be interesting to see it when the lights reach it.”

Strawn says they aren’t done making improvements to the property. Current plans include adding another lounge called the Blue Bar in the coming months.

“This is probably one of the most anticipated developments of our project,” he says. “As with all things Walter Studios, we work with a number of different artists to help us create something really, really unique.”

David H. Henry