The entrance to Fire Station Studios. It is a brick building with plaques on either side of the door, second-story windows and a sign reading “Sound Recording Technology Program, School of Music.”

Exciting Changes at Historic Fire Station Studios

By Susannah Wilson
Music Journalist

Renovations have begun at Fire Station Studios, a historic building which stands discreetly adjacent San Marcos’s current fire station, enjoying its status as a well-established landmark of the city. Since 1985, the building has become a beloved recording studio of the Southwest, due in no small part to its first engineer, Ricky Mullins, whom we keep in our minds this month following his recent passing.

Nestled between the Texas State University campus and The Square, the cheerful brick building with teal trim proudly displays a few informational plaques on its front which explain its significance as a fire station and city hall in the early 20th century. Since giving up those roles, it’s served as a local museum and even an attorney’s office before being sold to the University in the early 1990s.

In brown letters, the words “Sound Recording Technology Program, School of Music” over the front entrance are the only external indication that this building belongs to the University. Even once you step inside, the building feels more like a professional recording space than a school sanctioned space, and indeed, it operates as both.

Artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Doug Sahm, Tish Hinojosa have recorded here since the building was renovated into a studio. In 2013, alt-rock band Blue October recorded their seventh album, Sway, at Fire Station Studios. Since the program began, Texas State’s Sound Recording students have had the privilege of observing and even assisting on the sessions run by the staff engineers.

Two plaques on a brick wall. The top plaque reads “Landmarks Award, 1986. A.W. (Lucky) Tomblin Family. Old City Hall and Fire Station. The heritage association of San Marcos.” The bottom plaque reads “Entered in the National Register of Historic Places, 1983.”
Plaques outside the front entrance give information about the building’s history. Photo by Susannah Wilson.

This year, the studio is being utilized by a new group. The Texas State University Rock Ensemble, headed by Jose Garza from the music faculty, is experimenting with a pilot semester in the hopes of eventually expanding into a course offered for credit. The Rock Ensemble meets on Tuesday evenings in the upstairs “A Room,” which has been the main recording room for countless visiting artists since its renovation in the 1980s. However, Fire Station Studios boasts three separate recording rooms which are utilized for educational and professional purposes.

In the foreground, a student plays a white piano, facing away from the camera. Behind the piano, three students stand facing away from the camera. Dr. Jose Garza can be seen playing the bass in the background. The focus in this picture is on the architecture of the room to show its usefulness for recording.
The Rock Ensemble meets in the Fire Station Studios’ A Room. Photo by Susannah Wilson.

If you walk through the Guadalupe entrance on the ground floor and turn left when you reach the front desk, you will enter a hallway containing offices and two sets of rooms equipped with professional recording equipment. In the back corner, the “C Room” sits idle as the building undergoes renovation.

Two college students stand in a recording studio room, holding electric guitars and surrounded by amplifiers. A piano is behind them and there are microphones in place for recording. To their right sits Jose Garza, the faculty head of the Rock Ensemble, wearing a blue shirt and picking at an electric bass.
Jose Garza (right) plays alongside two students in the Rock Ensemble rehearsal. Photo by Susannah Wilson.

According to Gary Hickinbotham, the respected head engineer (and former carpenter) at Fire Station Studios, the foundation is being restructured so as to sit securely atop the clay ground. Grout will be inserted deep into the clay, and the “crawl space” underneath the building will be filled with cement. The walkway in the neighboring alleyway, sunken from a former broken water main, still needs to be repaired so as to prevent rain water washing under the building.

Despite the setbacks involved with the construction, Texas State’s Sound Recording Technology students continue to attend classes in the Fire Station Studios building throughout the week and experiment with recording techniques while the rooms are not being used for class.

Although frequently overlooked, the building itself has a rich history interwoven into the heart of San Marcos, and the Sound Recording Technology program continues to support the lavish musical and artistic culture of the city. Students of the program are always searching for musicians with whom to collaborate, and if you’ve ever wondered where local artists go to record, there’s a good chance it’s Fire Station Studios.

Featured image by Susannah Wilson.

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