Economic development at times requires out with the old and in with the new. That’s painful sometimes when older buildings are razed.
A recent development in Janesville will see the elimination of two single-family homes on the city’s far south side. The city has purchased one home and the other sale is pending. The homes are in a prime industrial area now occupied by Dollar General’s distribution center and the NaturPak pet food facility.
The elimination of two houses in this case does not seem like a significant sacrifice, especially if the owners agree to sell. But for some of us long-time residents, the loss represents more than two fewer homes.
The loss wipes out forever the memories of the Hugunin farm. Historically, the farm represented Rock County settlers from New York in the 1800s. The original homestead, the John and Martha Hugunin house placed on the National Register of Historic places, was lost when plans to move it from its site on Beloit Avenue near Venture Drive fell through.
The Hugunin farm and all its buildings will soon vanish. One of the buildings, far from a national historic site, will be fondly remembered by many of Rock County’s early rock ‘n’ roll musicians. The strange combination of farm buildings and early rock was made possible by Herb Hugunin, an entrepreneur of vision who saw an opportunity to promote music and jumped on it.
Mike Matheson, a garage band rock musician from Janesville, recalls bands showing up at Hugunin’s recording studio in a barn located at the southwest corner of Avalon Road (Highway 11) and Prairie Road, also known as County G.
“The unique thing about Herb’s studio was it featured an empty silo that made a great reverb-echo chamber,” Matheson said. “There were all kinds of bands wanting to record in Herb’s studio and figure out a way to get on a record.”
Hugunin created Leaf Records. He was not fussy as to who could get on the label, and many groups that never had an impact on the national music scene could claim to have made a recording. Leaf records are now historically significant and cherished by serious collectors.
Herb Hugunin and Leaf Records were by no means the only studio and label around at the time. Jim Kirchstein’s Cuca Records in Sauk City was a mecca for area musicians. The Nigh Tranes, made up of Janesville’s Tim Davis, Ken Adamany, Bob Shebesta and Frank Ellefson were joined by a group called the Ardells with Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, Ben Sidran, Denny Berg and Ron Boyer on the Cuca label.
Ron Fajerstein, who made a large fortune in the diamond business but a much smaller sum in the recording business, built a nationally-famous studio, Royal Recording, in Lake Geneva at the Playboy Club. He had a majestic 80-channel SSL console built for the studio and recorded a number of gold records for national bands, including Cheap Trick, Nine Inch Nails and Crash Test Dummies. The success was not sustainable, and the operation shut down.
Leaf Records, Cuca Records, the Playboy Club, Royal Recording and the SSL console are gone. Some of the buildings remain. The Playboy Club is now the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa.
Despite the losses, the memories linger. The new often crowds out the old, but memories are forever.