West Palm Beach, FL – Hundreds of nostalgia-hungry bidders attended Saturday’s auction of the 1970s New York disco Studio 54 memorabilia. Thousands of items from the estate of former Studio 54 co-owner, Steve Rubell, were on display.
In April 1977, Studio 54 opened in the old CBS television studio on West 54th Street, in New York City. In the 1920s the building had been the Gallo Opera House. Studio 54 was in operation from 1977 until 1981 when it was sold by founders and creators Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. The nightclub catered to celebrity and A-lister patrons, throwing lavish parties with elaborate theatrical themes. The club made $7 million during its first year.
In December 1978, Studio 54 was raided. In June 1979, Rubell and business partner Schrager were charged with tax evasion, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy. They’d reportedly skimmed nearly $2.5 million in unreported income from the club. Evidence of their financial fraud was discovered by police in the disco’s building, hidden in the ceiling sections of Rubell’s office, where both he and Schrager worked.
On January 18, 1980, Rubell and Schrager were sentenced to three and a half years in prison and a $20,000 fine each for the tax evasion. On February 4, 1980, they went to prison and Studio 54 was sold in November of that year for $4.75 million. In January 1981, Rubell and Schrager were released from prison after handing over the names of other club owners involved in tax evasion.
Sal DeFalco, who was a bartender at Studio 54 back in the disco’s prime, was in attendance of the action. DeFalco was prepared to spend as much as $400 for a photo of his 19-year-old self, partying with Diana Ross. It ended up being well under the opening bid of $1,000, according to the Miami Herald.
(Lot 40: Ross, Rubell, Studio 54 Photos Diana Ross, Billy Goodson and Salvatore DeFalco at Studio 54, 1978 (AP)
“I really, really want it. The auction booklet says the expected price is between $300 and $600, but I can’t really go beyond $400. I’ve been a bartender my whole life. I’m not a rich man.”
The gavel dropped for $1,500 to an internet bidder despite the event auctioneer, Rico Baca’s attempt to beseech the crowd otherwise. Most items sold well over the price range suggest by Palm Beach Modern Auctions.
An invitation to the club’s 1981 New Year’s Eve party, accompanied by a complimentary drink ticket also sold for $1,500.
[Images via Liveauctions]