During his youth, Old Forge native Tom Borthwick said the sound of the siren that sat on top of the former Lawrenceville Hose Company acted as a personal alarm for him and his friends, reminding them every night when it was time to get home.
"Every night, that was the signal for everyone to go home. That's what I remember, 9 o'clock at night that would go off, and it's loud," said Borthwick.
After purchasing the firehouse for the new home of his business, SI Studios, four years ago, Borthwick learned the siren had been removed from the building's roof, following the closing of the hose company and the building briefly being turned into a day care.
He saw that the siren was sitting in his neighbor's backyard and decided it was time to bring it back home.
"I said, ‘What are you doing with that siren?' And he said, ‘You want it? Take it,'" said Borthwick.
He did just that, and the siren is now on display behind his studio.
"I just thought, from a nostalgic standpoint, the fire company, the siren. It seems to make sense," said Borthwick.
In some ways, the blending of the past, the siren and the future, the recording studio, is a nice way to represent what SI Studios does, which offers musicians the latest technology, alongside equipment from yesterday.
"We have the Pro Tools HD system, which is state of the art. We also support the two-inch analog," said Borthwick. "A lot of people still like the sound of analog, so a portion of our business is people who want to record old school with the vintage equipment, and another portion is looking to get all the tricks and gimmicks with the new digital stuff, so we try to cover all the bases."
The philosophy seems to be working. Currently celebrating their 30th year in business, staff members at SI Studios, who have recorded artists and groups like George Wesley and Dakota, are finding themselves as busy as they've ever been, helping musicians in various stages of production make their product better.
Earning a reputation after three decades in the business, the studio's continued success is credited to word of mouth by Borthwick.
"We mastered an album for a guy in New York City named Jeff Slate," said Borthwick offering an example. "Jeff Slate…is connected pretty well. A band from Italy is talking to him and they said, ‘We're just not getting the sound we want,' And he said, ‘You've got to send your stuff to this guy in Old Forge, SI Studios, they'll mix and you'll like it.'"
The Italian band, Sir Frankie Crisp, a George Harrison tribute band, sent its files to SI Studios, where Borthwick said they were mixed and mastered to the group's liking.
"A lot of studios may find it difficult to stay in business because everybody has a little setup at home," said Borthwick. "We're finding the opposite. People who have a setup at home need a place to take their stuff to the next level, and they can't afford to have all the stuff that we have, so we're getting a lot of business that way."
Working with a band in another country, like Sir Frankie Crisp, isn't a rare occurrence for SI Studios, which regularly pulls in business from all over world.
As a result, the experience has exposed Borthwick, a graduate of Wilkes University with a B.S. in music; his chief engineer, Joe Wegleski, a graduate of New York University with a B.M. in music technology; and engineer Chris Condel, a graduate of Bloomsburg University with a B.A. in audio and video recording, to many different styles and ideas that they are able to pass on to musicians who record in their studio.
"I like being an active participant in the recording process," said Borthwick. "It gives me a chance to use the skills I've obtained over the years to help people advance.
"You have to be careful, you don't want to step on somebody's creativity, but 99 percent of the time people are thankful if you say, ‘That note really doesn't work; you should make it this note' and then they'll be like, ‘Oh, yeah, that sounds better.' It makes the whole product better, and we want, if it comes out of here, to be as successful as possible so that they come back or they become successful with their dream."
And with the business three blocks from the home Borthwick grew up in, for the last four years the possibility has been even greater that he could have a helping hand in fostering the dreams of a musician from his hometown, where the business originated.
"My first studio was up three blocks from here in my mother's house in the basement in 1982," said Borthwick. "Then I realized there's only so far I could go in a basement."
After coming to that realization, he moved the business, then called Sound Investment Studio, to Giannetta Music in downtown Scranton where he stayed for 24 years until the building was sold.
"We had to move, and I was driving to take my mother to the doctors and I saw the ‘for sale' sign on the firehouse and I thought, ‘This may actually work out well,'" said Borthwick.
With Borthwick acting quickly, SI Studios was up and running at its new location on South Main Street in Old Forge in six weeks, where Borthwick is hoping it will remain.
"It's nice to be in my home town," he said. "I graduated with the mayor (Michele Avvisato)…when I went to the planning commission to say I want to change the use of the building, because it was designated as a day care center, to a recording studio…it was like, ‘Oh, nice, we don't have one of those in town."
"I don't see us moving again."
SI Studios is located at 945 South Main Ave., Old Forge. For more information, visit www.sistudios.com/index.html.