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Excerpt: "Before the tragic fire that took the lives of at least three dozen people, collective amassed a bunch of oddities in the unusual space."

Oakland's Ghost Ship Art Collective. (photo: Rolling Stone)
Oakland's Ghost Ship Art Collective. (photo: Rolling Stone)


Inside Oakland Ghost Ship Warehouse Before the Fire

By Rolling Stone

07 December 16

 

Before the tragic fire that took the lives of at least three dozen people, collective amassed a bunch of oddities in the unusual space

he warehouse located at 1305 31st Avenue in Oakland, California was home to the Ghost Ship collective. A safe space for many who lived there – including artists, poets, musicians – it went up in flames on Friday in a tragic accident that took the lives of at least 36 people. Of these victims, 11 have been identified, with authorities sharing the names of seven people: Cash Askew, 22, David Cline, 23, Travis Hough, 35, Donna Kellogg, 32, Sara Hoda, 30, Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32 and Nick Gomez-Hall, 25. The name of an eighth victim, a 17-year-old boy, was withheld because of his age.

As can be seen in photos from before the fire, the building contained a large collection of oddities and confusing structures. Oakland Fire Department Chief Teresa Deloach Reed described the building as being "like a maze."

(photo: Rolling Stone)

Messy Collection

Ghost Ship was noted for its "messy" appearance. The Oakland warehouse and art collective was full of collectibles, instruments and art projects that had been amassed over its existence from across the world. "I was in awe of it, but also horrified by it," Bay Area electronic music columnist Chris Zaldua said of a prior visit.

(photo: Rolling Stone)

"Artwork, Statues, Random pieces of wood"

"It was filled top to bottom with things, knickknacks, pianos, artwork, statues, random pieces of wood," Zaldua reflected on the warehouse's appearance. "The whole thing was one big art project."

(photo: Rolling Stone)

One Big Art Project

The intricate, confusing layout of the warehouse may have worsened the tragedy with the many corridors of the building leading to Polynesian beds and lounge areas.

(photo: Rolling Stone)

On the night of the tragic fire that took the lives of at least 36 people, nearly 70 were in attendance at a show for musician Golden Donna's 100% Silk Tour. Artists Cherushii, Nackt and Russell Butler were also scheduled to perform, and Golden Donna's Joel Shanahan was able to escape the fire.

(photo: Rolling Stone)

Artists lived in the warehouse and built lofts that existed between the first and second floors. Partitions between the lofts were made of pallets, two-by-fours and other types of wood while all the floors were covered in carpet.

(photo: Rolling Stone)

Safe Haven for Artists

For many, Ghost Ship served as an important safe haven for artists in the area against the backdrop of an increasingly more expensive, gentrified neighborhood. "People are desperate for places," executive director of Gray Area Foundation for the Arts Josette Melchor told CNN. "It's one of those things where you don't want to report something you see because you know how hard it is for people to find spaces."

(photo: Rolling Stone)

Space Not Up to Code

Many regular attendees knew the space was not up to code, but dealt with the unsafe facilities that only hosted large parties to help pay for the building's rent.

(photo: Rolling Stone)

Photographer Bob Mulé, a resident of the loft, recalled to Rolling Stone the scene of the warehouse as the fire began. "There's fire extinguishers all over the place, but of course, in the moment, it's like 'Where the fuck are they?'" The fire began on the first floor and spread to the second where the party was being held, trapping many of the attendees there.

(photo: Rolling Stone)

Beautiful Gathering Space, Destroyed

"It was a beautiful space that allowed artistic gatherings to happen," artist Chris Dunn told CNN. "There's not enough spaces for this kind of artistic expression of music and gathering."

(photo: Rolling Stone)

The building only had two exits and no signs of sprinklers. Its last permitted use was as a warehouse before turning into a makeshift residence for roughly 20 artists.

(photo: Rolling Stone)

Artist spaces like Ghost Ship exist in many urban communities where creatives are being priced out of neighborhoods. These places serve as "live-work" communes where those who live in the buildings often work at events or provide art to the community.

(photo: Rolling Stone)

Residents of these "live-work" artistic communes often live in fear of losing these spaces, further keeping them from reporting unsafe living conditions to the city which could potentially shut down the space if not up to code.

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+30 # grandlakeguy 2016-12-07 20:34
I am heartbroken to report that all of us at the Grand Lake Theater lost our beloved assistant manager in the tragic fire last Friday night.

Denalda Nicole Renae (aka: Nicole Siegrist) was one of the sweetest and friendliest people to ever work at the theater.
She was loved by her co-workers and our moviegoers alike.
We are all in absolute shock over this horrible tragedy that cut short so many young and talented lives.

We will hold a memorial for Denalda and the other victims this coming Tuesday evening.

Media will NOT be permitted in the theater.
 
 
+12 # Ted 2016-12-08 01:44
GLG, I'm so sorry for your loss.

In times like these it's the most beautiful people in our lives that keep us strong, I feel for you and all those who will go on without Denalda.

Ted.
 
 
+4 # librarian1984 2016-12-08 07:56
Very sorry, glg.

It looks like a wonderful space. It's clear there were many wonderful moments there, and much happiness before this tragedy. But the pictures make clear this was a chaotic space that would have made escape a nightmare. Even creative spaces, maybe especially nontraditional spaces, need safety measures in place.

Very sorry about Denalda.
 
 
+19 # Thomas Martin 2016-12-07 23:09
Looks like it was a wonderful place - home to many's hopes and dreams and artful pursuits ... maybe like the world we ourselves live in, or could live in, if we'd just protect it
 
 
+12 # grandlakeguy 2016-12-08 01:12
No! It was a completely unsafe firetrap and the owner is guilty of letting people live and have large events in an unsafe situation!
He will very likely be charged with multiple counts of manslaughter.

This was a preventable tragedy that would never have occurred if there had been proper stairways, exits, sprinklers and emergency lights.

There are good reasons for proper safety rules to be followed anywhere that there is public assembly.
This space was not licensed for that purpose and there should never have been a music event on the second floor.

There was no effort to create even the most basic level of safety and had there been proper emergency lighting systems and proper exits our Oakland community would not be reeling from this tragedy.
When the fire started all lights went out and the occupants were trapped.
 
 
+3 # lorenbliss 2016-12-08 09:49
@glg: Did not know of this until now and am dreadfully sorry for your loss, which is also our entire species' loss.

Cannot but deeply empathize with the survivors as all my life's work -- including one book seemingly on the brink of mainstream publication and two other books in notes-and-outli ne form -- was destroyed by a mysterious fire, almost certainly arson, in 1983. Though no lives were lost, the emotional and professional impacts were nevertheless devastating and remain so even now, 33 years later. Hence my heart aches for everyone affected by the Ghost Ship disaster.

That said, what are investigators concluding about the fire's origin?
 
 
+3 # grandlakeguy 2016-12-08 13:32
Thanks lorenbliss, investigations continue as to the origins of the fire with the suspicion that it was electrical in nature.
That said, had there been the most basic attention paid to safety, lighting and exiting, many, if not all, of the occupants could have gotten out.
The stairway to the second floor event space was built out of wooden pallets as were all the interior walls!
 
 
+5 # grandlakeguy 2016-12-08 11:53
I might add this, I have been building and operating theaters since I was 19 years old and opened my first theater in a warehouse in 1972. I also lived there with my girlfriend (probably illegally) since we could not afford an apartment.

That said, SAFETY was always the top priority and exits were always clearly marked with illuminated signs, building codes require two bulbs in each sign on separate circuits (in case there is a short or other problem with one of the lines) plus minimum aisle widths of 44" and number of exits and exit capacity calculated by occupant loads. Emergency lights and proper fire extinguishers were also part of the safety process.
All fabrics in public assembly spaces must also be professionally flameproofed with the proper paperwork certification filed with the authorities.

Over the years I have leased, restored, owned or built over 30 theaters and the highest priority was always SAFETY FIRST!


There is no excuse for anyone who is operating a facility which brings in the public to ignore the very sensible laws regarding life safety.
 
 
+3 # lorenbliss 2016-12-08 20:44
@glg: What in addition to a complete list of the victims would be useful in the coverage of this disaster is the name of the owner, how much s/he was collecting in rent, whether and for how much s/he had the property insured, and why the city of Oakland did nothing about the obvious code violations.

Back in the day, these would be mandatory avenues of inquiry for any competent reporter, but alas in today's mainstream media the "competent reporter" job description has been replaced by "skilled propagandist," which often means the vital questions either go unasked or are otherwise buried.

Nevertheless if there is still an alternative press in Oakland, and/or if you or one of your friends and colleagues wants to pursue the story, I would if appropriate gladly provide editorial guidance based on my years as an (award-winning) general assignment and investigative reporter, city editor and news editor.

One last observation, the product of my own experience covering such horrors, if indeed the electricity failed at the very onset of the fire, that would surely suggest an electrical origin. In which case another element -- the fact aluminum wire as it ages develops increased resistance and is thus a known fire hazard -- becomes important, legitimizing questions about the age and type of the wiring (aluminum or copper), and again the activities (or lack thereof) of city inspectors.

As I said, anything I can do to help, please don't hesitate to ask.
 
 
+12 # Auteur47 2016-12-08 01:40
I am heartsick over the tragic loss of this special place and the creative souls who perished in such a terrible manner. Our bay area and the nation is a lesser place for this loss.
 
 
+1 # Skyelav 2016-12-11 11:45
Horrible loss of what should have been a national treasure. This is why we need laws, to protect ourselves from ourselves. Unfortunately, if all the fire safety had been put in place, rents would have gone up, people would have to find apartments, and the creative spirit, I imagine, would have been quelled. What does this call for? More art subsidies? Maybe not.
 
 
0 # Doc Mary 2016-12-11 21:14
This is simply heartbreaking. I can understand the carelessness - I would have loved this place in my youth and I imagine many of the places I stayed in the 1960s weren't much safer. The community should have been watching out. The Bay Area should have taken better care of the gemstones, the individuals, they have now lost.
 

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