On Monday, two days after the devastating warehouse fire in East Oakland that claimed at least 36 lives, Bay Area cellist Zoe Keating — whom we wrote about in our Feb. 17 cover story — took to Facebook to share her thoughts about what the tragedy means for the DIY and underground community.
Though she now lives in the forest near Occidental in a decades old house made of redwoods, when Keating first moved to the Bay Area, she lived in a warehouse on Natoma Street in San Francisco.
“I wouldn’t be the artist I am today if not for living almost seven years in an “illegal” warehouse at 964 Natoma St in S.F.,” she wrote. “We hosted many cross-pollinating, genre-busting experimental events that could never have happened anywhere else. Not only was it inexpensive to live there, so I could focus on my art, but I was attracted to this alternative way of living where life, work and art were merged, meals were shared and social serendipity was built-in. The things I saw and heard and the people I met and talked to and the work I did as a result…it all made me the person I am today.”
But even then, Keating acknowledges that the self-made space was potentially dangerous, and she had her own concerns when too many people gathered for a party on the upstairs level.
The fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Fruitvale could have been abated were there smoke detectors and fire extinguishers at hand. The space was also rumored to be “a labyrinth,” filled to the brim with combustible objects and furniture, and even possessing a stair case that was handmade out of pallets.
Like so many warehouses today and in the past, it was not up to code and not particularly safe, and Keating worries that the recent tragedy might be a death knell marking the end of an era that saw artists and creatives living in warehouses.
“Right now, our thoughts and actions should be with the victims and their loved ones,” she wrote. “But like many who’ve been a part of the Bay Area warehouse scene I can’t help wondering, is this the end of the underground?”