The Bohemian Labyrinth Tragedy

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The warehouse 34 young people died in is described as a Labyrinth. The Fruitvale area has gotten worldwide attention as a Mecca for artists and experimental lifestyles. The fire that consumed their creative drive, was fueled by poverty. While Ivanka and her brother, Barron, need opulent towers to sustain their lifestyle, parents knew their children were attracted to Jingletown where a person can be free, where they are around their visonary peers fashioning a brave new world – out of nothing! They need to see this ingenuity because no one has a real job, and can not afford to put on the Ritz. They can barely pay their rent. There was a trailer gypsy camp in the dirt lot next door. This is not new. Joaquin Miller lived up the street and allowed Japanese poets to build paper houses on his land. Then there were the Bohemian writers camped out at Lake Temescal.

In 1985 I attended a two day party down at the bottom of Fifth Avenue put on by the Diggers. They wore denim jackets covered with buttons from past events. A old warehouse had been converted to artist’s spaces. It was a labyrinth that took you on a tour of Wonderland. I took note of the fire hazard. How could you ignore it? These spaces were Junk Museums, works of art that you walked about in. Fabulous minds had turned our throw-away society into opulent palaces of poverty. The Diggers celebrated poverty.

Until Von Trumpenstein brings back those millions of jobs he promised, then he would be wise to shave of a hundred billion dollars from the military budget, and found a Bohemian WPA. Our youth lasts a couple of years. Do not let their creative energy go to waste.

Jon Presco

Structural engineers will examine the building Monday to determine the best solution for continuing recovery operations. Firefighters expect to reenter the building between noon and 2 p.m. to continue their search, Drayton said. They are expecting rain on Wednesday, but she said their search efforts will continue to move in a steady and methodical pace.

Officials have said the warehouse had been the subject of a city code enforcement investigation at the time of the fire due to complaints about health and safety issues. Some former residents described it as a cluttered “death trap” lacking fire sprinklers.

With identities of the victims slow to emerge, social media outlets provided the connection for family and friends from around the world, allowing them to share hospital numbers, compile a list of possible victims and express their shock and disbelief.

“Oh my god, Sara Hoda is missing in this fire,” Carol Crewdson wrote about a friend who had texted that she was going to the party and whose truck was found parked outside the venue.

But for some friends and loved ones, the unanswered phone calls, texts and Facebook messages provided the answer they never wanted to hear.

David Gregory said he thought his daughter was staying overnight at her boyfriend’s house when she didn’t come home Friday night. Gregory said he had not known that Michela, a 20-year-old honor roll student at San Francisco State, had gone to a concert at the warehouse with her boyfriend.

Gregory had stopped by the Alameda County sheriff’s station Sunday looking for information and was asked to return with some trace of his daughter’s DNA, such as strands of hair from a comb or brush.

“Try to put yourself in our shoes,” he said. “You know there was a fire. And that she was attending that event. Then you see footage of the building on fire, knowing that everybody in there is being burned alive. It’s the worst way to go … there is no worse way.”

The tragedy took a personal turn for responders when they learned that the son of an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy was among those who died.

“This tragedy has hit very close to home for our agency,” Kelly said. “We’re still dealing with that as we continue to deal with the other victims.”

The lack of a complete list of victims fueled an atmosphere of dread for some.

Cory Grimes said that when she discovered that her roommate, Jennifer Mendiola, had gone to the concert and was missing, she felt as though the wind had been knocked out of her. Grimes said her hands were shaking so badly that she was unable to send messages. She checked a Facebook memorial page that listed Mendiola as a victim. But there was no proof.

“There’s a lot of misinformation right now, and that makes it hurt more,” Grimes said.

The building was leased by a group calling itself the Satya Yuga Collective, managed by Derick Almena. Almena, 46, who lived on the second floor of the warehouse with his wife, considered himself a “realms creator” and built found-object sculptures and stage sets for musical gatherings.

On their social media sites, the couple posted pictures of mannequins hung upside down, colorful tapestries on the floor and wall, Hindu art, furniture from Almena’s travels to Bali and large, exposed wooden beams throughout the building.

On the first floor of the warehouse, a half-dozen RVs had been parked to provide living spaces for other residents. It had become a destination for traveling artists looking for a place to crash in the Bay Area, where affordable digs are notoriously difficult to find.

“It’s a big ripple that’s affected the entire community. It’s a huge tragedy; it’s a huge loss for people in Oakland. And there’s a lot behind it,” said Graham Patzner, who lives with his parents in Oakland and believes his friend, Nicholas Walrath, had attended the show. “Artists are constantly struggling to survive in this city because we’re all getting kicked out.”

The closely knit nature of the community only compounded the tragedy for some.

Isador Vorpahl posted Facebook messages to 10 friends who were missing. “I hope it’s not true, I hope you all are safe and alive,” Vorpahl wrote. “I want you all to know the ways you’ve touched my life.”

Jesse James Alexander, 24, said he believes that three of his friends died in the fire. He said he learned about the blaze on Saturday morning when he received a text from someone making sure he was alive.

“These are all our friends. These are all our family. And they’re all gone,” Alexander wrote.

Richardine Bartee said she has been numb since learning that her friend Alex Ghassan was among the missing. Ghassan had recently moved to Oakland and was the father of two young daughters. On Twitter and Instagram accounts in his name, Ghassan appeared to have posted a video of the event, which he captioned: “Oakland reminds me of #JerseyCity so much at times.”

Facebook also drew worried notes from parents abroad. A panicked parent searched Facebook for answers in Finnish: “Any news of Hanna Ruax,” posted Yrjo Timonen, whose Facebook page lists Helsinki as home. “She is my daughter.”

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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