Post-eviction, Oakland artist collective gets second chance

OAKLAND — Inside a vacant West Oakland warehouse, a small group of artists and performers pored over blueprints, the building’s cavernous interior dwarfing their compact semi-circle.

Tanya Retherford, an Oakland resident and architectural designer, traced her finger along the renderings, the paper lit by a pool of light streaming in from overhead skylights. There will be 14 bedrooms that double as art studios, she said, a shared work space for residents, four studios for rent, lofts built between ribbed metal trusses, a library, a central kitchen, three bathrooms and an open rehearsal space for the collective’s performing artists.

But the dozen or so members of the Von Trapp Family Circus, the name they gave themselves, hope the space will be more than a collection of live/work studios. The desire is that it will be a salve for wounds suffered in the wake of the Dec. 2 Ghost Ship fire that killed 36 people, when the city lost several of its artist collectives to evictions.

“We are like an antidote to what happened to the Ghost Ship (warehouse),” Retherford said. “We’re really hoping the city sees us as an important project.”

Members of the Trapp received a 30-day eviction notice from another West Oakland warehouse they shared just three days after the deadly fire, when they were still mourning friends who were missing and had yet to be identified by county officials. After media reported their warehouse could be another potential fire hazard, the residents, accustomed to staying quietly under the radar, found themselves thrust uncomfortably into the spotlight.

Like many other warehouses being used illegally as residences, the owners of their former, sprawling Magnolia Street complex, named the Castle Von Trapp, feared another deadly fire would put their tenants’ lives at risk. But they agreed to push the 30-day move-out order to 90 days, while looking to the city for guidance on how to bring the building up to code.

But then the owners…

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