Three Months After the Haight and Fillmore Fire: An Update

Three Months After the Haight and Fillmore Fire: An Update
By Andrew Dudley - Published on December 28, 2011.
Yesterday marks exactly three months since the massive fire at 493 Haight Street. We thought this would be a good opportunity to check in with those most affected by the fire -- the residents, the businesses, and the property owners, as well as the SFFD -- to see where things stand now.

The Cause
On Friday, we checked in with Inspector Lisa Moy from the SFFD's Bureau of Investigation. Moy is the lead investigator on the case, and has been working to determine the fire's cause. Moy told us that since our recent story on the investigation (and perhaps because of it), a few people have come forward with information that has helped the investigation progress. She still needs to speak with two individuals to corroborate some of the details that have been provided. Until then, the cause of the fire will remain officially undetermined. We asked Moy why she thought people might be taking so long to come forward. She couldn't say, though she did note that the three-month timeframe for interviews after a fire was "atypical".
The Management
Meridian Management Group, the company that manages 493 Haight Street, has set up a web page (493haight.com) where they are posting updates on the building's progress. Jay Lieberman from Meridian tells us:
The fire was terrible and the only positive thing I have to say is no one got hurt. Some people lost all their possessions - a lifetime of memories. The construction is ongoing. Plans are in the process of being approved and demolition is just about complete. The top floor had to be removed because the structural integrity of the floor was compromised. There is no date for completion. Code upgrades, permits, and the general time for building may extend the final reopening of the apartments into 2013. There is a priority to get Walgreens opened asap.
Fecal Face
Fecal Face Dot Gallery, which had occupied 248 Fillmore for just six months before the fire, recently announced that they've found a new permanent home in the Mission. Owner John Trippe tells Haighteration:
We open up in the Mission (2277 Mission Between 18th & 19th) on January 6th after being on Clement in the Inner Richmond for a couple months... If it wasn't for the fire, I think we would have stayed there in the Lower Haight for many years to come. We're sad to leave the wonderful Lower Haight, but price-wise, the Mission made more sense. Our new space is more than twice the size of the Fillmore space for not much more in rent. The fire forced us to find a new space that turned out to be better in the end. Would have loved to have moved into the old Trunk shop, but the $3,000 they were asking was more than we want to pay. ...Anyway, we may not have our gallery down there any longer, but will keep eating, drinking, shopping down there. Best neighborhood in the city!
Three Twins
From founder Neal Gottlieb:
The latest that I have is that an opening won't happen until around August! All of our employees have moved on with the exception of Carrie who has been working out of our San Rafael shop. Our Larkspur store opens this Friday, so we'll be a ferry ride or closer hop over the bridge for those that miss us....
Yesterday, Eater revealed that Estela's will be opening a new shop in Lower Nob Hill in about 2 weeks. The address is 891 Bush. While they hope to reopen their old shop on Fillmore, they've reportedly been told that it may be up to 2 years until the space is ready.
We've reached out to Walgreens for information on their plans, but haven't yet received a response. We'll update this post if that changes.
The Residents
Last week, we wrote to many of the former residents of 493 Haight Street, asking for updates on their situations and any reflections on the past three months that they might be willing to share. Here's a sampling of the responses we received. Resident #1:
I'm still overwhelmed by how the Lower Haight came together for us. It was kick ass. As for my situation, the smoke has cleared. My boyfriend and I moved into a place in the Mission and are settled in. I was only in the Lower Haight for five months, so my memories and friendships aren't nearly as storied as those of some veteran neighbors. But I'll be back for Rooky Ricardos, Molotov's, and Uva Enoteca among others. It's funny...whenever I bike by 493 Haight (which now looks mighty apocalyptic with that white coating), I smell smoke. And I can't tell if the building still has an odor, or if it's merely in my head. I believe you find what you look for. If you seek the good in a situation, you'll get it. That's easier to say than to do, but tragedy doesn't slow life down. So you have to trudge through and appreciate what you've got. And hopefully that include's renter's insurance.
Resident #2:
I've been living at fillmore and waller with a good friend, but still haven't found emergency housing. Most people have been very supportive, but the city government is useless.
Resident #3:
I'm sure we all have many mixed feelings and emotions about losing our homes - for me it has been especially poignant since I lived in that building for 33 years (half my life), and I also maintained a photo-studio in my tiny, 265 sq. ft, apartment. Of course I have seen many changes in the building and the neighborhood over all these years. The Lower Haight (we used to call it the Haight Fillmore, to distinguish ourselves from Haight-Ashbury) has evolved from a marginal, even dangerous, neighborhood in the late '70's to become a major destination for young people, as well as for aging hippies like me. As you probably know, Haight Fillmore Whole Foods was one of the first of the "new wave" of businesses, and I am delighted to see that they are still doing well. Bob and Harvey, the original owners, teamed up with John Merchant, a local developer, to try to rejuvenate the neighborhood starting in about 1982. They bought our building (out of foreclosure) and managed to persuade Walgreens to rent the large downstairs space which had previously been occupied by three different stores (two of which I remember fondly). Once Walgreens was here, the building, and the neighborhood, developed rapidly around it. Many wonderful businesses have come and gone: The Studio Cafe, Erno's Tattoo's, Urban Forage, to name just a few (all on the Fillmore side of our building). Meanwhile, INSIDE the building, we were evolving a community of kindred spirits – writers, musicians, artists and photographers – along with their significant others, partners, pets and protégés. I myself photographed Harvey Milk, Mark Leno, Scott Wiener, David Campos and many other distinguished San Franciscans in my photo studio. Not to mention Chastity Bono, Nora Dunn, Sharon McNight and many other performers. My specialty was performing-arts photography from 1978 until the fire. Our little community of artists and bohemians has split apart since September 27th. This is a date which, for many of us, will have the same kind or reverberation as "Sept. 11th" does for so many Americans. It was the day that our lives changed completely – from a comfortable, rent-controlled existence, to the free-fall of the San Francisco rental market. For many of us, our lives had evolved completely around the low rent that we were paying. I myself paid less than $500 for my small studio. This allowed me a freedom of movement which I would never have been able to afford otherwise. Now we are all thrust, temporarily, at least, onto the rental market, with few resources and few references. To their credit, the owners of our building gave each of us $1,000 to help with relocation expenses. The Neighborhood Association contributed another $500 to each of us. This has been a blessing and a boon, and life-saver for some of us. This has given us a small "safety net" as we search for a new home and, in my case, a new source of income. I'm sure I can safely speak for all of us when I say "thank you" to the Neighborhood Association and to the Flynn family (the owners of our building) for their generosity. But I really miss out little community – the people I used to see every day, or every other day, in the halls or on the street. I miss the people at Walgreens, who had become friends over the 27 years that they had been there (Sharee had worked in that store since it opened in 1984); I miss Three Twins, our new (but treasured) neighbor; and Estellas, for the very best sandwiches this side of New York City. And I miss my neighbors – Katya, across the hall; Fey, DOWN the hall; Frieda, directly above me, upstairs; Barbara, whom I saw many a morning as she was walking her dog and I was jogging. And so many others. Life will never be quite the same again.
Resident #4:
Things are finally normal. I'm living over in Potrero and I no longer have my own place, but a 2 bedroom with a roommate. It was hard to go back to living with someone after two years, but he's a great person to live with, so all in all I'm pretty happy. (= I still can't help but cry when I drive past the building and head into the neighborhood, which isn't very often. I miss it a ton, but this will have to do for now. I haven't taken back my security deposit and I'm just awaiting news as it comes through.
Resident #5:
I would like to thank folks in the neighborhood who have been so supportive of me. Individuals, business owners, the Lower Haight Merchants Association, Haighteration, local politicans, city employees, the Red Cross have all been lovely. And the SFFD who I think do a great job. And in the midst of stopping a building from burning down also had time to rescue dogs and cats. The donations raised from the fundraiser as well as the services offered by businesses have been a great help. Even offers of assistance that I didn't need or use are completely appreciated for the good will they represent. I (and my dog) have been staying with a very generous, graceful friend on the "other" side of Duboce, so I feel I am still in the neighborhood. And other folks have offered spare nooks and couches. Looking for housing that I can afford, which is not easy as I work for a non profit (with which I could afford my rent controlled apartment, but market rate -- not so much!) Would prefer to remain in the Lower Haight. I like the location and the energy and the folks who live (and lived) here. Lost most of my stuff -- some of it very valuable and some of it had only value to me and some of it was just furniture and clothes. I miss the apartment which was sunny and light. And most days I mourn the loss of the 60-year-old ugly vase from the Ivory Coast or my photographs and family histories or a hand made stone button or, or, or -- whatever crosses my mind at the moment. And most days I just think, "Well, what can you do? Just plod along and discover happens next." (Of course, there is no time so nothing is next or past or even now). Friends, acquaintances, strangers have been very very kind and it touches my heart to have such wonderful neighbors. I am grateful to live in the lower Haight. Thank you all.

If there are any more updates about the building, the businesses, the residents or the cause of the fire, we'll be sure to let you know.