18th & Castro's Orlando Memorial To Be Removed After Catching Fire [Updated]

An accidental fire on Monday morning caused damage to the public memorial for the victims of the Orlando shooting, as well as to the side of the Bank of America building at 18th & Castro, where the memorial was set up. 

SFFD public information officer Jonathan Baxter told Hoodline that the fire started at 9am Monday, when "a candle knocked over by wind caught some memorial items on fire. [The fire was] small, with no damage to structures, no injuries and no displacements." While the fire caused no structural damage to the Bank of America building, it did leave burn marks that will have to be cleaned off.

Burned wall outside Bank of America.
photo: steven bracco/hoodline

Though the plan was originally to leave the memorial up through the Fourth of July, the Castro CBD has decided to take it down by Thursday, due to safety concerns. "I hate to see it go, [as] we are still raw from this act of violence, but the recent accidental fire has made it necessary for it to be dismantled," said executive director Andrea Aiello. 

The Castro Clean team was out at the site yesterday morning, cleaning up all the burned material and also removing all the candles. Aiello also told us that the memorial has begun to attract graffiti.

The memorial went up immediately after the shooting two weeks ago, which claimed the lives of 49 people, a majority of them gay Latino men. It has become a place for people to gather, reflect and work through their feelings. Flowers, pictures, candles, posters and other trinkets can be seen spread across the sidewalk, and messages to the victims, along with their names, can be seen written in chalk along the sidewalk.

As a farewell to the memorial, Sister Merry Peter from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence will hold a blessing for the victims at 7pm tomorrow, June 29th. After that, Aiello invites people in the neighborhood to take anything with special meaning to them before the memorial is dismantled.

In the meantime, Aiello said, "[We] will honor people's expression of grief and love ... we realize that people may continue to place flowers and postings at the memorial site." However, the CBD is asking that people "do not leave candles," because of the safety risks, and that those who leave items take them away after they become old and tattered.

Victims' names in chalk along the sidewalk on Castro Street.
photo: steven bracco/hoodline

Aiello praised the memorial for bringing the community together. "The memorial to those massacred in Orlando has been an outpouring of love and sadness; but overwhelmingly, an outpouring of love. Love heals and love will prevail," she said. "It is so important for us as a community, to remember that, as written on so many of the postings, love wins. In the wake of such violence and hate to have a place to mourn has been healing. Healing for not only us in the Castro, but for people from all over the city. In fact, people from all over the world come to the memorial to mourn and express love."

Last week, Aiello reached out to the GLBT Historical Society and urged them to take anything they would like from the memorial for future display. "I am thankful that the GLBT Historical Society and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence will hold, store and preserve the precious items, thoughts, memories and expressions of love," she said.

The Orlando shooting memorial last week.
Photo: steven bracco/hoodline

This may not be the end of memorials to the Orlando victims in the Castro. While Castro Merchants President Daniel Bergerac agrees that in the wake of the fire, "it's time to let [the memorial] go and start with a clean slate," he's open to replacing it. "If folks want to put up a new memorial after the area has been cleaned, I think it would be lovely."

Castro resident and gay activist Cleve Jones, who co-organized a march on June 18th to honor the victims, along with many other LGBTQ and Latinx organizations, also agreed that in light of the fire that "of course it has to, I guess." Jones continued, "sometimes memorials stay around for a very very long time. It seems to be going well without governance."

District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who called the memorial "an inspiration," says he's fully in support of creating a permanent Castro memorial to the Orlando victims. "I look forward to a broad-based community discussion, including our Latinx LGBT community and other stakeholders, to ensure the memorial is as powerful and impactful as possible."

Other Castro spaces are also paying tribute to the Orlando victims, including Orphan Andy's, which is displaying the name of each victim on rainbow-colored tissue paper honeycombs, and Harvey Milk Plaza, where posters and streamers honor the victims.

Bergerac told us he's been struck by the support from the community during this time of tragedy. "I don’t think there is another community that mourns the dead more beautifully and eloquently then the Castro and the Wailing Wall ... I have witnessed many people moved to tears, including myself, while viewing the Orlando memorial."

Orphan Andy's pays tribute to the victims.
Photo: steven bracco/hoodline

After any tragedy strikes, it's always difficult to determine the right time to return to normal. The shooting in Orlando affected the Castro especially hard, because Pulse was an LGBT nightclub, and each of us has been affected by it in our own personal ways. 

We'd like to ask the community: Is now the right time to take down the memorial and continue the healing process? Would you like to see a permanent memorial in the neighborhood? Let us know in the comments below.

Update, 10:50am:

In an email this morning from the Castro CBD they informed us that the memorial will come down after tonight's blessing. "At the end of the evening, the Sisters will reverently disassemble the space, collecting items to be burned/buried with dignity and given to the GLBT Historical Society for preservation."

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