Fire burning section of Stevenson Street warehouse. Photo by Kyle Smeallie.

A two-alarm fire broke out Thursday at 6 a.m. at a large, mixed-use warehouse space on Stevenson Street at the northern edge of the Mission, displacing 20 adults and one infant, as well as five dogs, two snakes and a bird.

All were able to escape the blaze, but the future of the offbeat, unique space that they called home is in jeopardy. It is situated near 14th Street between Mission and Valencia Streets.

“There were people who lived in this building for 20 to 30 years,” said one resident outside the building after the fire had been contained. “My unit fared okay, but it’s unlikely this building is going to be liveable going forward.”

Hours after the fire had been contained, the building, which contains the addresses 1441 to 1451 Stevenson Street, had black charring covering one corner of the building. Firefighters stacked debris in the street outside. Most of the 17,000 square-foot building’s windows had been smashed.

According to SFFD Information Officer Mindy Talmage, the fire caused $300,000 worth of property damage and $175,000 in damage to the building’s content.

Photo by Sandra Davis
Photo by Sandra Davis

Firefighters were on the scene and had contained the fire by 7:30 a.m. and were able to keep most of the damage to the southern side of the building. One officer was hospitalized after experiencing minor injuries to his knees.

The fire started in an uninhabited garage space that was in the process of being converted into a recording studio.

“We’re lucky we all got out, it’s not the most fire-sound building,” said resident Jason Lehrman, who described the 1907 converted warehouse as a bit maze-like with its untraditional live-work spaces.

The building is one of the few remaining of its type in the changing Mission. Among the six residential units in the large warehouse there are artist work-live spaces, a metal fabricator and a community center for underground yoga and recovering drug addicts. Designer Benny Gold had an office and small warehouse on the first floor.

“I don’t know what to do if it’s all damaged,” said Gold of the shelves of merchandizing housed in the warehouse. “Start over and figure it out… We still have merchandise in the store to sell.”

Musician Pauli Gray ran the community space the Koo Koo Factory in his studio space in unit 1449. The Facktory had housed rock performances, sessions of an underground yoga movement called yoga punx and been a meeting place for a 12-step program for recovering addicts.

“A lot of people loved this space,” said Colleen Donlon, a frequent visitor and nearby neighbor of the Koo Koo Factory. “It was this eclectic, beautiful space.”

At 10 a.m., the Red Cross assembled the residents and instructed that they would work to find everyone housing and would be providing meals throughout the day. As of publication, the agency only needed to find housing for four displaced residents. The other tenants were able to find shelter with friends or family.

Photo by Eric Reid
Photo by Eric Reid

After receiving the go-ahead from firefighters, residents were escorted into their apartments to get essentials, enough for a “long weekend” as Red Cross representative John Laxson described it. Most units appeared to have only some water and smoke damage. Gray emerged from his apartment wielding his guitar and a big smile. He gave an impromptu performance in the street.

“My thoughts were get my bird, then get my guitar,” said Gray who explained the instrument was a birthday present.

“This building is one of the last ones like it in the Mission,” Lehrman said. “It’s such a cool little community… I’m pretty sure I’ll never sleep in that place again…It’s such an old building, I’m surprised it hasn’t already been knocked down and converted into condos already.”

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Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

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  1. Friends: Thank you very much for all the generous help, support and contributions to get us started digging out. If I may be so bold, it may be clear that this rickety shanty-town housed several of us on the verge of being thrown out of this bourgeois paradise known as San Francisco. My only further humble request is that if you care about the maintenance of a working class, or generally those who are defective enough to prioritize something besides money, please help us battle the real estate weasels for which our lives are merely commodities to be bought and sold. Help us ensure that they fix this building, which according to the SFFD and the insurance investigators is structurally sound and not gravely injured. Save us from the ball and chain!

    1. According to friends who live nearby, it is not zoned for residential use; only work space, & even that very loosely; it originally was a warehouse; they are surprised the place had not been shut down years ago.

      1. Buildings only get shut down for residential use if they are reported to the city. Since neither the owner nor the tenants had any interest in doing that, it presumably never happened.

        And the city only inspects rental buildings for fire risk if they know about them.

        I deem it highly unlikely that these tenants will ever live there again. Hopefully insurance will cover peoples’ loss.

  2. Also: The hole created by the power of the fire and smoke smashing through it was about 3′ wide and 4-5′ tall. It was right where my head was on my pillow asleep.
    The bird didn’t live in a cage and doesn’t like them at all (would you?). He actually climbed into the cage and beat his wings on it while making all that noise. I was so sleepy that I didn’t get right away why the wall behind my head and pillows was so hot. Mr. Willis (the aforementioned bird) knew what it was though. Because of him my guest and the current person renting a room got out as well.
    It was a strong, chemical smelling intense almost explosive fire where we were.
    NOTE: We are in the process of trying to find new spaces the 6 nights a week minimum services and events for the community. Many people came to things here that they wouldn’t have in other places. There is a Facebook page called ‘Koo Koo Faktory’ people can access to see where we are.

    1. Re: Stevenson Alley Warehouse Fire/Koo Koo Faktory… IMPORTANT:
      The FB page is called “Koo Koo Faktory Klub”.
      We are looking for a space in the Mission we can use for 2 hours early evening 5x a week and 90 minutes every Sunday afternoon. A fixer upper is so Welcome. If u know anyone that has some extra space and wants an easy $600 per month please let us know on Facebook at Koo Koo Faktory Klub
      OR text a message to 415.269. 4861
      ***Note: There is a Cash Finders fee if Somebody hooks is up and we go there. It’s a good deed and pretty damned good amount of $$ too!

  3. Thanks for the article and support. It’s a miracle we all got out alive. A lot of the artists at our end of the building lost all or almost all. Some had their work primarily safe from damage. Personally I lost more than 30 years of notebooks full of songs I’d written.
    There were about 370 of them. My memory is not too great for various reasons. There’s that but there is also the “Wow. I’m alive. That bird has a brain the size of a pea and he was so smart and brave. He knew the fire was coming and woke me up. It started behind my bedroom wall where my head was. If he hadn’t gone crazy and woke me up i would’ve been dead in a minute or two because the thick, acrid black smoke and then flame burst through the wall about 2 minutes after I climbed down from the loft. After beating his wings and screaming so I got up the bird meanwhile flew down from our loft and hid under a low shelf-the only place that didn’t have smoke. Like I said, he’s a little hero and obviously the brains of the operation. 🙂

  4. On Thursday morning January 23rd, a fire raged through our friend Gibbs Chapmans live-work space. Thankfully, his girlfriend, their infant son and two dogs were able to escape down a ladder to an adjacent rooftop and were not injured. They lost clothing, baby clothes and gear, personal effects and a computer that Gibbs relies on for work. A lot of his film editing equipment survived, but he has lost his space to work. And the family has lost their home. So we’re going to help him by donating to this fund. He’s helped so many people with his sound engineering, film editing, equipment repair, and even auto repair over the years. If Gibbs has helped you with a project in the past now is the time to thank him with a contribution to this fund. He’s uncomfortable with the idea of asking for help so I’m doing it for him. He’s one of the most helpful, unselfish people I know, and I hope we can all do something to help him and his family recover from this tragedy. – Harvey Stafford

    1. This history had nothing to do with the fire. Keep your nonsense assumptions to yourself. The fire is thought to have been caused by a negligent moron with the proverbial bucket of oily rags.

  5. I know that area very well. My heart goes out to all the residents. I actually had a girlfriend live just half a block down. At least there’s no loss of life.

  6. What a shame. I always loved walking by that spot. Grassroots DIY community and art space will be replaced by something….not as cool or accessible. The tale of our times.

    1. Relieved to hear everyone is physically okay, it seems, including bird and cat. Sorry to hear of the loss. How can people help? Please let us know, thanks.