Five-alarm fires are spectacles, but so, it appears, is the aftermath. Dozens of Mission residents and people from other parts of the city stopped on Mission St. between 22nd and 23rd throughout the day on Saturday to watch construction workers prepare for the demolition of Big House Inc.
An impromptu community event unfurled as strangers speculated with one another on Thursday’s fire, wondered about what had caused it and recalled the scene and the smoke that engulfed Mission Street.
One woman walked up to another and started offering her first hand account of the event. The other nodded despite not understanding English. Others discussed what might happen to the empty lot that would be created once the building comes down. Some wondered what happened to all the electronics in the store next door and if that building would also be demolished.
One man stopped to offer his whereabouts during the fire. “I was working down at Fisherman’s Wharf,” he said and then continued down the street.
Entire families with young children stayed the longest, seeming almost pleased to have Saturday’s entertainment so readily available.
A young mother, who asked not to be named, said that her three children had asked to come to watch.
Two young boys who couldn’t be older than 10 and 7 took look on with the looks of concern generally on older men. They discussed the plastic bags containing the soggy backpacks and clothes — the collateral damage of heat that sent flames shooting up through the roof of the building and the water that doused them.
Ray Branes ate an ice cream bar and surveyed the scene as one would a pick-up ball game. He hadn’t yet seen the wreckage, so he decided to watch while he was waiting for someone.
“I saw it on the news, so I thought I would come over and see it,” he said.
A man wearing dozens of social justice-themed pins and who did not want to be named thought it was completely normal to be spending a Saturday afternoon watching the scene. He had been watching for at least 20 minutes and offered his opinions of how much water damage the surrounding buildings incurred.
Two small green cranes were put in and out of use over the course of the day. Every time one started to move, more people would stop to watch and heads would pop out of the stores. Finally, the demolition began around 3 p.m.
One man, who asked to not be named, was visiting his parents in the Mission. He lives in the Haight and comes to the neighborhood every day, but decided to spend an hour watching the workers prepare for the demolition.
To him, the scene was nothing special. “I’ve seen this before,” he said, but nonetheless, like many others, he stayed.