Photo by Laura Wenus.

It’s been two months since the fire at Mission and 22nd streets destroyed the large mixed-use building that Mission Local, along with more than 30 other businesses and more than 60 people, used to call home. It killed one man and sent another to the hospital with serious injuries.

Today we were finally allowed some time to look around inside and collect what remained.

A week or so after the fire, two Mission Local staffers were allowed to re-enter for ten minutes to grab whatever they could think of that might be important. After that, the building was red-tagged (marked unsafe) and, as time went on, increasingly well secured. A worker with the engineering company responsible for taking care of the building said the perishables in the ground floor businesses have also been cleared out—though not before maggots and rats had gotten into the meats stored in Popeye’s and the butcher shop.

Now that some parts of the walls and sagging ceilings have been shored up, second-floor business owners are being allowed to go back inside and do a more thorough sweep for things they might want to try to save. “Try” is the operative word there, since everything has been soaking in gallons of water for weeks.

Water leaves its mark. Photo by Laura Wenus.
Atlases created by Mission Local that survived the fire. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.

Mold, in the form of black speckles, green lumps, pink blooms, and white cobwebby veils, has crept across almost every surface. Ceiling tiles have come out of their frames and disintegrated into big chunks amid an oatmeal-like sludge, leaving pipes and rafters exposed.

Keys to nowhere. Photo by Laura Wenus.
Mold veils our old pens. Photo by Laura Wenus.
Newspaper clipping archives are sometimes called “the morgue”; here’s what left of ours. Photo by Laura Wenus.
A question for another time. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.

But the disaster isn’t pristine, it’s clear there have been visitors. Graffiti marks the alarm box on one wall, and a shiny soda can was perched on one of our tabletops. Across the room, several half-melted candles that we definitely never lit are nestled in a bowl, perfectly dry, next to a mug filled with cloudy black water.

Alarm box graffiti. Photo by Laura Wenus.
Remnants of a ghost tea party? Photo by Laura Wenus.

Along the hallways, it’s almost completely dark, save for the light that leaks in around the edges of the boarded-up windows or through the gaping hole in the roof where the stairs lead up to the third floor. Sheets of thick plastic, adorned with dire warnings about asbestos, seal off the stairways — though with a quick peek up the stairs, you can see sky where there once was ceiling. Plastic bags full of unrecognizable materials line the walls, waiting to be claimed or discarded. Unlike when we were tenants there, not even roaches stir.

Floorboards of apartments above. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.
The third floor. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.
Roof gone. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.

Given our interest in the fire safety of this building, and our ongoing coverage of safety issues and the landlord, we looked for signs of malfunctioning safety equipment and blocked exits. A door to a second-floor rooftop was padlocked, but it looked new.

To our untrained eyes, there was no smoking gun, just a lot of mold and debris, detritus and sludge, and a horrible sense of loss haunting the entire place. On this trip, we were able to go through the wreckage carefully, picking out things we hope to revive, some of them useful, others sentimental.

Still trying. Photo by Laura Wenus.

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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. Oh that is heartbreaking. I never visited that office, but I remember some of those objects and seeing this is just painful. That cup. I feel for all who’ve experienced losses in this.