OAKLAND — The Ghost Ship is now gone. But there's The Salt Lick, the ominously named Deathtrap and other converted warehouses where artists are holding emergency meetings behind locked metal doors.
Oakland has long been hospitable to an underground art scene that flourished in its abandoned industrial warehouses and helped put this gritty city on the world's art map. But now its art and music underground is panicking and bracing for a crackdown.
Painters, musicians and struggling artists of all types came to live and work, to perform and dance late into the night and to be surrounded by creativity.
They tolerated the exposed wiring, spotty electricity and other dangers or inconveniences of often unregulated warehouses, as a trade-off for affordable housing and studio space in one of the country's priciest housing markets.
Those now living in buildings with numerous code violations fear their lifestyles and ultimately the San Francisco Bay Area's vibrant art scene are endangered because of the safety issues exposed by the fire that killed 36 people at a dance party in the warehouse known as the Ghost Ship. Authorities are investigating whether a refrigerator or other appliances caused the fire.
"Everyone is really worried right now. This has ignited a lot of fear," said Mara Barenbaum, 32, a singer and musician who spent seven years in an artist collective.
She has held strategy sessions with other artists and helped write an open letter urging the city to protect "the vital artistic fabric of Oakland" by making buildings safe and not throwing artists out on the street.
The tragedy is the latest upheaval for artists in the Bay Area, who flocked to Oakland after the tech boom made San Francisco unaffordable only to have the housing crisis follow them. Oakland rents are skyrocketing, and developers are converting old warehouses into flashy apartments.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has sought to ease the artists' concerns but also says the status quo is unacceptable. The Ghost Ship, an old warehouse carved into artist studios and illegal living spaces, had no sprinklers, no fire alarms and was ultimately ignored by city inspectors. Its eclectic, bohemian decor of old furniture combined with piles of wood and snaking electrical cords turned into a death trap.
Schaaf said the deadly fire has triggered a flood of new complaints against buildings and the city will take "aggressive and quick action to avoid any future tragedies." However, she also vowed to protect artists and not "push out that incredible creative community that makes Oakland, Oakland."
Simmering tension boiled over Wednesday, when an Oakland restaurant owner called a news conference to draw attention to The Salt Lick collective. Artists turned up and accused her of launching a "witch hunt."
"I'm concerned they could burn down my business," said Dorothy King, whose restaurant is next to the warehouse, which she said had weekend parties with lines of people out the door. Amid shouting and finger pointing, King said, "The city should come in and help, not shut it down."
Oakland's artists are not encouraged by nationwide reactions to last weekend's tragedy.
On Monday in Baltimore, authorities evicted more than a dozen artists from a collective known as the Bell Foundry which they deemed "deplorable" and unfit for habitation. Officials entered the two-story warehouse and gave residents one hour to pack their belongings.
The Los Angeles fire chief said city officials will discuss an "aggressive response" to illegally occupied commercial spaces next week.