New: Berkeley Artisan's Collective Took "Devastating" Losses in Fire

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday April 16, 2014 - 10:07:00 PM

While Berkeley businesses the Wooden Duck and Import Tile are recouping after a five-alarm warehouse complex fire Saturday night, an artisan's collective also operating in the destroyed complex took "devastating" losses and will be looking into fundraising efforts in the coming months, its proprietor said today. 

Joshua Goldberg said the Joshua Tree Artisan's Collective has operated entirely out of the space since 2005 when he started building a dilapidated and "hideous" warehouse into a workspace and showroom for a collective of about 25 artists, engineers and inventors. 

Its members work closely together and have levels of involvement ranging from stopping by once every month or two to members who work there well over full-time, Goldberg said. In the space they did woodworking, metalworking, fabrication, product development, research prototyping and design, among other things. 

The fire destroyed the entire space, along with warehouses for retailers the Wooden Duck and Import Tile. While both companies took heavy losses they were able to quickly resume their retail businesses, but Joshua Tree lost everything, Goldberg said. 

The Berkeley Fire Department is still investigating the blaze, which was reported at about 8 p.m. in the 1800 block of Second Street. The fire engulfed the complex and huge flames were visible from nearby Interstate Highway 80 as firefighters battled it for the next five hours. 

The next morning, there was nothing left of the three warehouses but a pile of smoldering rubble and brick walls. 

Goldberg made the initial 911 call for the fire, as he was working late that night. The space allows its members 24-hour access for artists who keep late hours on projects. 

He said that it took time for them to tell that the neighboring Wooden Duck warehouse had caught fire, and only caught a whiff of smoke at first. But when he went outside and looked at the building from a distance, he could see thick gray smoke pouring out of roof vents from the Wooden Duck's warehouse. 

The fire spread quickly because of the huge stock of wooden furniture stacked in the Wooden Duck's Warehouse and the $20,000 to $40,000 in raw lumber that was stored in Joshua Tree. 

Goldberg has received praise and congratulations from his neighbors, who likely would have lost more had he not been there late on a Saturday night. The rest of the warehouses were empty at that time, and if the same fire happened when he wasn't there, it might not have been noticed so quickly. 

But while his call may have saved his neighbors, Joshua Tree was left with nothing. Goldberg lost his only source of income in the blaze and the space that he put his life's savings and years of work into. 

Many of the collective's members are struggling artists just scraping by and carried little insurance, if any, Goldberg said.  

"Making a living as a woodworker is not a thriving profession in this day and age, yet for many it's their calling in life," he said. 

While the community around them has been strongly emotionally supportive after the loss, Joshua Tree still has a long way to go to even begin to recover from this, Goldberg said. 

"The community is coming out in full force with an enormous amount of emotional support for us," he said. "We need help bad. It's going to take hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to recoup our losses." 

To that end, he said that they plan to hold fundraisers any way they can -- through events, crowdfuding, Kickstarter, and even sales of whatever pieces might be salvaged and refurbished from the rubble. 

The Wooden Duck, for its part, has volunteered a large outdoor event space for a fundraiser, Goldberg said.  

But with the stress of the loss of the entire business, no organized fundraiser has been set up yet. Goldberg said that June 14 is the tentative date for the first Joshua Tree fundraiser, but the location and details have yet to be established.