San Diego

City Officials Shut Down Barrio Logan's Fire Trap Art Studio

The Glashaus building in the 1800 block of Main Street was permitted as a warehouse, according to city officials

City Attorney officials shut down Barrio Logan's Fire Trap Wednesday, an artist studio with poorly designed ceilings and stairs that could collapse in a fire, trapping those inside, according to Chief Deputy City Attorney Mike Giorgino. 

The Glashaus building in the 1800 block of Main Street was permitted as a warehouse. 

For many years, however, it operated illegally as an art gallery with 21 studios, Giorgino said. 

When the owners in charge converted the building, they did not obtain the proper building, electrical or plumbing permits, Giorgino said, violating local laws. 

The building's walls were not braced properly for an earthquake and could collapse; stairways and ceilings did not have required fire ratings, meaning the flames could spread quickly; the ceilings, catwalks and stairs could collapse in a fire, trapping occupants inside, according to Giorgino. 

Additionally, the building did not have a rear exit door, meaning anyone trying to escape would not be able to escape. 

Because of that, the building was a safety hazard for those inside, according to the City. 

"The code violations on this property could easily have led to a tragedy like the 'Ghost Ship' fire that claimed 36 lives last year in Oakland," City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said in a statement. 

Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil signed a Stipulated Judgment on Wednesday requiring the building owner - Mitchell Investments, Inc. -- and the tenant -- Matthew Devine, a well-known artist -- to stop using the building until the issues are resolved, Giorgino said. 

Devine subletted the property to multiple local artists, according to the City. Those artists then worked there and sold their work inside the building. The artists were never informed the building was not built according to proper code for use. 

Once the City became aware of the violations, the owner and tenant were ordered to submit plans to fix violations, Giorgino said. 

The tenant hired workers and began some repairs, but never obtained the proper permits or completed the work. 

The case was sent to the Code Enforcement Division, which sent the case to the City Attorney's office. Officials prepared a civil complaint to stop the property owner and tenants from using the building until everything was fixed. 

The two parties settled the case. Mitchell Investments and the tenant agreed to remove all unpermitted work and make the building compliant. 

The company will also pay $100,000 in civil penalties and an additional $5,981 to cover the Code Enforcement Division's investigative costs. 

The tenants are vacating the property. 

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