The deadly warehouse fire in Oakland, California, earlier this month has raised concerns about the safety of converted gallery spaces. In San Diego, one art gallery was recently inspected and forced to shut down.
Soon after the Oakland fire, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) says it received an anonymous tip of possible overcrowding at La Bodega Gallery in Barrio Logan.
A fire marshal was sent to inspect the building, which resulted in city officials requiring the owner of the gallery, Chris Zertuchi, to make major changes to the space – renovations that will cost between $50,000 and $60,000.
Zertuchi told NBC 7 he’s concerned his art venue has been unfairly targeted. La Bodega Gallery has been forced to close its doors until it can raise the money to pay for the changes.
“We’re looking at new doors, sprinkler system, new lighting and a fire exit toward the back,” he said. “They cracked down on three different venues -- ours, Bread and Salt and Glass House -- all walking distance from here.”
Zertuchi said three shows were scheduled to debut at his art gallery next month, but now those plans are on hold.
SDFD Fire Marshal Doug Perry said La Bodega Gallery was not unfairly targeted.
“The answer is absolutely no,” Perry told NBC 7. “The complaint was that it was overcrowded. We go to numerous complaints in the Gaslamp and Ocean Beach for overcrowding.”
Perry said the Oakland warehouse fire was a wake-up call to city officials everywhere to be more vigilant of code compliance issues. He has talked to his staff about being more vigilant, physically going into buildings to inspect safety conditions and to conduct follow-ups on reports from the public.
Perry said the city did not shut down La Bodega Gallery. Rather, in its current condition, the space can only legally hold 49 people.
“The one thing I noticed was there was only one door in front of the gallery, and when you only have one door, you can only have 49 people in a suite. So I was concerned,” he explained.
Zertuchi said their events are often much larger than that, which is why the venue can’t currently operate under those parameters.