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City and fire officials shut down The Glashaus in Barrio Logan last month due to code compliance and fire safety issues related to illegal construction inside the arts venue. Now, the artists who had studios there are struggling to find a place to go.
The Glashaus opened as an arts venue back in 2009. It’s since hosted dozens of high-profile, highly publicized events. So why did officials take nearly a decade to shut it down?
San Diego Fire Marshal Doug Perry said the property at 1815 Main St. has been on fire inspectors’ radar since it opened. He said the fire department worked with The Glashaus master lease holder Matt Devine on fire safety for years trying to bring the construction into compliance.
Yet Perry now says it should not have taken as long as it did to shut the venue down.
“Some of these issues were missed by the inspections, and that’s the human error factor of it,” Perry said. “We will do better training of our staff so they don’t miss these things in the future.”
Perry said a fire inspector made a note of illegal construction inside the building in 2009, but that Devine told the inspector he was working on getting the permits and making necessary fire safety upgrades. None of the art studios built inside the venue were properly permitted or up to fire safety standards, although sprinklers and other safety upgrades were added over the years.
Fire inspectors didn’t return to the property again until 2013. Perry said budget cuts stemming from the economic downturn in 2008 slowed inspections citywide. The building is zoned manufacturing and industrial use, but Devine told the fire department he was working on permits to change its legal use.
“We took some risk to allow them to continue to work there,” Perry said. “But there was an assessment that was made by all the players involved and we felt we could give the owners time to fix the problems.”
Fire inspectors didn’t report the illegal construction to the city’s code enforcement division until the end of 2014. Perry said the fire department always tries to work with property owners first to get them into compliance before escalating the issue, but that the department let this one drag on too long.
“We worked with them as much as we possibly could for as long as we possibly could,” Perry said. “But we couldn’t find a way to make the building work and be code-compliant … I wished we would have pushed harder when we noticed there was unpermitted construction in there. I wish we would have moved faster and moved it over to code enforcement sooner.”
One of the problems with the slow approach is that the nearly two dozen artists paying rent to work in the studios were left in the dark. They weren’t made aware of how pressing the problems were until early August, when Devine told them to vacate their spaces within 30 days. The city then demanded that locks be quickly removed from all studio doors while the artists were in the middle of moving out, which led to security concerns. And Glashaus artists like Kathleen Mitchell and Doreen Mellen were told they had to immediately stop firing their kilns, which led to unexpected lost income.
A complaint filed by the city attorney’s office against Devine and Mitchell Investments, the investment firm that owns the building, notes that if the tenants stayed in the building, it would “result in irreparable injury to the health, safety and welfare of the occupants and the citizens of the city of San Diego.”
Mellen wonders why those grave concerns were never communicated to tenants.
“Why, all the sudden, was this such a serious problem?” asked Mellen, who had her ceramics studio at The Glashaus for six years. “There’s been no transparency.”
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
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