Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Castro Fire Benefit at the Lookout Bar: The Community Pulls Together During a Tragedy

Organizer Kate Ryken, host Rebecca Prozan, and friend of the victims Elissa Berger

There was a community fundraiser to benefit the victims of the fires in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood at the Lookout bar on Feb. 15. The event drew a cross section of local LGBT neighbors and friends to the trendy hot spot. Guests got a cold chill that was not from the cool drizzle when they spotted the horrific fire damage on a building’s façade just one home over from the Lookout on 16th Street. Activists Eileen Hanson and Denise Wells live in the building next to the damaged building, and Wells attended the benefit.

Thirteen people were displaced by the fire and they were thankful to the San Francisco Fire Department for their fast attention to a tragedy that could have been much worse. The arsonist set a fire that engulfed the front of the building and it could have caused injuries and deaths.

Victorian building in the Castro damaged by an arson fire

Friends of the victims Kate Ryken and Elissa Berger sold raffle tickets for prime goods and services from Café Flore, Nancy Boy, restaurants Home and Chow, and Beach Blanket Babylon. The donors and the raffle ticket buyers were thanked for their generosity. Hostess Rebecca Prozan joined San Francisco City Supervisor Scott Wiener, Rafael Mandelman, Andrea Shorter, and Charles Sheehan and dozens of others to try to alleviate the pain of a forced evacuation.

Fine sounds from the Lookout’s DJ APC (Andrew Gibbons) made it clear that he does not have Bieber Fever. His striking, wholesome, good looks rival those of DJ Christopher B who plays at the bar’s Pledge party.

A sleek, classy, seven-foot-tall drag queen in a clinging royal-blue dress sashayed through the benefit and revealed herself to be Patty McGroin, owner of the new drag clothing store Cocomo’s on Castro Street. It is the kind of business that will be of considerable help to cross-dressing neophytes and McGroin’s blue ensemble could be a fine choice for Supervisor Wiener on Halloween.

The protection group Castro Community on Patrol was represented by Greg Carey and Rick Holte. They handed out arson warning flyers with phone numbers to call and what to watch or listen for on one side and fire safety tips on the other side.

Victorian building in the Castro damaged by an arson fire

There is increased tension in the neighborhood, but there is also a new bonding and alertness that has caused an awareness that future fires can be deterred or at least spotted before they become serious. Increased police patrols possibly saved lives when a non-arson related fire broke out days after the Castro fires on Clayton Street and officers were passing by at 3:00AM. The police department suspects that the evil-doer being hunted has prior arson arrests, Neighbors who are agitated by the chronic vandalism in the Castro think that those destructive perpetrators may be linked to the fires.

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