August 30th, 2012


Columbia House

A week ago this morning, the house down the block and around the corner from mine that we called "Columbia house" was burning.
[photo of burned house]

All 12 residents got out okay, but the 3-alarm fire kept going for over 6 hours, the street corner remained closed all day, and construction contractors spent the following day removing the remnants of the 3rd floor from the house. Nobody will be living there anytime soon.

I've had Molly and Valerie as tenants at my house since 2008, and that entire time, we've been closely connected with the rotating cast of residents of the 1st and 2nd floors of Columbia house. Valerie's band-partner Vessela from Goli lived there for a few years, until she moved to Cloud Club (where Molly's best friend Mali lives) last year; Valerie's best friend Brendan - who often plays guitar in Molly's band - was there the whole time, until last week's fire.

Their front door was about 50 paces from ours, and people were frequently going back and forth. Our friend Mary who lived there likened her relationship to my place as being like the wacky neighbor in a sitcom who's always over, and if you've ever seen any of those sitcoms where people who technically live in separate places act like they're just different parts of the same apartment, that's a good parallel to what we had. On day, shortly after she moved in, Valerie delightedly said "the street is my living room!" as she was flitting back and forth between there and home. That's also what it was like sometimes.

My house was physically undamaged, but it's like we lost half of it.

Firefighters did an amazing job of saving most of the musical instruments, though some of the ones they got out intact may have some water damage. For the past week we've been using my house as a community center for them, a place for people to drop off donations, a place for meals and gatherings, and lots of laundry. We kept the doors open to any of them to come in, use the restroom, eat something, pick up useful things. When they were let back into Columbia house on Monday to see what they could save, most of it went into our basement, where we've been running an ozone machine someone lent us to eliminate the smoke+fire smell from stuff. We've also gotten to know the 3rd floor residents, since we've included them in all of this.

Our living room is packed with sorted donations, our kitchen filled with food (including prepared meals from friends), our finished basement with instruments and objects from the house, and we've had former residents and many friends in and out every day.

I feel like we got an extension on having them as our neighbors, and I fear that when they find new places to live - which I hope they will soon - they may be farther away, scattered in different places, and only then will it really hit me.

P.S. Come to this 3-venue benefit festival for Columbia house's former residents, in Union Square, Somerville, on Sunday September 9th. 24 bands, 4:30pm-11pm, at Precinct, PA's Lounge, and Sally O'Brien's.

[ Edit: Brendan Burns posted about his experience of the day of the fire on his blog. ]