It's not real glamorous to be living in a warehouse with little mice and weird bugs in the summer."
BRINGING ART, THEATER, MUSIC — AND STRAIGHT-EDGED VEGETARIANS TOGETHER
House-party spaces have come and gone, but one of the saddest passings had to be 40th Street Warehouse in Oakland, which put on rock, folk, and hip-hop shows, queer cabaret, and art events from 1996 until the collective shuttered last winter with a last loud musical blowout (This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb headlined) and a commemorative zine. From Monument to Masses guitarist Matthew Solberg lived there for three years and recalls that the onetime auto mechanic shop's shows were initially started by members of the experimental Noisegate.
By 2003, Solberg says the Temescal space was putting on shows, plays, or benefits every weekend, with an emphasis on rock and metal: Parts and Labor, Tyondai Braxton, High on Fire, Ludicra, Merzbow, Masonna, Melt Banana, a Minor Forest, Lesser, Curtains, Neon Hunk, Hair Police, Deep Dickollective, Thrones, X27, Soophie Nun Squad, Toychestra, 25 Suaves, Monitor Bats, the Intima, Lowdown, the Coachwhips, Hammers of Misfortune, the Vanishing, Mirah, Gravy Train!!!!, Eskapo, and Microphones (last on the Microphones bill, beneath Loch Nest Dumpster, is Devendra Banhart, described as "acoustic ardor from San Francisco's shyist [sic]"), with bands like Numbers getting a running start with multiple performances there.
The schedule, however, took its toll. "People would move into the warehouse and be really stoked to have that autonomous space, but they didn't really know what they were getting into. They usually lasted six months, and then they'd be, like, 'I can't stand this anymore!'” Solberg says. "But certain people adapted because they were passionate about being able to create that sort of space and making it work: a DIY show space where 100 percent of proceeds went to the bands — and obviously, we'd cover some expenses, like electrical and providing food for the bands. But apart from that, the house didn't take any money. It was all done out of, I dunno, community service."
The collective itself got a reputation as a straight-edged vegan cabal that forbade hard drugs and meat in the fridge that sat on the outskirts of the barnlike communal show space. "We didn't want to succumb to the crash pad–flophouse thing," Solberg explains. "We just wanted to preserve sanity."
All that came to an end when in 2004 the Oakland City Council passed the Nuisance Eviction Ordinance, which took aim at crack houses but covered "noise" as a reason for eviction. "The people at 40th Street all believed that was the reason we got so much police attention the last year we were there," Solberg says. After joining his fellow tenants in a winning fight against their landlord, who had given them a month's eviction notice in order to convert the space to condos, Solberg moved to Ptomaine Temple, which continues to stage experimental noise shows.
BACK AT THE FACTORY
And despite the rewards, good times, and appreciative bands that get play and earn gas money to their next show, shutdowns are still a threat, casting a shadow even over spots like the Smith-owned Cereal Factory. After a neighbor began objecting last year to the soused kids milling in the street and lined up out the Factory's front door to go to the bathroom, the Mothballs drummer slowed the shows, built a discreet bathroom in the basement, and then carefully began the music once more. Why bother? The chuckle-prone Smith, who works in the live-music department at KALX, bought the house with the intention of having shows. "At the risk of sounding like a stupid hippie, I think it's important to contribute things," he says before the last show of summer 2006 on Sept. 16, with Them There Skies, Sandycoates, and Dreamdate.
This last show likely went off smoothly: the model property owner checked in with his neighbors that evening during his walk home.