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Not everyone dismayed that Beach Hill co-op went up in flames

Not everyone dismayed that Beach Hill co-op went up in flames


February 4, 2003
Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ -- Residents of the charred co-op on Beach Hill say
they’re grateful to all the Santa Cruzans who offered shelter and kind
words after their home burned Sunday night.
But the fire, traced to problems with the electrical system, reminded
them that some neighbors have zero sympathy for the cooperative
Cesar Chavez House, which is considered noisy and rowdy by some.
One co-op member said a neighbor told her the fire was “thanks for
your lifestyle” and its members now “ought to get a tent.”
Ironically, when the fire began, most co-op residents were at a
downstairs meeting discussing a “noise-reduction policy” and
addressing neighbor complaints, renters said.
City fire inspector Mark Ramos said the house meeting, which was
well away from the second-floor room where the fire began, may have
saved their lives.
The insured million-dollar house at 316 Main St. sustained $200,000
worth of damage, firefighters said. Ten engines and 38 firefighters
responded. One firefighter sank through a second-story floor and
pulled himself up, but nobody was seriously hurt in the blaze.
The home’s “balloon frame” construction made the fire worse, Ramos
said. After putting out the fire in 20 minutes, firefighters spent two
hours checking the thick walls for flames, he explained.
The fire scorched the top floor of the two-story 1916 Victorian and
left 26 people, mostly UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo college students,
with no permanent home.
Residents plan to move back into the co-op but said it could be
months before the home is made livable again. Most found temporary
arrangements at the youth hostel across the street. The Salvation
Army and Red Cross also offered help.
Firefighters are not sure if a circuit overload or faulty wiring is to
One neighbor, aside from noise concerns, was reportedly angry about
the fire having reached a redwood tree that burned near a group of
townhouses, which were not damaged, firefighters said.
“One family was happy to see us burn,” said co-op member Philips
Patton, son of former Supervisor Gary Patton.
For the past 10 years the house has been a meeting and living place
for student activists.
Residents describe the 19-bedroom, two-story home as an
“autonomous, diverse place open to all physical, cultural, sexual and
spiritual types of people.” The group says it is an educational
nonprofit promoting ecological causes with frequent community
events such as a fair-trade tea and coffee open house. Out front is a
sticker saying “do something, resist, strike, quit, dance, protest,
vandalize, create, fall in love, write, yell.”
Inside, there is a mural of turtles, frogs, worms and angels stretching
up a narrow staircase that leads to a burned-out room full of melted
LP records and Greek drama texts. The kitchen is stacked with bulk
food canisters now covered with soggy hunks of ceiling. Beside the
staircase, the co-op had a “free store” where “hippies” could leave
items and take others in return. Kale, chard, collards and radishes
grow out front.
Tenants were well aware that some neighbors had a dim view of their
house, but say it’s mostly due to “residual” anger from past incidents.
They said things got ugly in 1998, in part because a student played
bongos on the roof at 3 a.m.
One neighbor, Alex Stern, said “I overheard a neighbor say, ‘You kind
of get what you deserve.’ But they’ve always been very nice to me.’’
Another neighbor said she, too, gets along with them but “they play
music and I play music too. They never play too loudly.”
Co-op members initially did not know their house was burning.
“We were down here (on the first floor) and hear some thuds, bumps,
popping and breaking glass,” said Jeremy Fredericksen, who is on the
co-op’s board of directors. “At first we thought someone was jumping
around in the room. Then we saw the sparks.”
One person was on the second floor at the time but was well away
from the room where the fire began.
The co-op that runs the house is part of a national co-op network
connected to the North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO).
It also owns the “Zami House” on Laurel Street.
Patton called the house friendly and affordable. “I hope we as a family
survive,” he said. “With fire comes the possibility of regeneration.
That’s exciting but it’s going to be a long six months.”
On Monday afternoon, some were relentlessly optimistic.
“This is gonna be one hell of an art project,” said one young woman,
leaning out of a second-story window.
Contact Dan White at dwhite (at)


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