Last Wednesday morning at about 3 a.m., a fire broke out at the corner of Santa Barbara and De la Guerra streets in an apparent attempt to snuff out the soul of our downtown art scene. Three cats-including neighborhood celebrity Danny de la Guerra -were killed, an apartment full of one couple’s personal belongings was ruined, and that couple had to escape the building while screaming through thick, black smoke. (Another inhabitant also lost everything, though his allegedly unpermitted living space is said to be where the fire began when a lamp ignited a blanket.) Meanwhile, as the Fire Department fought the flames, David Court and Christi Westerhouse, the owners of The Frameworks/Caruso Woods Gallery, dodged flames as they tried to save valuable pieces of art.
When the ash finally settled, the damage proved far worse than the cats’ lives, the inhabitants’ ruined belongings, the “tens of thousands” of dollars in destroyed art and framing equipment, and the lost business caused to the gallery, the bridal boutique, the Beads store, and the mailbox center. The most damaging blow to this little corner of downtown was the potential destruction of the community spirit that’s been cultivated by The Frameworks gallery for the past five years, an artistic outreach and relaxed, good times vibe that’s since been agreeably co-opted by the Downtown Organization into the successful First Thursdays event. (The next one is May 3, which would have launched the gallery’s annual Buddha Abides show.)
Last Thursday, surveying The Frameworks carnage -where the walls drip with black soot, the framing shop sits charred, and an outline of Danny’s last stand remains on the floor-David Court, whose wife and business partner, Christi, is pregnant, explained, “We weren’t doing what we were doing to sell the art. We were doing it to allow a lot of young people without money to be involved in the artistic process. We were doing it for the community-building aspects.” With black soot on his hands and a tremble in his voice, he said that he doesn’t know what they’ll do next, but hopes they can remain in that spot.
Thanks to their efforts, however, this story’s not all sad. That same day, an endless stream of well-wishers
came by to pledge their support and plan for a benefit, which will likely take place on May 18. “If this was another business, it might be different, but we’ve had an amazing amount of response,” said Court. “It shows the selflessness of it all and it shows that the community thing really does work.”