It has been about seven months since Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire, the nation’s deadliest blaze in more than a decade. The Alameda County district attorney has filed 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter against Derick Almena, the Svengali-like manager of the artists collective, and Max Harris, accused of planning a concert there the night of the fire.
Sadly, conspiring trends suggest that there will be another mass-casualty event like the Ghost Ship fire, in which 36 men and women died, all of smoke inhalation. This time, it could happen in Southern California. It may be an omen that, after the fire, Harris moved to a debris-strewn industrial building in South Los Angeles, where he was arrested June 5.
The region is littered with mom-and-pop industrial structures like the Ghost Ship warehouse. They were built during a national manufacturing boom beginning in the 1950s and ending at the close of the ’70s.
In 1979, manufacturing in the United States reached its peak. It has been in steep decline since. Today, U.S. manufacturing is at pre-World War II levels.
But the buildings live on. Of the approximately 31,000 industrial buildings in the Los Angeles market, almost 25,000 were built in 1980 or before, according to the real estate analytics firm Costar. These buildings have now become problematic, as too few users chase a glut of space.
This has opened the door for neglect, vandalism and do-it-yourself experimentation by unscrupulous owners and tenants looking to make a quick buck.
Many former small-manufacturing buildings are being used as office space, cash-and-carry warehouses, retail showrooms and artist lofts, or for storage. Some are long-term vacancies.
Another source adding zombie buildings to the Southern California streetscape is an epic bout of retail closings due to e-commerce.
It may be hard to imagine it, but a shuttered building that might have once housed a Sports Authority or Anna’s Linens could, with the right mix of surrounding long-term…