Why Panama Pottery might be forced to close its doors
For more than a decade, some of Sacramento’s most accomplished artists have used a century-old warehouse in Hollywood Park as their home base.
But after an anonymous complaint was filed with the city, the Panama Pottery arts collective could fall victim to what its owner called “Ghost Ship hysteria,” a reference to the 2016 fire that killed 36 people in an artists’ warehouse.
The working space for nearly 30 Sacramento artists on 24th Street faces a long list of code violations that, if not remedied, could lead to its closure. Tenants were given a 10-day notice to vacate the warehouse beginning Monday.
“All this talk about the Ghost Ship, you may as well be talking about the Lusitania,” said David DeCamilla, the building owner and an artist. “It’s not the same thing.”
City officials argue the violations are serious at the 103-year-old building. Carl Simpson, the city’s housing and code enforcement chief, said the Ghost Ship fire has heightened sensitivities around those kind of spaces.
“Subsequent to the Oakland situation, I’m very mindful of these things kind of blowing up,” Simpson said.
The city’s code enforcement department says Panama Pottery has inadequate exits and unsafe electrical equipment, plus it lacks an adequate potable water system. Improvements more than a decade ago to convert it into an artists’ work space were done without city permits, according to city code enforcement.
DeCamilla acknowledges he renovated the building in 2006 without the proper permits, but he said the building is safe and that licensed contractors did the work. He said he doesn’t blame the city for compiling its list of violations.
“Guilty as charged,” he said. “But we created a space here that has no impact on the city at all. Let’s see how badly the city wants to support the arts.”
The complaint against Panama Pottery also claimed the building has living quarters. DeCamilla said no one is living there, and no living spaces were evident during a tour of the building on Monday.
Simpson said DeCamilla “may be in somewhat denial that there is an issue here.” He said the city may be able to give Panama Pottery more time to address the violations “if (DeCamilla) can demonstrate good faith” and begin addressing the concerns.
But if the violations aren’t addressed and artists are still using the space after the 10-day notice expires, Simpson said the city will cut the building’s power and deem it uninhabitable. Anyone who enters the building after that will be subject to arrest.
Artists were living in Oakland’s Ghost Ship. The December 2016 fire broke out during a crowded concert, and stairways made of wood pallets and inadequate exits were blamed for the high death toll.
In the weeks after the fire, local artists expressed a desire for the city to support informal creative spaces, while ensuring those places are safe. While some underground venues remain, many of Sacramento’s below-the-radar spaces have closed over the years.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg has prioritized support for local arts, touting the creative and economic benefits of a thriving art community. He spearheaded a $500,000 program that will provide grants for art installations and street performances.
Panama Pottery is the home base for 10 artists who contributed to the popular Art Street installation in February. Its list of tenants includes well-known artists like Shaun Burner, Jared Tharp, Meg Myers and Waylon Horner.
“It’s a very busy summer for the arts in Sacramento, so Panama shutting down could not have happened at a worse time,” Horner said. “Artists need places like Panama to grow and prosper.”
Artists pay between $125 and $350 a month to rent stalls, offices and other work spaces. Painters, sculptors, photographers and fashion designers work there.
The building’s organizers envision the facility as the anchor of an arts and entertainment district covering Hollywood Park, Curtis Park and Land Park. That vision is starting to take form with the nearby openings of Fountainhead Brewing Company and Two Rivers Cider in recent years.
DeCamilla said it would likely take thousands of dollars to address the city’s complaints. He said he hopes to work out an agreement with city officials that keeps Panama Pottery open, but doesn’t require an unfeasible investment.
“I’m not backing off,” he said.