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After the Fire

After the Fire

Fire is complicated.

It is useful for heat. It casts a beautiful light.

It dances.

Fire also destroys with terrible efficiency.

In the early hours of January 8th, 2009 a fire broke out in the rear of the building at 101 South Spokane Street in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood. Sitting just below the West Seattle Viaduct, the sprawling one–story building housed both Pacific Sheet Metal (where the fire broke out) and the Dutchman recording studios.

I had spent many days and nights in the Dutchman listening to, recording, thinking about and (sometimes even) dancing to music. Run by my longtime friend Gary Mula, the Dutchman …(more after the gallery)

…was a home away from home for me. During a difficult divorce, Gary welcomed me into the studio at all hours just to hang out and get away from the chaos and stress of a disintegrating union. He never said no. I spent many hours with Gary at his mixing console with his cat Jules in my lap listening to and talking about music.Talking about life.

I had recorded an album at the Dutchman and performed on some other band’s recordings there as well. I played at parties there. I shot video there. I slept there after drinking too much to drive home. In the morning Gary made me toast and coffee in his little kitchen just off of the control room.

I was part of the Dutchman family.

On warm summer nights, we would go up to the roof, drink a few beers, look out over the great Seattle City Light sign and over at the cranes on the docks. We would talk for hours. These are my favorite memories of the Dutchman. I loved the Dutchman almost as much as I love the guy who ran it. As my bandmate, soulmate and friend Molly Lannon Kenny put it, “we grew up at the Dutchman.”

Now the Dutchman Family Home was gone. Lost to fire.

Gary had been running the Dutchman in the space since 1984 and in the ensuing years, the space played host to some of Seattle’s most important musicians. Nirvana, the Gits, Screaming Trees and countless other musician known and unknown alike. They (like me) played in one capacity or another within the Dutchman studios or practice spaces. Second only to possibly Jack Endino in supporting local music, Gary Mula’s nurturing, support and shaping of the eclectic tapestry of Seattle music is legendary. Gary also plays a mean guitar and sings a mean tune himself.

Luckily, Gary was out of town helping his mother in Sedro Woolley when the fire struck. He returned to Seattle soon after a friend called him to tell him what was happening. He had just seen the burning building on the morning news. Gary arrived while firefighters were still bringing the blaze under control.

A firefighter said he thought he’d seen a cat fleeing the building.

Soon after the fire was put out and it was deemed safe enough, Gary was allowed back into the building to salvage what he could. He asked me to tag along if I wanted to and I did. I accompanied Gary on two salvage trips with my cameras to document what was left.

These were difficult journeys for me. I was worried about what losing 25 years of work, memories and security was doing to my friend. I was also worried about how I would feel in that space. Gary was as steady and good humored as he always is and I found that comforting even though I suspected that deep inside he was scared and uncertain about his future. Gary and I spent hours in that space going through the wreckage. In one of the images you can see the remains of an organ, the keys still somewhat intact in the rubble. Just after I took this image, Gary and I walked into another room when we heard a loud whooshing sound. Looking back at where we had just been standing, we saw that a part of the roof had come crashing down right where the organ was. Right where we had just been standing.

I’m thankful that Gary invited me along. We even laughed a few times.

Just a few weeks after the Dutchman fire, one of our favorite Sodo hangouts–Hooverville on First Avenue South–also suffered a fire. Gary and I used to meet at Hooverville on Sunday nights for informal gatherings of conversation with invited guests. We had just had one the Sunday before the fire. The Hooverville owners asked me to come in and document some of the aftermath. Those pictures are also in this series.

This gallery is dedicated to Jules who sadly didn’t make it out of the building the morning of the Dutchman fire. He was a prince among cats.

We all miss him.

…and his home.


Gary Mula operates the Bani-Love recording studio at the Columbia City Theater. He is busier than ever. Hooverville reopened after cleaning up, repairs and a remodel. They are busier than ever.