By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Highland Park Improvement Club is more than a building … it’s people.
And that’s why the early-morning fire that heavily damaged the century-old HPIC headquarters two weeks ago (WSB coverage here) hasn’t stopped HPIC from continuing to be the heart of its community.
Tomorrow (Saturday, July 10th), for example, the first of three “Giant Garage Sales” – already planned before the fire – will be held in the HPIC parking lot and courtyard on the two sides of the 1116 SW Holden building least affected by the flames.
But while that should make for a fun day, what’s been happening since the June 25th fire has been hard, heartbreaking work for HPIC’s all-volunteer board. We talked Thursday by phone with Nicole Mazza to see what they have learned, what’s next, and how people can help.
Earlier this week, Mazza said, the board met at the building for the first time since the fire. Some were out of town when it happened and the meeting was the first time they saw the damage firsthand. The fire’s exact cause remains a mystery – ruled “undetermined” by the Seattle Fire Department – but investigators working for their insurance company believe it started outside the building, on the east side, and wasn’t electrical.
This week, the insurance company’s inspector assessed the building, and HPIC’s board expects a report soon on how much of the building can be saved, what will have to be entirely reconstructed, what might just have to be “taken down to the studs,” etc. “The initial walkthrough showed everything inside will need to be replaced,” Mazza said. This is especially wrenching because, you might recall, HPIC had been in the middle of a major overhaul before the fire – as we showed you here – scraping together donations and grants to fund everything from a new roof on down. (The roof had just been completed pre-fire – and now most of that will have to be replaced. The only section that might be salvageable is the one with HPIC’s solar panels.)
Once the final report’s in and the insurance company decides on a sum, HPIC will have to “come up with our own plan for a rebuild,” Mazza explained, perhaps proceeding with some “building modifications” that had long been under consideration.
In the meantime, they are working on how to “still be a presence” in the community. Events, and rentals for community gatherings, were the heart of HPIC. For the garage sales, they’ve rented a portable toilet, and they’ll have a bar outside; Highland Park Corner Store will be there to sell coffee and lemonade. For other events – at least into the fall, before wintry weather arrives – perhaps they can get tents for outdoor events – smaller versions of the monthly Corner Bar, maybe even movie nights. The HPIC storage closet full of chairs and tables emerged, amazingly, relatively unscathed.
So one way you can help is to attend those events when they happen – tomorrow’s garage sale, for example, is happening 10 am-3 pm (and they’ll host sales again on August 14th and September 11th). And of course you can donate – here’s the link. HPIC also is selling T-shirts that were ordered long before the fire but seem particularly appropriate in its aftermath – with the message “Highland Park, Stronger Together.” (You can buy yours at the HP Corner Store, 7789 Highland Park Way.)
Longer term, Mazza said, they hope to leverage community members’ expertise and generosity in some aspects of the recovery and rebuild – project management, for example. They’ve already been bowled over by the outpouring – “I don’t think we had a full appreciation for how much people love the club” until this happened. Not only have people given money, they’ve also offered alternate spaces. “So many people are all-in to help us rebuild; we definitely want to seize the moment.”