Anna called me this morning to say that the little apartment we lived in on 17th Street between Madison Street and Lakeside Drive was engulfed in flames and the place was buzzing with firetrucks. I hopped on my bike and dashed over to see what had happened. When I got there Anna met me and said that it wasn’t our old apartment after all, but the taller apartment building next door.
Back in the late 1970s we lived in two different apartments in the gold building on 17th Street. Our first was a tiny studio in the back. It had a Murphy Bed, and the tiniest little kitchen you can imagine. There was a closet that was pretty generous, but the place was overly cozy for two. The rent was right, though, at $240 per month. Later, when we were not quite as broke we upgraded to the one bedroom apartment in the front. That upped our rent to $350. We were living large. The front apartment had a fireplace. The only real downside was that the previous tenant was a smoker and it took a lot of scrubbing and a couple of coats of paint to get rid of the smoke stains on the walls. It was a temporary victory — a couple of months later we noticed streaks of brown in the coved ceiling were the smoke stains began to seep through.
One night as we were sleeping in our bedroom in the northeast corner of the building we heard a woman crying out in pain, begging for help. At first we thought it might have been some sort of domestic abuse — the neighborhood was pretty tough at that time — so Anna called the police. They arrived 10 or 15 minutes later and we could hear them breaking through the door in the neighboring apartment. She was alone, having a baby. Fortunately the police arrived in time to summon help and we saw them wheeling her out of the building on a gurney a little later with a baby in her arms.
The apartment that burned this morning is the apartment where that woman gave birth. In one of the photos below you can see her burned out windows and one of the windows of our bedroom.
The Oakland Fire Department was out in force — there were two hook and ladder trucks and at least three other big trucks when I arrived (after the fire was out).