South of the tracks, tucked back off Phoenix Ave., is a building with two 15 ft. tall sheet steel-sheathed doors. You’ve never noticed it though you’ve walked by it 100 times. Or if you have observed it, you’ve wondered about it.
It’s known as the BoilerRoom because that’s what it once was. A first layer of igneous rock was laid to build the original Southwest corner in the 1920s. Vintage cinder block was added to it in the 50s and then the most modern building was placed upon that like layers in a sedimentary rock formation. The 1800 sq. ft. rectangular warehouse once housed steam-generating equipment for the laundromat on San Francisco St. American Laundry was owned by an immigrant family, built by Grandfather Wong with winnings from the Chinese lottery. It is now replaced by a dive bar and Thai restaurant.
The BoilerRoom has grease on the back wall where the boiler once exchanged oil for hot water vapor. Random pipes, dead wires, abandoned electrical outlets and boarded-up doors provide a visual history of the now-defunct business. The ceilings are high and the lofty windows near them tempt the tenants below with their unavailability. It smells of earth. Hand-hewn nails, broken hoe blades, ceramic tiles and pinning needles have been found as the place is excavated from layers of dirt.
After the laundromat, the BoilerRoom was used for many decades as storage, holding old roll-top desks, rocking horses, dollhouses and Christmas lawn decorations after divorces and many moves rendered the possessions inconvenient to the extended family of the owner.
The BoilerRoom is now a sculpture studio, creative-collaborative working space and raw gallery. While the artists conceptualize their 12 ft. high wooden nest sculptures, graffiti-style paintings, sewing projects, and tinker with old telephone booths, the branches from the Siberian elm trees grow through the warehouse windows up above. The steel doors slide open to let in the necessary studio ingredient of north light. Cinder blocks have cracked in right-angle tracks, allowing access to slanted beams of day that illuminate the dust motes.
Everything wants to get in to this space, where imagination is incubated.