The best little neighborhood in Seattle isn’t even in Seattle — it’s in White Center, the unincorporated area just south of city limits. Following a fire this weekend that devastated multiple minority-owned businesses, the community has flocked to multiple online fundraisers, with in-person events planned over the next few days.
A report on the cause of the fire is still pending, though King County Fire Protection District #2 says it was accidental and began in the basement of The Lumber Yard, the neighborhood’s only gay bar.
“I woke up Monday morning and my phone had just exploded with messages,” says Matt Maring, who is co-founder and president of White Center Pride alongside Jason Loughridge.
“The minute I got down there I saw regulars from The Lumber Yard,” Loughridge says. “I read that there’s a fire but I didn’t know if it was really as bad as …” he trails off, then resumes: “But the moment I saw it, this huge lump formed in my throat. People were hugging. Even now talking about it I get emotional.”
In the hours following news of the fire, Maring and Jason set up a GoFundMe through WCP’s nonprofit that quickly raised over $100,000. (They’re now raising funds through a second GoFundMe that will bypass the nonprofit and go directly to The Lumber Yard.)
Business owners are still waiting to find out just how extensive the damage is.
“It’s really bad,” says Lee Torres, owner and founder of neighboring business The Boxing Gym West Side. “I don’t know what the recovery process is going to look like. That’s something that insurance is going to come in and sort out. …. We’re not allowed to go into the space currently.”
The gym was a neighborhood destination for athletes of all skill levels, Torres says. “People would come learn how to box. They’d look forward to connecting with people they might not have known previously, and that they might not have known outside of the gym. They looked forward to seeing new and familiar faces. Getting a good workout. Moving their bodies in ways that feel like a relief to them. Feel empowered.”
Similarly, The Lumber Yard was more than just a structure — it was a vital gathering place as White Center’s population has grown over the last few years.
“It’s a neighborhood feel,” Loughridge says. “A small-town feel in a big city.”
A handful of in-person fundraisers and gatherings have already been planned, with more in the works. The Southgate Roller Rink will donate proceeds from tonight’s admissions to fire relief efforts; and Torres is hosting a gathering on Sunday at Green Bridge Plaza for people to come together for emotional support. Online, neighbors have raised tens of thousands of dollars for business owners.
“The community response has been overwhelmingly supportive,” says Torres. “I knew we had a solid community at the gym and in White Center. Now I’m experiencing it in a whole new way.”
As investigators and insurance officials pick through the debris, Torres is determined to maintain the gym’s presence in the community. “We’re going to have a limited schedule with some outdoor training and perhaps some temporary spots where we can keep the students engaged,” he says. “We’re not permanently closed. We just have another obstacle that we need to figure out how to get over."