Work started strangely for Sarah Hoover, managing director of the Bartell Community Theatre, at 6:33 a.m. on June 30.
"Morning began with a call from Isthmus, to say there was a fire reported near the Bartell," she recalls. "Theater folk don't get up that early, but it's amazing how fast I wake up when someone yells 'fire' about my theater!"
Capitol Hill Apartments, just a few storefronts away on the 100 block of East Mifflin Street, was a two-alarm inferno; the historic Bartell building has a wood and rubber roof. Hoover, who lives north of Lodi, was at the scene in less than 45 minutes.
"It was dark outside, as if it were show time," she says. "The lobby smelled of petroleum and was beginning to get hazy. I ran a lap of the stages and backstage areas to see that no water, smoke or fire had reached us."
Her mission was futile; smoke was being sucked in by the ventilation system. Hoover killed the switch.
"By the time I returned to the lobby, the air there was caustic enough to burn my eyes, so I picked up my work computer and left, chased by smoke. From behind the building I could see through the windows of the Capitol Apartments to the flames - and the daylight - on the other side."
Hoover and employees of other businesses gathered nearby, waiting for the fire to be put out. It took eight hours. She gave firefighters tickets to the evening's show. "We hoped it would play that night," she says. "We hoped it would finish the weekend."
In the end, all was well - for the Bartell. The future of neighboring businesses is still unknown.
"Yesterday I found a chunk of shingle and mortar, bubbled crispy, that had flown from the Capitol Apartments roof to ours," she says. "That's the remains of the fire for the Bartell. However, the long-term success of the 'Bartell Quarter' will be determined by the fate of the buildings next to us."