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$2 Million Blaze Destroys Berkeley Rep’s Workshop By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday July 01, 2005

A $2 million major alarm fire gutted the Berkeley Repertory Theater’s 1230 Fifth St. workshop Thursday night despite the best efforts of Berkeley and Albany firefighters. 

The blaze was reported about 7:30 p.m., and went to two alarms eight minutes later. A third alarm followed 20 minutes after that. 

By the time the fire was contained at 9:42, every piece of firefighting in equipment in Berkeley and Albany was on hand, two additional Berkeley firefighting crews had been called up and two firefighters had sustained injuries. 

“One firefighter was treated and released,” reported BFD Capt. Gil Dong, and the second was hospitalized overnight with a major burn to his hand. He was released Friday morning. 

While local firefighters were battling the blaze, crews from Oakland and Alameda County were covering the city’s fire stations, said Dong. 

The 7,500-square-foot structure near the corner of Fifth and Gilman streets, had been home for 15 years to the craftsfolk who create the sets for Berkeley Rep’s production. 

Tony Taccone, the theater company’s artistic direction, said hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of carpentry, metalworking and painting equipment were lost in the flames which billowed as high as 30 feet from the roof during the peak of the fire. 

The Rep wasn’t the building’s only well-known tenants. Back in the 1960s, the structure served as the rehearsal hall for the celebrated rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival. 

“We are grateful that no one was inside at the time of this terrible accident, and truly appreciative of the firefighters who risked their own safety to put out the flames,” said Taccone. 

The fire places an immediate strain on the company’s resources, because they must now find an alternative space and new equipment to create the sets for their upcoming 2005-2006 season, he said. 

Taccone said the fire came as a “terrible shock, a loss from both a practical and an emotional point of view. This building was a critical part of our artistic success for 15 out of our 38 seasons, and we are left without the workshop or the tools to create the magic our audiences expect.” 

While firefighters were unable to save the contents of the theater shop, the efforts prevented the spread of flames to adjacent businesses, which include Performance Engine’s workshop and another shop, said Dong. 

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, and Berkeley Rep has begun the search for new quarters.