Public Comment

Commentary: Cultural Space Not for Private Parties By ANNA DE LEON

Tuesday January 24, 2006

Thank you for this community forum to discuss issues that affect the whole community. I feel compelled to respond to the letter written by Gloria Atherstone, owner of Glass Onion Catering Company, also the tenant who rents the performance space and mezzanine at the Gaia Building. She signs her letter as Gaia Arts Management, Inc. She asserts that the private party-turned-melee on Jan. 7 was “not facilitated in any way by Glass Onion Catering, Gaia Arts Management or Panoramic Interests.” The party was held in a building owned by Panoramic Interests, in a space rented and managed by Ms. Atherstone. Yet no one takes responsibility for this private party that attracted hundreds, kept my customers away and had to be shut down by the police.  

Neither the one security guard nor I could prevent at least a hundred young men from using my venue as a pass-through. Bad for my business, yes. And the ensuing melee was bad for downtown, occurring at Allston and Shattuck as the movies were letting out. Virtually any parent in flatlands Berkeley or Oakland could tell Gloria Atherstone that a party for an 18-year-old in a large downtown space would probably become uncontrollable. Once the word gets out, hundreds of teenage and young adult men will come to any party they can find on a Saturday night. 

Quoting part of the police report: “There were about 100 teenagers and young adults standing around on the sidewalk in front of [Anna’ s Jazz Island] and another 10-15 standing around inside the lobby. Ms de Leon told me that the party patrons were circumventing the security guards assigned to the party and were using her nightclub to walk in and out of the party through a rear entrance. They were smoking marijuana and some were drinking alcohol from two-liter soda bottles that had been spiked. 

“I recovered two such soda bottles abandoned in the lobby that contained at least half their contents. I examined the bottles and they smelled strongly of alcohol. The party was extremely loud and the music was easily audible from the sidewalk. 

“The person [responsible for the party] said he was unable to manage the crowd and the issues presented by them. ... The security assigned accomplished the dispersal of the room quick and orderly. Ms de Leon said she attempted to count the number of people in the room as they were leaving and she lost count at 182. [Current occupancy permitted is 86.] 

“I requested additional units to assist with what was likely to be a crowd control concern. Several officers and sergeants arrived within moments (in six police cars). Sgt. Frankel led a group of officers in an effort to move the crowd toward Shattuck Avenue and away from the Gaia Building. After about 20 30 minutes of interactive crowd management and only minor skirmishes, the crowd dispersed. While dispersing, a bottle was thrown from the crowd in the direction of the officers...” 

The officers handled this volatile situation extremely well. No escalation, no injuries, no arrests. But Ms. Atherstone states: “This birthday party was a private celebration and was not facilitated in any way by Glass Onion Catering and Gaia Arts Management or Panoramic Interests.” With that total unwillingness to take responsibility, or to apologize for bad judgment, this will likely happen again. And it makes one wonder: What mysterious person gave the parent of an 18-year-old the key to the Gaia door? Who told The Marsh to shut down the play that one night in a month-long run? Who received the rent that the parent told me he paid for the facility? Not only did this private party benefit no one, we all now bear the cost for the six police cars that arrived. We all pay the salaries of all those officers called to the scene to do “crowd control.” All for another private party that should never have been held in a space in which only cultural use is permitted. 


Anna de Leon is the proprietor of Anna’ s Jazz Island.