Noodling Around 

After nine years of financial wrangling, Oakland's Noodle Factory may finally have an enduring future as an art space.

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In 2002, Harrison rented six of the residential units and all the common areas to the Sacred Land Project, a rave collective that had loosely coalesced around Ryan Quintana, a promoter from Santa Rosa. The group called itself "Sacred Land" because its members had vague plans to buy a piece of land somewhere, take it off the grid, and use it for retreats or shamanistic rituals. Harrison let the ravers throw their own events and keep all the profits as long as Quintana kept paying the rent each month and assumed total financial responsibility for the space. Harrison said the arrangement helped her break even for two years while she continued working with architects and structural engineers to "make the place legal."

By allowing Quintana to become her new master tenant, Harrison unwittingly turned the Noodle Factory into Oakland's premiere underground party joint. For two years the place became a ravers' Garden of Eden right in the middle of industrial West Oakland. DJs would come from as far away as Europe or the Middle East to spin trance and break-beat sets at the warehouse, often from midnight until 10 or 11 a.m. The ravers built DJ booths, carved holes in the wall to create "rabbit doors," and set up a trapeze. Residents decorated and opened up their apartments so the crowd could spill in. They hired fire dancers and staged ritual performances. Popular East Bay performers like DJ Bassnectar became regular fixtures at Noodle Factory, and well-known bands came through all the time. At one party in 2003, the Lovemakers played for a packed house at 3 a.m.

The parties would often draw between 600 and 800 people, said Brandon Lars Solem, who moved into the Noodle Factory in 2001 and lived there for five years. When Solem first arrived at the warehouse, about five people lived there. It maxed out at 36, he said. "During the winter time we would kinda pack the place," said Solem, indicating that there was kind of a low-level party going on at all times. "There would be people sleeping on couches, dogs and cats everywhere. We kinda warmed the place up with body heat."

Then in 2004 Quintana had a falling out with his group, and left the Noodle Factory under a dark cloud; he's since quit the rave scene for good and now works as a massage therapist. Harrison explored various alternatives to ensure the Noodle Factory's survival, including the possibility of leasing it to another raver who had pretty deep pockets. "After talking to him for a while it became clear that he was looking at the space as a permanent rave space," Harrison said, adding that she ultimately viewed the ravers as only a short-term solution for the Noodle Factory. "I really saw all that stuff as a legitimate interim way to keep the doors open and the lights on."

Once again it was back to a phase of "best intentions but never working out financially," Harrison said. By that point she had managed to hold onto the building for five years and obtained all the proper city permits. The building wasn't yet up to code, though it had been inspected by the city and deemed not to pose an immediate danger. "They were comfortable with its use as a residence given that we were working on regularizing it," she said.

Still, she didn't know enough about commercial real estate to supervise a major construction project. Nor did she know how to obtain the $1.2 million she would need for earthquake retrofitting. "Yeah, excellent question," said Harrison. "I was gonna do a bank construction loan. I'm not sure exactly how I would have gotten my bank construction loan, but I probably would have had to secure my house, for example."

Harrison found out about the Northern California Land Trust from a flier advertising some event sponsored by the organization. Once she met the trust's organizers and heard their raison d'être — to acquire properties and make them permanently affordable, using a limited-equity model — she was hooked. The basic idea is that a nonprofit organization (the land trust) gets title to the land and leases it out to residents, such that the property appreciates at the rate that income increases in the area. Ergo, something that's affordable to a low-income household in 1990 remains affordable to a low-income household in 2008. "My whole vision was to have it be collectively owned and permanently for arts use, but I couldn't figure out how to make it happen," Harrison said. "The land trust model covenants the space."


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