Less Than Grand News 

Oakland gallery and performance space 21 Grand loses its lease.

So long to the flamethrowers and experimental music, the stretched art limos and helium weather balloons: It's time for some $300,000 condos. Eclectic art gallery and performance space 21 Grand in downtown Oakland lost its lease three weeks ago after a development buyout by Signature Properties of Pleasanton. Six to seven stories of condos, parking garages, and retail space will replace the 2,700-square-foot gallery, along with several other eighty-year-old buildings.

Programming director Sarah Lockhart said she and her peers knew Signature had been eying the two blocks at 23rd St. and Telegraph since last December. She had hoped the Landmarks Preservation Commission or city planning could help, but since the new project is not dependent on public money, the city can do little, she said.

Signature Properties president Mike Ghielmetti said that up to 475 $300,000-to-$400,000 condos, 30,000 square feet of retail space, and multiple parking garage levels will replace the dilapidated two blocks of parking lots, potholes, and brick buildings. "We think it's a good project for downtown, to get some people down there near transit and activate an area where there's not a lot of things going after dark," he said.

But 21 Grand exhibitions director Dennis Jenkins said the area is actually quite vital. "We've had thousands upon thousands of people though here," he said. "The Accordion Fest always seemed to do well, as well as the Porn Orchestra and Pauline Oliveros."

The accordion festival was hosted by Kimric Smythe, the proprietor of Smythe's Accordion Center, who shares the building with 21 Grand and also finds himself looking for a new home. "Once the art community started moving in and putting in galleries, everyone was like, 'Ooh, galleries; let's start putting in condos, because everyone wants to live near galleries,'" he said. "I spent a couple months building into this place, and having to move every three years is getting financially prohibitive."

This will be the second move for both Smythe and 21 Grand, which were originally located together at 21st St. and Grand Ave. and moved into their current space in April 2002. But Jenkins noted that the last move actually improved the gallery's space, attendance, and performance options. He hoped the softer rent market could mean an even bigger, better place for the four-year old nonprofit -- perhaps even an outright purchase.

"It's going to come down to luck," Jenkins said. "We'll scramble and scramble, then something will happen at the last minute, I hope. We're also hoping to partner and buy with a few other arts groups in town."

Fund-raising plans will roll out soon, said Lockhart, with a Porn Orchestra benefit on the horizon, as well as other events at nearby galleries. Pack-up begins in March.

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