Link to the firestorm blog


Dear Friends,

I am writing to tell you about a complete departure from my world of portraiture, fine art photography and books to something that I hope will be of interest to you.

2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the firestorm in October, 1991, that damaged many homes, and leveled entire neighborhoods in Berkeley and Oakland. It was a trauma for the entire community of the East Bay. My family was lucky because our house survived.

In October of this year, the East Bay will honor the memory of that fateful day with commemorative events and exhibitions. My contribution will be a DVD titled The Phoenix Firestorm Project. My goal is to create a visual documentary of the disaster, its aftermath and its recovery through images of a house destroyed then restored—a sad, consuming, difficult but ultimately creative and fulfilling process. Built in 1925, and designed by architect and painter William Raymond Yelland, our home incorporates elements of the half-timber Tudor houses found in Normandy, and results in a romantic style some call “storybook” architecture. Our one-of-a-kind house is an inspiration for students of architecture, and has become a symbol of the disaster.

With seed money of $5000 from an individual artist’s grant from Oakland Cultural Arts, we are now raising funds under a 501C3 (non-profit) called The Institute for Historical Study to complete The Phoenix Firestorm Project. Our goal is $35,000, which is a modest budget for a multimedia project such as this. A donation from you of any amount will be gratefully received.

The funds will be used to create the multimedia art piece as a DVD. Production will include making new footage, scanning slides and still photographs, copying parts of archival video footage, producing narrative, and adding music. From this material we will produce both a DVD and online video. My technical consultant on The Phoenix Firestorm Project is Stuart Sweetow of Audio-Visual Consultants in Oakland. We each will donate at least $2500 of in-kind grants to the project.

This will be a unique production, and will stand alone among the stories of the firestorm of 1991. Our house came back, and for this reason it stands as a symbol of the courage and dedication of the firefighters and all the craftsmen who participated in the effort to restore the house to its original beauty. The Phoenix Firestorm Project will be available for distribution at the time of the 20th anniversary of the Fire in October, and then I will donate the original piece and its materials to the appropriate archive at UC Berkeley.

If you are able to make a donation please send me a check payable to The Institute for Historical Study. I would be happy to meet with you in person, by phone, or email to answer any questions and provide other materials that are relevant.

In addition, please know that throughout this project my portraiture and fine art photography services will be available as usual.

With Every Good Wish,

Margaretta K. Mitchell