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ARSON AT LUMBER YARD: Fire at Gay bar found to be arson, possible hate crime

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Photo courtesy of King County Sheriff's Office
Photo courtesy of King County Sheriff's Office

Lumber Yard Bar to be rebuilt 'better, brighter and stronger'

The SGN reported last week that a fire ripped through the Lumber Yard bar, near the intersection of 16th Ave. SW and Roxbury St. in White Center. The bar had been a popular gathering place for the LGBTQIA+ community since it opened in 2017.

This week, the King County Sheriff's office told the SGN that new evidence has prompted the Fire Investigation Team to reclassify the case from accidental to arson.

"What I can say is that there was new information that was identified," said Sgt. Tim Meyer of the King County Sheriff's Office. "Our detective with the... Fire Investigation Unit, based on that new development, looked at the case and then reclassified it as arson.

"It remains an open and active investigation. Therefore, I'm not able to discuss what the evidence is — only to say that we're glad to have this opportunity to introduce some new things into our work. We appreciate how impactful it has been to the community, and [it] remains a very much an open and active case with our team."

The Lumber Yard's co-owners, Nathan Adams and Michale Farrar, who are also married, believe the second-alarm fire on July 5 was "most likely... a hate crime." New evidence has been uncovered in the bar's basement, which had initially been flooded due to the firefighting efforts of Skyway Fire and the Seattle Fire Department. According to Adams, a break-in had occurred one month prior to the fire, and anti-LGBTQIA+ graffiti had been marked on the establishment's windows.

"We are horrified that someone did this and affected not only us but several other businesses," said Adams. "We are a little shocked but also relieved, the relief being that it was not caused by us in any way, even if by accident."

The fire also burned through several adjacent businesses. A Mexican grocery, a boba tea shop, an art studio, and a popular local eatery, Dottie's Double Wide, were among those affected by the blaze.

Community help sought
Meyer added that law enforcement is appealing to the public for their help in solving the crime. "We're going to be very thoughtful and deliberate in this work. We know through that work that a motive will be identified. We exclude nothing during this process," he said. "I would also ask that the community continue to be vigilant. One of the things we really want to share in White Center is that absolutely every call counts... If [someone sees] something suspicious or anything like that, call the [King County] Sheriff's Office. White Center is a very important community for us. We have multiple storefronts in that area.

"We certainly have a very active group of deputies there and, if it seems suspicious or something seems out of place, we hope that there will be a call so we can come-out and serve and be responsive to that community."

Tips can be called into the King County Sheriff's non-emergency line at 206-296-3311 or reported anonymously to the Arson Alarm Foundation (AAF) at www.ArsonAlarm.org or by calling 1-800-55-ARSON. The AAF is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.

Arson shakes a community
The news that the fire was arson has shaken local residents and patrons of the Lumber Yard. Danny Perez, who lives just ten minutes from the establishment with his husband of five years, said the couple have been following the situation "very closely."

"It was always nice to know they were there for us as a community; a place to go to and know we were always welcome and could have a fun time," he said. "The fact that it was destroyed, much less destroyed out of hate, was like a punch in the gut to those of us who live nearby — at least in my circle of friends. We are all still talking about it... It makes me angry."

Perez, a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Bain, moved to West Seattle from Dallas in 2016 with his husband. The couple has been together for 28 years. He said he has seen the neighborhood become more welcoming of the LGBTQIA+ community over the years.

"The bar had more than its share of vandalism, but I think it is on par with other businesses in the area. Before COVID-19 hit, we were hearing of another LGBTQ venue that was being considered, which made me feel like good progress was being made," he said. "This does feel like a setback for the community. However, I think it is important to show resilience and not cower to a-holes who do stuff like set a fire to try and scare us. Perhaps there needs to be a rally in White Center to show that we are not going away and we won't live in fear.

"There's still a mind-set out there among people who aren't in the LGBTQ community that events like Pride are really not necessary anymore, since 'everyone' is so accepting now. Not true. Until things like burning down a business because it is LGBTQ owned and... until hate crimes against us stop, we have to continue to be visible and let the world know we're a part of every community — like it or not — and we're not going away. We aren't going to live in fear of being ourselves."

Courtney, a Lumber Yard patron, said she was last there on June 30 before and after the nearby Pride Skate event. (She asked that the SGN not use her last name.) "It concerns me when any minority is targeted, but obviously, being a Lesbian, that hits home," she said. "I believe that justice should be served. I also believe that the community should continue to work together to bring peace and equality."

Fire gets attention
King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, who lives with her wife Maureen in West Seattle, is said to be following the case closely. "Sheriff Johanknecht was almost immediately involved in this and is actively monitoring it," said Meyer. "From the sheriff on down, we are very mindful of how impactful this has been on the community, both the White Center community and the LGBTQ community... We want to make sure that we're holding those responsible accountable."

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott toured the site of the fire just hours after it had been extinguished. The pair talked to business owners and offered their support. McDermott has served the White Center community during a political career that includes seven years in the Washington House of Representatives, three in the Washington state Senate and almost 11 years as a member of the King County Council. McDermott became the first openly Gay councilmember in 2010.

"This is a very big blow to the White Center community as a whole and the LGBTQIA community... It is a terrible tragedy," McDermott told the SGN. "My heart goes out to Nathan and Michale and their team and to all the businesses that have been badly affected.

"The support we've seen for the LGBTQIA community, just in general, during Pride Month, is phenomenal. Just over the 20-plus years that I've been out, what we've seen every June has expanded exponentially. That's not to be set back or deterred by what might be arson, or perhaps even a hate crime."

Krystal Marx, the deputy mayor of Burien, which is just south of White Center, and executive director of Seattle Pride, said that the community must rise up and ensure that the Lumber Yard is built back "better, brighter, and stronger than before."

"As an out Bisexual woman, it is a horrific idea to contemplate that the fire was set intentionally, but unfortunately, it isn't hard to imagine," she said. "LGBTQIA+ folks south of Seattle don't enjoy all of the freedoms of expression and welcoming spaces that our community does in larger cities... What is also true, however, is that more of us — the LGBTQIA+ community and our straight allies — are moving to the suburbs, and with us, we bring our desire for visibility, inclusion, and support. If this was arson, we will not let this slide."

A community responds
White Center Pride had set up a GoFundMe campaign webpage for the Lumber Yard. It reached its goal by raising $100,655 within days of the fire to assist with the bar's recovery. A second GoFundMe campaign to help the bar's co-owners was also established by White Center Pride and had raised $11,496 toward its goal of $25,000 as of press time.

"We are in awe of the support that we have received," said Adams. "We cannot thank the community and supporters enough for their generosity... We love you all.

"Insurance money only goes so far, and these extra funds will help so much in making sure the Lumber Yard opens again."

Adams revealed that a new site has been found and the Lumber Yard will soon serve the White Center community once more. "Lumber Yard 2.0 is on its way," he said. "Until then, stay safe and vigilant."