Late last year, the Fort Worth venue 1919 Hemphill closed due to issues with its certificate of occupancy. Their CO used to allow for community gatherings, but that is no longer the case, so they have to file for a change of use certificate. It now looks like it may be another month before 1919 Hemphill can open its doors again.
There’s no real hierarchy at the venue, but Chris Cotter is 1919 Hemphill’s most active and best known volunteer. Cotter says the exact re-opening date will be determined by how quickly they can complete their inspection, make the required improvements and get their new CO. “It’s not that the city is being uncooperative,” he says. “There’s been a lot of progress. There are just a lot of steps. It takes a lot of time.”
Twenty volunteers such as Cotter share the duties of running 1919 Hemphill, which for the last 14 years has acted as an alcohol and drug-free community center that caters to young people and up-and-coming artists, and provides support to the homeless.
1919 Hemphill’s problems started late last year. In December it was widely reported that anonymous users of the site 4chan were starting a movement to take down illegal venues and art spaces perceived as liberal by calling in code violations. Cotter believes this effort to be true, and says 1919 Hemphill was targeted by “neo-Nazis.”
The community has banded together to help 1919 Hemphill avoid permanent closure. Cotter says nonprofit groups such as Near Southside Inc. and Hemphill Corridor Task Force, which are working to revitalize Fort Worth neighborhoods, have lent their experience navigating similar problems.
“[1919 Hemphill] is a complete benefit not just to the area but to the city as a whole, probably to the region,” says Mike Brennan, planning director of Near Southside, Inc. “We’re fortunate they are located in our area.”
Richard Riccetti, vice chairman of Hemphill Corridor Task Force, says he’s never heard any complaints from neighbors about the venue. “They’ve been there longer than a lot of us,” he says. “They don’t bother anyone.”
The Observer contacted the Fort Worth Police Department to inquire about complaints against 1919 Hemphill, but have not heard back at the time of writing.
Area musicians have held fundraisers and more than $10,000 has been raised through Indiegogo and other campaigns to bring the venue up to Fort Worth’s city code when the inspection is complete. But in the meantime rent and electricity bills continue to roll in, and 1919 Hemphill has had more difficulty paying them now that they’re unable to generate income with performances. Cotter says in the past he has suggested $6 to $10 donations for admission to shows, but nobody has ever been turned away for not donating.
“Right now, we’re focused on being able to reopen and not run out of money before we do,” he says, which means trying to hang onto the donated $10,000, and not spend it all on their usual bills.
An event this Saturday at Three Links in Deep Ellum aims to provide the venue help with those expenses. Three Links offered to host a fundraiser for 1919 Hemphill after Cotter contacted them to say they had also been targeted on a right-wing message board.
1919 Hemphill is hoping to schedule an inspection this week. “We’ve submitted our site plans and floor plans to the city,” Cotter says. “And we’re trying to schedule an ordinance inspection. That’s where we stand this week. It is our intention to officially file a certificate of occupancy under tax exempt 501(c)(3).”
Some of the renovations they expect to make are to the building’s plumbing and electrical systems. They need to ramp up an existing water line which will require an expensive permit, conduct an electrical overall consisting of 220 hook-ups and new breaker panel, and also do some HVAC work. Cotter estimates the plumbing work alone will cost $6,000.
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But if there’s money leftover, he has other cosmetic improvements in mind that he’d like for them to make while they’re at it, like staining the concrete floors and putting in track lighting for art installations.
“We’d also like to put some of the money into the community garden in the back yard, kind of give that an overhaul, put in some, like, legit beds and get a compost pile going,” he says. “We’d [also] like to get some more radical books about feminism, black history, things like that to add to our existing collection, that kind of literature, which we enjoy.”
Cotter says he’s had some grim conversations with friends and fellow volunteers since the shutdown last year “but never at any point, as a collective … did we ever consider quitting.”
1919 Benefit, 9 p.m. Saturday, March 4, Three Links, 2704 Elm St., $10, threelinksdeepellum.com.