Torrent Engine 18

19th century Boston firehouse turned underground theater/museum

Video/Performance by Kowalski & Xhrist

From E. Stephen: 7 days later i’m still i thinking warm thoughts towards everyone who came out to the Torrent Engine 18 BBQ last week. Thank you all again for bringing yourselves, your children, your dogs, delishus foods, thoughtfully peculiar gifts+literature, and boat loads of positive energy. I’m sorry i didn’t get to spend more time talking to each of you. (as usually i was running around like a headless chicken.) Special thanks to Brian Browne for his invaluable assistance, props to Adam Singer & friend for building the massive fire pit , and to Dei Xhrist & Gregory Kowalski for officially Xhristening the firehouse interior with crazed technology+nakedness performance art. (video for those of you didn’t linger into darkness)

I may have taken a sledgehammer to the bathroom. #notsorry (at Torrent Engine 18)

I may have taken a sledgehammer to the bathroom. #notsorry (at Torrent Engine 18)

Summer Potluck BBQ Art Freak Party at Torrent Engine 18
Saturday, June 14, 2:00pm - 8:00pmFB Invite:
It is time to get down FOR SUMMER at the firehouse. Which mean B-B-Q, my friends. And my favorite art weirdos. Hula-hoop, play a death-folk cover of Beyonce, read America the riot act. BE YOURSELVES.BRING:-FOOD! We will provide some foodstuffs, but we have NO idea how many people are showing up to this puppy, so ere on the side of bringing a some grub as well, even if it’s just a package of hot dogs.-BEVERAGES! BYOB — whatever you like best (beer/wine/soda/juice/seltzer), bring it!-MUSIC! We haz no internet connection/wireless in the firehouse, so our usual method of listening to Pandora is a no-go. If you have an iPod/whatever portable setup, bring it! (We do have electricity if you need to plug in.)-EXTRA GRILL! We have one, but we can always use an another one.-YOURSELF! Because we want to see your beautiful faces!Note: we have no indoor plumbing, but we do have a Porta-Potty.
Directions:30 Harvard St (on the corner of Chamberlain St), Dorchester, MA 02126 you are coming by T, take the Red Line to Fields Corner. If you are using a GPS, please enter DORCHESTER, not Boston—otherwise you will end up in Charlestown.

Summer Potluck BBQ Art Freak Party at Torrent Engine 18

Saturday, June 14, 2:00pm - 8:00pm

FB Invite:

It is time to get down FOR SUMMER at the firehouse. Which mean B-B-Q, my friends. And my favorite art weirdos. Hula-hoop, play a death-folk cover of Beyonce, read America the riot act. BE YOURSELVES.


-FOOD! We will provide some foodstuffs, but we have NO idea how many people are showing up to this puppy, so ere on the side of bringing a some grub as well, even if it’s just a package of hot dogs.
-BEVERAGES! BYOB — whatever you like best (beer/wine/soda/juice/seltzer), bring it!
-MUSIC! We haz no internet connection/wireless in the firehouse, so our usual method of listening to Pandora is a no-go. If you have an iPod/whatever portable setup, bring it! (We do have electricity if you need to plug in.)
-EXTRA GRILL! We have one, but we can always use an another one.
-YOURSELF! Because we want to see your beautiful faces!

Note: we have no indoor plumbing, but we do have a Porta-Potty.

30 Harvard St (on the corner of Chamberlain St), Dorchester, MA 02126

If you are coming by T, take the Red Line to Fields Corner. If you are using a GPS, please enter DORCHESTER, not Boston—otherwise you will end up in Charlestown.



Greetings! This is E. Stephen taking advantage of the seasonally-appropriate frigid weather, to finally start writing out the narrative I’ve been verbally repeating for the past two years. So, for the benefit of those who don’t already know it, here’s the story of Katrina and me and Torrent Engine 18.


Katrina and I have both been involved actively in the arts for most of our lives. Specifically, we’ve both been involved in the arts around Boston since the 90s. In the early 2000s, our paths converged in NYC. We first met officially in the fall of 2003, became inseparable, and relocated back to Massachusetts together. Katrina moved into an underground art and performance space in Allston named “Pan-9” that had been publicly-clandestine base of operations for Boston artists for nearly 15 years, which i already had an ongoing involvement with.

On December 29th 2006, a fire tore through Pan-9. The fire was caused by electrical problems which the landlord had repeatedly refused to fix. The building was eventually repaired, but the 2000 sq ft  space that had been Pan-9, where audiences of hundreds had once gathered to see live performances, was subdivided into 4 separate condos units.

Immediately after the fire, we began to seek a new space where art and people could could converge. We visited dozens of potential rental spaces over the next two years, but there was nothing suitable in our price range. During those same years, we also had countless meetings with city development councils and non-profit foundations, as we looked for ways subsidize an arts space in a rented commercial space. Potential opportunities and resources appeared bountiful, but tangible help was always an elusive mirage. The bottom line always seemed to be there was no help available to anyone who didn’t already have a pre-existing multimillion dollar budget.

During those years, we moved a half dozen times from one cramped temporary space to the next.

In 2008, the housing bubble burst. Suddenly a glut of properties were for sale at prices such that a monthly mortgage would cost dramatically less than renting the same square footage. At that point, even as buying a property was suddenly a more affordable option, we also noticed a plethora of major media pundits trumpeting the message that the housing market crash was “proof” individuals were better off renting and should avoid ever buying property. We rightly interpreted this as a warning that big money was planning a mass-buy up of bargain properties, and knew we’d have a limited window of opportunity to purchase property ourselves.

The dream of ownership had always held a huge appeal to us. Over the years, we’d watched numerous art galleries and performance spaces forced to close by rising rents and difficult landlords.

Here are 3 facts (for the benefit of any lucky people haven’t already experienced it):

1. For years its been a recurring recurring urban cycle that most artists can’t afford rent in “nice” parts of town, so they rent out badly maintained spaces in less desirable areas. The artists invest sweat equity, make repairs, and open arts spaces. About the time the art spaces have existed long enough to build audience and reputation,  the neighborhood gentrifies, the rents skyrocket, and the artist are homeless again.

2.The majority of art’s spaces are not financially profitable. They usually exist because the people running them are constantly busting ass, and pouring their own personal resources into the venture.

3. Becoming an arts non-profit does NOT instantly guarantee a magical endless stream of string-free grant money.

Our strategy was to consolidate costs by buying a property in the price range of a conventional residential house for us to live in, but that was also big enough for arts events, so we’d be less dependent on external funding than if we were had to cover costs of both living space and an art space at a separate location. Katrina had been lucky to maintain steady day job at Harvard for some years and we both had some savings, so we began the hunt for a property to buy.

We quickly discovered most realtors didn’t return phone calls at all. So we found a buyer’s agent who seemed enthused to work with us, but stopped answering our calls after a few weeks. (We later learned he’d unexpectedly keeled over dead, and no one had updated the voicemail at the number we had for him.)

Eventually we found a wonderful buyer’s agent named Deborah Galiga who’d been recommended to us by other art friends.

With her aid, over the next several years, we visited over a hundred different properties.

We typically spent an hour a day, every day, searching the online real estate listings for Greater Boston. We hunted based on price per sq. footage, and proximity to public transportation. But even at post-crash prices, we realized our only hope of finding space enough for both living and art was to target oddball properties at the bottom of the market.

We visited boarded up gas stations, and rickety foreclosed homes. We visited abandoned buildings full of burned-out car and trees growing through the floors. There was one apartment building we’d been told was vacant, but when we got there, the building manager explained it was still technically half occupied by people living in the low-income units… but not to worry (he cheerfully explained), they’d soon be evicted. He jimmied the lock to the apartment on the top floor with a butter knife while whispering “a crazy lady lives here, but I’m pretty sure she isn’t home.” We were greeted by two inquisitive cats, but no sign of the lady. Paper plates heaped with decaying takeout-food covered every surface. The ceiling was a jungle of flypaper. At the far side of the bedroom, we saw hundreds of metal cans carefully stacked against the wall. At first I thought it was a beer-can collection. But when I realized the cans were aerosol bed-bug spray, I suggested we leave ASAP. As we fled the apartment, Katrina mentioned she’d noticed a motionless body lying in the bed.

On the first floor, without knocking or introduction, the building manager led us into an apartment occupied by a young mother. Despite her two active two toddlers, the apartment was spotlessly clean and carefully organized. She had a sweet, open face, and apologized to us in broken English, flustered that she hadn’t had time to prepare anything for us to eat, because when visitors arrive, offering them food is the proper thing to do. The building manager whispered in my ear, “She doesn’t know she’s about to be homeless.” We left almost in tears—we didn’t put an offer on that one.

There was listing for a “10 story building - 40 thousand square feet - $100,000.” We assumed it was a misprint, but called anyway. The realtors told us it was no misprint, and all would be explained if we came and saw the place.

We arrived and found a 10-story-tall windowless obelisk of crumbling white concrete. The listing agent opened the single rusting steel portal at street level,  and we realized that the sq footage was strictly conceptual. The tower was a single, hollow shaft 85ft tall and roughly 30ft X 40ft  square. No electrical or plumbing. No floors or stairs. The darkness was broken only by laser-like beams of daylight angling in from dripping ventilation slots in the tattered roof. Seagulls circled far above us. We stood on gravely sludge. In the shadows, ancient stalagmites of bird shit towered tall as houses. Mummified birds lay around my feet in congealed in oily puddles. The structure had been built to store giant blocks of ice in the days before refrigerators.  In 1910, a single giant mold had been constructed on site, and the entirety of the concrete building had been poured into place in one single step. It was brutal masterpiece. I cannot think of it even now, without the opening bars  of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” playing in my head.  Shortly after its centennial anniversary, the mighty 1910 Icehouse was torn to the ground. I still regret not buying it. (Katrina thought it impractical.)

I went to one store-front that looked OK from outside, but inside the entryway was a dense barrier of cobwebs. The electricity was off, and all the windows were covered by steel shutters. I cut my way through layer after layer of floor-to-ceiling webs full of very live, active spiders.  Deeper into the darkness, lighting my way with only a small flashlight, I discovered the webs had effectively contained a mass of swarming flies. Pushing on through the buzzing, I descended to the pitch-black of the basement. Bugs swarmed, denser and thicker, until finally I reached the heart of the ecosystem: two bloated dead raccoons squirming with maggots. At first the raccoons seemed to be glowing… then I realized it was daylight. The raccoons had fallen through holes in the roof, straight through the rotten floor above, and into the basement where they could fall no further.

During a July heat-wave, we were led on a surreally heartbreaking group-tour of a multifamily house. Dozens of potential buyers and their agents jumbled through the stifling, un-airconditioned rooms, peering into closets, discussing different eviction tactics, while the actual residents of the abode, awkwardly tried to stay out from under foot… I became disoriented in the claustrophobic heat and opened a door that I thought lead back outside. On the bed, draped in a translucent white bedsheet sat a beautiful adolescent girl reading a book. She appeared not to be wearing anything except the sheet. She silently looked back at me, with a dark, unblinking gaze that was more calculatedly devastating than any shouted epithet. I quickly shut the door… Probably less than 3 seconds all told… but etched in my brain.

At one building, we were glowered at by an abutting homeowner who initially assumed the reason we’d ventured there was to buy heroin from his neighbor across the street. (And indeed there were multiple used hypodermic needles littering the sidewalks and gutters.)

Months passed. As we visited location after location, the novelty of discovering mummified animals and used drug paraphernalia in unexpected locations waned.

During those years when we were house hunting, we placed offers on about 20 different properties. Everyday was a like new lottery. Every phone call might suddenly unspool an entirely different future as we waited to hear if offers had been accepted. There were multiple small heartbreaks as houses we’d grown fond of escaped us.

We first noticed the listing for firehouse in early 2010, and were intrigued, but at that point the asking price was over 600,000 which was way outside our budget.

As we continued the housing hunt, we kept checking the firehouse listing.

As other properties came and went, the price on the firehouse slowly dropped.

We nearly were able to purchase the building for $360,000 in early 2011, but because it was an unusual property, none of the banks that had pre-approved us for financing on previous offers were willing to back us.

On New Years Eve 2011, the owners finally verbally accepted our cash offer of $295,000.

Speaking as a starving artist, $295,000 is an enormously large sum of money. But to put that amount in context of Boston real estate, $295,000 is about the average price of a small one-bedroom condo in non-desirable location around Boston.


Torrent Engine 18 sits at 30 Harvard St in Dorchester MA. It was originally constructed in 1869 for use as a firehouse. It’s architectural style is a variant of the Queen Anne Victorian, known as “The Eastlake Style.”

The firehouse was named after the horse-drawn pump (water torrent) engine 18 that it was built to house.

The main portion of the building is two stories tall and has a full basement.  It’s approximately 60 feet long, by 26 feet wide.  All the exterior structural walls are built of brick, 3 courses thick.

The foundations are massive hunks of Roxbury Puddingstone (Massachusetts’ official state rock.)

The first floor is an open space where originally the engines were garaged.

The second floor is divided into rooms which were originally living quarters for the firefighters.

There is an attic area under the eaves (probably once a hay loft), and a full basement under the main section of the building. There’s also a one-story portion addition which runs the length of the building on the left side, that was originally a shelter for the horses that pulled the torrent engines. The building was originally entirely wooden framed. The extant framing is still wood, but at some point in the 20 century, the original floor between the basement and first floor was replaced with a poured in place, steel reinforced “waffle pour” concrete slab to support the weight of heavier fire engines. The building is situated on a corner lot with a large back yard. The  total size of the lot is over 10,000 sq ft (which would be smallish for the burbs, but is sizable for an urban area.)

And, no, it does not still have a fire pole, but we hope someday to reinstall one.

The original builders used good materials and built everything extremely solidly, but the 20th century was not so kind to it. The City of Boston stopped using it as a firehouse in the 1960s, and it sat empty for years, open to the elements and occupied by birds. In 1971, the building was purchased by a Moroccan daycare center and given complete gut rehab, down to the bare bricks and beams. That rehabilitation probably saved the building from being torn down, but many of the repairs were done horribly (sinister foreshadowing).

Under various management, the building continued as a daycare center until it closed in 2007, when it finally went bankrupt due to Bush-era cuts to education funding.  The building was then purchased by a church group which held it for several years (also not doing any repairs) until we bought it.

Prior to purchase, we hired an inspector, who had experience rehabbing older buildings to examine the firehouse. He’d gone over a previous property we’d been interested in, and seemed very knowledgeable. In retrospect, the day he inspected the firehouse, his mind was not on the job. Every couple of minutes his phone rang and he’d shut himself in an unoccupied room of the firehouse and have screaming argument with someone. (From the tone of screaming, I couldn’t tell if the altercation was a professional contact, or perhaps an ex-wife.)

There were several area with obvious cracking in the bricks and signs of moisture damage that i was concerned about, and I specifically asked the inspector his opinion on each of these issues. With each of them, he assured me the problems were merely cosmetic and could be easily and cheaply remedied. It was only after purchasing the building that we discovered those “minor cosmetic issues” were in fact indications of major structural, and drainage problems that were far worse than I could have imagined.

When we bought it, we did know knew it needed an entirely new roofing surface, a new furnace, some plumbing and electrical repairs, some minor masonry repairs and a huge amount of cosmetic work. The more easily accessible copper pipes in the basement had been stolen by copper thieves, but the plumbing on the upper two floors was intact. We had all the water lines pressure tested and they seemed fine. The baseboard radiators throughout the building were ugly, but they also passed the pressure checks. The sewage line was scoped with a camera, and dye tested and everything passed all the required tests there too.

The upstairs had most recently been used as office spaces and playrooms for the daycare center. It had a full kitchen, a full bathroom (with tub and shower), and one half bath. The offices all had their own walk-in closets and all they needed to become bedrooms were beds. The estimates we got for required work in 2012 came to about $70,000.

At the time, this seemed like a lot of money, but we figured we’d be eligible for enough bank financing to cover that sum after purchasing the building.  We thought we’d done due diligence, with assessments by qualified personnel. We expected we’d get the building legal to live in within 6 months so we could move in before winter and stop wasting money on rent. The plan was we’d gradually do all cosmetic repairs ourselves, and try to get the downstairs of Torrent Engine 18 approved for use as an arts performance space by 2013.

That was where things stood as of March 2012, when finally we both liquidated our personal savings and inheritances, closed on the property and officially became its new owners…

But all did not proceed as planned.

Stay tuned for the continuing saga!


flashback… ringing in new years 2009 lady gaga style with the boston pops with academic commentary by our dearly beloved becca darling. we miss her.

Spy Katrina Galore of engine18 in the red bathing suit!

Boston filmmaker Izzy Lee, known for Legitimate (2013) and Ave Maria (2013), shooting her new film Picket at Torrent Engine 18.

Why I am Voting for Marty Walsh

Hello my Bostonian friends,

If you know me… it’s been a rough year, to say the least. Death and family crises have weighed heavily on me and my loved ones. But I am doing my best to make things better and awesomer. I hope enough of you know me well enough that I do not lightly bestow my respect on people. Kindness, yes, sympathy—of course. But my respect is something to be earned. And I have a ton of respect of Marty Walsh, who needs your vote on November 5th.

Marty’s been endorsed by the biggest preliminary Boston mayoral candidates, not to mention countless city officials, state representatives, state senators, and Congresspeople. DotOUT (Dorchester LBGBT organization), Massachusetts Voters for Animals, and National Organization for Women (Massachusetts) are in his corner. Hell, even former-NKOTB Jordan Knight, The Dropkick Murphys, and Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys are down with Marty–you can’t get more musically diverse than that. (Plus Marty is backing “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers for our state song—rock cred LOCKED DOWN.)

John Connelly has the endorsement of… well, a bunch of Republicans with money seem to like him. (See The Boston Globe “For Republicans, Connolly is the Democrat of choice” )

Marty is pro-working class, pro-choice, pro-LGBT, pro-PoC opportunities, pro-art. Now anybody can have the “right” views, but he is actually GETTING SHIT DONE.

Marty created a pre-apprentice program called Building Pathways, which significantly boosted the number of women and people of color in the trades industry. He backed gay marriage in Massachusetts when it was potentially career and literal suicide—he received DEATH THREATS due to his support of marriage for all. He didn’t waiver. Marty asked an undecided legislator if he wanted to be able to tell his grandchildren that he “voted on the right side of history… this is our Civil Rights Act.” The legislator was kept up at night over the question, but ultimately did the right thing—gay marriage passed.

So how did I become a Marty fan? It was thorough Torrent Engine 18’s issues with getting building permits through City of Boston. At every turn, E. Stephen and I got more bewildered and frantic—no documentation seemed to be right or enough. Through Marty’s team (most notably architect/ninja William Buddy Christopher and artist/public policy powerhouse Kathleen Bitetti), we were able to get on track to occupancy. Without their help, we would still be floundering around like dying fish on hot cement.

One of Marty’s firmest commitments is streamlining the City of Boston permitting systems. That helps homeowners, small business owners, and YOU. Do you want more affordable and better places to live (including artist housing), more diverse cultural events and nightlife? That all depends on permits, baby!

I am not a millionaire. I am not a big power-player. I am just a regular person, and Marty went out of his way to help me out. I am not the only one with a Marty story—he’s helped single mothers get jobs, directed substance abusers to programs to get clean (as a recovered alcoholic himself, he GETS IT),  and reached out to kids in bad situations (one who is a friend of mine). Even his rivals can’t find a bad word to say about him personally (not an easy claim to make in this town).

If you live in the Greater Boston area (which includes Allston, Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Roslindale), find out where you vote on Tuesday here:

For my friends who are not Boston vote-eligible, please pass the message onto your Boston friends. FB post, tweet, tumblr, whatever. Whoever becomes Boston mayor will have a huge impact on all of Massachusetts and beyond, SO DON’T FUCK THIS UP.

This is going to be a tight, TIGHT race—it may be decided by only a handful of votes. So don’t bitch that Boston is no fun and nothing will change—hire the man who has met with bazillions of Bostonians, LISTENED to what they said, & DID something about it. Vote Marty.

I’m in love with Massachusetts,

Katherine Bergeron, aka Katrina Galore