In 1978, the seeds that became the Mateel Community Center were planted at the old Fireman’s Hall in Garberville, CA, a rural town serving as the epicenter of the southern Humboldt community. The name Mateel was given to the community center and newly formed non-profit organization because it was a gathering place for people living in the hills throughout the Mattole and Eel River watersheds, and sought to unite the many remote and culturally underserved communities scattered throughout the region. The alternative culture that thrived here bought and refurbished the Fireman’s Hall, and it quickly became a popular meeting place that drew a surprising number of high-quality music acts for which people streamed out of the hills.(1) Most of the shows put on there were non-profit.
In 1983, this community center, Fireman's Hall, was destroyed by fire. The fire was intentionally set by an arsonist in the Southern Humboldt area who had also set fire to, and destroyed, several other businesses in the area. As is often the case, with arsonists, the man responsible for these fires was a firefighter. Though he was caught, and convicted, that did nothing to fix the destroyed community center.
"The sky was so bright from the fire that I could see to get in my truck at Benbow. I knew the fire was next to the propane bulk plant. I remember the surreal feeling of knowing that the fire was next to a propane plant and I was still headed in that direction.
I felt somewhat vindicated that when I got there, all the other firefighters were showing up. I remember feeling that we must be insane. My first station was between the propane tanks and the fire to keep the tanks cool. In theory, if you keep them cool they don't blow up.
We had to sacrifice a few small propane bottles to save the larger tanks. Some of the valves on the tops melted off. The flames would shoot like a rocket blast with a roaring blue flame about 25 feet into the air. The Garberville fire department was in the south end of the hall and they lost several of their fire trucks to the blaze. The only injuries that were suffered were some smoke-inhalation and exhaustion."(2)
Jerry performed here on
3/20/82 Jerry Garcia Band