Of Fire, Floods & Plagues


A new year is upon us, and hope is in the air … or is that smoke? Most people, everywhere — in — the — world have suffered one way or another from the pandemic. Millions still do. The epidemic really hit home for San Franciscan’s on March 15th of 2020 when the mayor’s office issued an order to lock up shop and shelter in place. However, for us at Paxton Gate, the madness began a few months prior, early in the morning on December 7th, the day we were to host our 27th anniversary party.  

The night of December 6th was like any other when I shut down my phone so as not to be disturbed while sleeping. The next morning was like no other. I awoke to a screen full of missed calls and unanswered text messages. Sometime early in the morning, a fire had swept through the building that houses the Paxton Gate offices, our shipping and receiving room, the offices of our sister company RareField Design/Build, and handful of other businesses. 


At this point, I had no idea how bad it was, and my mind raced through worse case scenarios. When I arrived, my friends and co-tenants Josh and Kelly at Bernal Cutlery, were already on the scene. Seems they keep their phones close at hand when sleeping! Ad hoc clean-up was underway, and thankfully the sprinklers and quick work of our local fire fighters had kept the fire somewhat contained. Still, the water and smoke damage were extensive. What seemed like a relatively limited blaze had, in fact, dramatically impacted the entire 10,000 sq. ft. building, damaging merchandise, equipment, furniture and putting numerous businesses at risk.

The fire was the beginning of an arduous, nearly two-year process of recovery.


Some of us worked in our smoke-damaged offices for a few weeks wearing respirators—not the fabric masks we’re all so familiar with today, but full-on respirators. Eventually our insurance came through, and we were able to move to temporary offices, luckily finding a place on the same block as Paxton Gate. We rented furniture, set up our new offices and stockroom, and got back to work while plans were drawn up and applications submitted for the needed repairs to the building.  

A few weeks after settling into the new office, we arrived one morning to find the place flooded. A bathtub in the apartment above us had overflowed and filled the buckets (that we learned had been placed in the crawl space) until they too spilled over. It seems this was a normal occurrence and the previous tenant (or the landlord, we never learned) had set up the buckets. We mopped up, threw out water damaged stock, office supplies, some shelving, and—as before—got back to work. Not really a flood per se, but it felt like a swift kick in the ribs on the heels of the fire.


Also, around this time, we started hearing about the Corona virus sickening and killing people in China, then other countries, then eventually gaining a foothold here in the states. The office trembled with anxiety. The pandemic was like a wave crashing across the globe and we had no idea when it would reach us and how hard it would hit. At some point, Cory, a designer at RareField, exclaimed, “I just want to catch it and get it over with.” During this early phase, the anxiety concerning its arrival was more potent than the fear of catching the illness. 

On March 15th we were told to close our doors and go home.


We kept the designers working from home and continued packing and shipping web orders. I taught myself how to do basic video editing in an attempt to plug our website in new ways, created a huge to-do list (only getting to a small portion of it), and many other things to stay busy and try and keep the businesses afloat. During the days, and weeks, and months that followed, I kept expecting the next hammer to fall, for locusts to swarm through our gardens, frogs to fall from the sky, or something to add to the dread that felt like the end of the world was just around the corner. On September 9th the Bay Area experienced that very day. The day of the orange skies. On that day, it seemed as though the sun never rose. Instead, the sky over San Francisco took on a surreal orange gloom, caused by a convergence of fog and wildfire smoke. It was as if the city was blanked in an oppressive, dystopian cloak. Everyone shrank into their homes, and I imagine many a prayer was said on that day. For me, I think I added “alien invasion” to my list of what’s next.


As it turned out, the world didn’t end.  

The locusts and frogs never came—nor did the little green men—and we moved back into the mostly repaired building. Things aren’t entirely back to normal and probably never will be. Yet, it’s surprisingly easy to be optimistic about the future having gone through so much. The alternative, I suppose, is assuming it will never end, and who wants to do that? In the spirit of that optimism—and perhaps as a means of corralling the chaos—we commissioned local artist and former Paxton Gater, Megan Lees, to interpret our two years of trial in an illustration to be shared with our staff on a shirt or hoody.


Megan’s work is great. I love it. But when I saw the final piece, it gave me pause. Our friends and neighbors may not have gone through a fire and mini flood along with the pandemic, and people around the world may not have cowered in their homes fearing the orange haze. However, homes and livelihoods were lost, some lost their minds, and countless people lost friends or loved ones. Paxton Gate’s time of fire, flood and plagues seems insignificant by comparison, and in a way we’re fortunate. We had insurance to help us through. PPP loans kept us afloat. We had a support structure to lean on and friends and fans who supported us through online purchases and our GoFundMe drive. The image we’ve printed on a shirt should really be so much more, with hundreds of thousands of characters and millions of witnesses. Rather than a shirt, it should adorn a huge tapestry. I guess in a way it feels like a shirt doesn’t do it justice, but it’s what we have. For me, in a small way, it represents what we went through.


Despite all of this—or maybe because of it—I am looking forward to the new year and thankful for everything everyone has done to help us get through these arduous times. Lift a glass, hug a friend, and move forward. Onward and upward. It’s the only way we can go.

—Sean Quigley, Founder 


Founder’s Favorite

Warning: Graphic Wildlife Content Ahead

Presently, I’m quite enamored with our new eland trophy-mount. Not only is it a massive specimen (it took numerous attempts and several members of our staff to secure it safely to the wall), but the work was clearly accomplished by a passionate artist.

As a vintage mount, we’ll never know whose artful hand produced a specimen so alive, but I do know it’s one of the finest pieces we’ve ever had.  The mount is most certainly fashioned over a custom form which would have been handmade by the maker. No off-the-shelf structure would offer such detail and vigor. The wrinkles and folds in the dewlap are so incredibly detailed that you feel like they’d fold gently in your hands. The stern brow, shadowing the eyes, looks down proudly, unyielding: “Keep your distance,” they say.

Elands are the largest member of the antelope family and found in southern and eastern Africa. I found them to be more wary and unapproachable than most other members of the family, but also a force to be reckoned with. 


I was fortunate enough to celebrate my honeymoon in Kenya, where we went on both a walking safari—camping in the wild—as well as the more traditional vehicle-based safari. On foot, our Masai guides tracked animals, spotting them from a distance, and—as if hunting them—found ways to get us closer and closer to the beasts. During this time, we were never able to get very close to an eland, despite our guide’s outstanding abilities. On the contrary, when searching for animals by vehicle, we found ourselves looking for other vehicles. Off in the distance, we’d see a grouping of trucks and we’d know something was going on. Via this method, we had again seen elands at a distance, but our only close-up siting was beyond my expectations.  

Early one morning we got word that lions had taken down an eland during the night. Elands are huge animals, up to five feet at the shoulder and weighing over a 1000 pounds. That’s larger than an average horse, but with long pointed horns. When we found the lions, they were lethargic and satiated, but still eating, begrudgingly, as if it were required of them by some unseen force. It was a group of four bachelor males lounging around, lazily chewing on the remnants of the hunt. They were so docile from their gluttony that we parked our open vehicle only a few paces away. The air reeked of raw meat and hyenas cackled a hundred yards away, hoping for scraps and clearly more afraid of the lions than our guide seemed to be. All of this struck me as remarkable, but what really stuck with me was how beat up the lions where. This massive antelope had put up an impressive fight. All four lions had gashes on their faces, forelegs, or shoulders. One of them was limping. And all of them looked like they’d been through battle.


On this trip, I found an even greater reverence for the animals of east Africa, and most definitely a healthy respect for the eland. If you’ve never had the opportunity to see this creature up close, come take a look and get a glimpse of what it might feel like to stand next to this truly majestic animal. 

Comments, ideas for articles, or inquiries? Email us at Paxtionian@Paxtongate.com.

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