Losing a legend
When 35-year-old Ali Youssefi died of stomach cancer on Saturday, Sacramento lost more than the developer of the Warehouse Artist Lofts on R Street that’s largely responsible for the resurgence of artists in the area. More than just the visionary who also built housing—currently opening and still in development—for residents across income brackets.
At Youssefi’s impromptu vigil in front of WAL Monday evening, it became clear that Sacramento has lost a dear friend who was kind to even those in his periphery.
Clouds heavy with rain refrained from pouring as more than 100 mourners gathered on outdoor picnic tables to admire Youssefi’s work: the WAL building itself.
“All the buildings he did were artistic visions,” Gale Hart, an accomplished artist in Sacramento and a friend of Youssefi’s, told SN&R before the event. “I kind of asked a few artists to walk around tonight and see his buildings that he has developed. I didn’t realize it would get so big.”
One by one, his friends and coworkers, even the extras in the movie of his life, stood up on a picnic table to address the crowd, many of whom wore sunglasses after sunset.
Artist Jose Di Gregorio, whose celestial and geometric mural greets visitors to WAL’s second story, shared how he had lined up for WAL in the early days and waited 18 hours to get a room for himself and his two daughters. He was declined. But later, Di Gregorio shared his life story to Youssefi, who spotted him some cash out of his wallet.
“At that point, I was living in Verge [Center for the Arts]”—a gallery and workspace not meant for living—“I was actually sleeping in the studio, setting the alarm running into my studio,” Di Gregorio remembered. Eventually, Youssefi personally approved Di Gregorio’s application to WAL. “It was because of Ali directly that I was able to receive a three-bedroom apartment here and sustain myself as an artist. I’m eternally grateful to him, as are my daughters. When I got that phone call, I sobbed.”
City councilmember Steve Hansen acknowledged Youssefi’s ability to unite disparate classes of people: “If you look around you see artists, you see developers, you see city people, you see a wide community, and that is Ali in many ways,” Hansen said.
A worker from Fish Face Poke Bar inside the WAL Public Market stood up, though she didn’t know Youssefi personally. She met him when she had invited her children to run on the rooftop of WAL, knowing it wasn’t technically allowed. Youssefi was called to investigate.
“He was so kind, just like the kindest Jesus in the pictures,” she said. “That kindness from a stranger to someone totally violating his building was just the ultimate.”
Above all, artists acknowledged Youssefi’s dedication to supporting them and their work.
“I just think genuinely his single goal in life was to make artists’ lives better,” Hart said before the vigil. “He was driven to make our lives better in any way he could.”
To end the remembrance, Hart asked the crowd to blow a kiss to the sky. Artist Shaun Burner then led the mourners in howling Youssefi onward in his journey “traveling through the cosmos.” They crowed “Ali!” and yodeled and yelled, all of it echoing off the facade of Youssefi’s creation until it decrescendoed to silence.