The artists collective first known as The Warehouse, then the Wherehouse, or the Werehouse, began with five young men squatting on the second floor of an abandoned Meat Packing plant built in 1912. With a grand purpose in mind, the building was officially rented in 1996 and purchased soon thereafter. The spirit of the five pioneers, setting out to simply render the building livable by installing windows, doors, plumbing and wiring has continued to this day with a new metamorphosis each year. Evidence of the structure's original incarnation can be found in the 2-foot-thick (0.61 m) cork ceiling, a covered trough running along the east wall which was used for animal waste and the three small rooms stacked atop one another filling what was once the freight elevator.
Now antiquated photographs show evidence of the 67 VW-sized turbines and motors which were removed to begin what was then the performance space on the ground floor. In these early years a house party atmosphere was the rule when nationwide touring artists like, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Will Oldham and the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus dropped by.
In 2002 an idea was put forward that the community could benefit from legitimizing the performance space under a non-profit heading. PS211, as it became known, ran for two years with the help of numerous community volunteers under a board of directors headed by several City Arts Council and SECCA representatives. As hoped, the space grew in diversity from the introduction of dance recitals, Kabarets, art auctions, chamber recitals and even weddings. During this time a concession stand was created for selling refreshments to the public, which became what is now Krankies Coffeehouse. With 15 to 20 residents living on the second floor and in the basement, visiting artists Damo Suzuki, Eugene Chadbourne, Cat Power, Melt Banana, The Barnstormers Art Collective and Lightning Bolt (among hundreds of other artists) discovered the house party atmosphere, transformed but not forgotten.
With the untimely demise of PS211 providing the fertilizer for the next evolutionary phase, the last few years have seen the seeds of many ideas sprout forth. The once familial interhouse movie nights became public film nights, featuring local and far-flung filmmakers. The fledgling art auctions had become the Electric Moustache Gallery which had provided a venue for artists as distant as Canada. The room next to the gallery had become the Artist Space, where local artists pay nominal rent to share a creative space for painting, crocheting and sculpting. Krankies Coffee purchased local entrepreneur Maria's Coffee Roasting business and retrofitted a corner for roasting 200 lbs of coffee a week. The recording studio which over the years has cropped up in every corner of the building officially became Memorial Studios. Located in the basement next to the band practice space, several dozen artists have recorded there; most notably USAISAMONSTER. And most recently the backlot has been resculpted to host a local organic Farmers Market to fill the need for the growing population downtown. And even more recently, the backlot has been resculpted to host a parking lot for the growing population of Krankies customers.
Whether you prefer the tag intentional community or artists collective, The Wherehouse functioned as an example of what people could do for themselves, their community and the world when they continue to find ways of working together. As member of Negativland Mark Hosler once said, "I've never seen anything like this stateside; this is more like a commune in Europe."
Still flourishing after years of backbreaking toil, fires, and countless other mishaps and misadventures, the Wherehouse remains as close as possible to its original purpose: a residential collective that provides the Winston-Salem community and the world at large with a space to experience original and thought provoking art.