Friday, April 29, 2005

Here is the final chapter of my posts about Barrington Hall. I cleverly call it "The End". As pre-study I recommend reading my previous four posts on the topic: the intro, my room, meal time, and parties at Barrington. Or, if you prefer a cut-n-pasted summary, skim this:

I lived in the Barrington Hall Cooperative in Berkeley, California during my sophomore year of college. It was an exaggerated stereotype of life in "hippie" Berkeley, replete with copious drugs, psychedelic murals, and entrenched filth. I was a squeaky clean boy from the suburbs. Fish out of water hilarity ensued. Comedy was primarily supplied by a wacky set of supporting characters and dangerous meals. Today this would be a short-lived series on Fox.

And now, the end.

I think it's safe to say that Barrington wasn't really a "normal" place. Many of the inhabitants were caricatures of actual humans, either by choice or by alternative brain chemistry. There was one character, named Berkeley Bob, who was rumored to live in a secret room in the building. I caught several glimpses of him moving through the house during my year there, but never understood if he was a student, or an ex-student, or a homeless guy, or what. I think he was supposed to be a brilliant burn-out, but I may be confusing him with a character from "Real Genius".

I recall a gal named Ged (whose real name, I believe, was Grendel, like the monster from Beowulf) who chose to sunbathe naked on the roof. I know this sounds like a semi-discrete place to be naked, but the roof was where the laundry room was. And Ged would position herself facing the door, right in front of it. So, you'd go up to do your laundry, open the door, and BAM! VAGINA! Hello, Ged.

So, with the parties, the filth, the odd characters, the drugs, the people streaming in and out at all hours, the noise, and the general sense of anarchy, Barrington Hall was what you'd call a bad neighbor. For many years, perhaps as long as Barrington had been open, nearby Berkeley residents complained. This generally took the form of calls to the police, angry letters to the Cooperative Association, and hearty portions of red-faced fist-waving.

One year, I think it was 1987 or 1988, a group of neighbors decided that they'd had enough, and they filed a lawsuit against the Cooperative Assocation which owned Barrington along with 17 other less controversial houses. The lawsuit was a sprawling document citing sections of the Federal RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations) Statute and naming a broad swath of individuals including Co-op officials, some students, and various people identified by their nicknames like "Icepick Al" and "Skateboard Kenny".

The lawsuit was both laughable and dangerous. Although it was hard to take a document seriously that named "Icepick Al" as a defendent, they had a lawyer and were threatening to take action which would end up both closing Barrington and affecting the entire Co-op system. The people of Barrington mostly ignored the lawsuit. Backed by decades of counter-culture tradition, the general anarchy continued as did the infamous Wine Dinner parties.

I moved out of Barrington after one year, in the summer of 1988, and I spent the next two years in Davis House, a smaller and calmer Co-op building. During those two years, the lawsuit slowly weaved its way through the legal system. The scope of the lawsuit was large enough that many Co-op members began to fear for their houses too. Soon, spurred on by concern from the administration, a Co-op-wide vote was taken. Although there were questions about the validity and the motivation of the referendum, the decision was to close Barrington Hall.

By this point in time I was sitting on the Board of Directors for the Co-op system. Everyone in the Co-ops did some sort of work shift and I was lucky enough to satisfy the requirement by sitting on the Board instead of cooking or cleaning. This was a pretty cushy workshift, but now we were tasked with the unpleasant chore of actually closing down Barrington, a place for which I still felt much fondness.

The referendum occurred in the Fall of 1989 and the building was officially closed by the end of that semester. Immediately afterwards, squatters took up residence, demanding to continue living in the building. I suppose this was to be expected. Take a building full of hippie anarchists, add eviction and voila, squatters! That's just math.

Soon afterwards, in the Spring of 1990, the squatters held what they called a "poetry reading". The evening ended with police storming the building and there was alleged violence on both sides of the badge. Although the Co-op Board didn't want anyone living in the building, we also felt obliged to protect the squatters (probably as much from a legal perspective as from pure liberal guilt), so we formed a team of people who would carry pagers at all times and would respond to any activity in Barrington. If the police were going to show up, we wanted to be there too, to ensure that there was no violence.

I volunteered for this duty, feeling the need to watch this train wreck to the very end. I was only summoned to Barrington once and it was a fairly calm affair in the middle of the night. Both the squatters and the police were on their best behavior. That was the last time I looked inside Barrington Hall.

I graduated at the end of that semester and the squatters were removed from Barrington shortly thereafter. The Co-op system eventually sold the building and now it's a privately owned boarding house.

To this day it still feels strange to know that Barrington is no more. Sure it was a drug-filled nuisance, but it was partially MY drug-filled nuisance. I can't quite explain why a place where I didn't fit it at all has evoked such nostalgia for me (Amusingly, when I typed the word "nostalgia" just now, it came out as nastalgia. Maybe that's more appropriate. Nasty nostalgia).

I got an email last week from a guy who found my blog by Googling on "Barrington Hall" Berkeley. It turns out that he and I both lived there at the same time and we had a nice email chat about friends in common. It was a nice trip down memory lane.

Anyway, I've blabbered on long enough. That's the end of my time in Barrington Hall. It was a love/hate thing.


Leo B Sullivan, Barrington Hall 1982-84 and Lifetime PNG, 1986-'?? said...

"The Co-op system eventually sold the building and now it's a privately owned boarding house."....
Well... Yes... but... The USCA -The University Co-op Association- officially and other ways- propagated a number of stories concerning the fate of The Hall in the 1990's. Stories such as a reliably disheartening ,
"the building was inevitably sold", or an even more effective and final-sounding, "the building is now gone" circulated after the 1991 "Rooftop Fling" [which resulted in 1 death] and subsequent eviction/showdown.
This un-'cooperative' level of communication continues a previous tradition of unfriendliness surrounding Barrington. This dissatisfaction with Barrington -not that it produced a deficit- seemed to well up beginning around 1979 and the explosion of cocaine in the area [thank you, CIA]. Specifically darker colors began to surround tales of episodes in The Hall, and increasingly, the exploding drug culture -and money- that began appearing from the 'living streets' of Berkeley.
IN FACT the building remains, and was not sold; however- the address was switched- from 2315 Dwight way to 2316 Haste [CLEVER! -what will capitalism think of next].
Of course the street signage "LSD" was repainted too, thank you Les Claypool.
I have yet to bother them with my application,... but the Barrington building, now known as "Evans Manor", is apparently being quietly managed by a contractor. Now, though, they have fair warning of my intentions - and they have a need: This group has finally begun openly advertising for dangerous, unreliable, possibly anarchic students (not in those words, exactly) to rent their historic rooms this semester. This frightening state is surely fallout from the current (2005) Berkeley housing shake down. UCB Dorm "fill-in" construction is finished and apartment occupancy rates are falling faster than washing machines from Ged's sunbathing spot on the roof ...
In the future, the USCA's self-appointed 'leadership' will no doubt be compelled to continue to mislead membership and students about their 'own' properties, as they oversee the continuing collapse of their valuable assets into mere properties in an undesirable, student-overrun part of town.*
"University Co-Op Association Shuts Down Le Chateau"
"Chateau To House Graduate Students"
[Graduate Students? Good grief . Chateau is nastier, uglier, and sadder than ever Barrington Hall was. IMHO this house relies on negatives for its' reputation as 'housing' - lack of any great bands or parties; and the sheer naivete of working class Cal students, to suck members in.
Besides, the USCA is no longer affords any sort of inancial incentive to students. Graduate Students! Good Luck to your stockholders; and the one group you really do respond to, the USCA Alumni org, Mr. George Proper, Lord of All He Surveys].

Leo B Sullivan, Barrington Hall 1982-84 and Lifetime PNG, 1986-'?? said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike said...

And there you have it.

Parisa said...

last semester at cloyne, we had our very last out of house party at the end of the semester. cloyne is now under ucpd (which means no more out of house, no more bands, and police may now easily attain search warrants to any room which was a practically impossible feat in the past).
but i just wanted to say, we have the old "barrington hall" wooden sign (and also the chateau one) and we hung them up on the front door for that party. and all the "old" coopers (who were old enough to have heard of barrington and had already seen the death of cheateau last spring) all touched the barrington sign like it was something sacred. i suppose because barrington wa first barrington, then chateau, now cloyne.
anyways, thank you. it was really a pleasure to hear a real account separate from all the handy-down horror stories of suicides, ODs, hauntings, and orgies.

Mike said...

Hi Parisa, I'm not sure what an "out of house" party is, but if it's good enough to get banned, I'm sure it's a great party. Also, believe me, I WISH I had orgy stories to tell.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm steve and I was a Barrington Hall resident in '83/'84. It really can't be under estimated about how much of an effect it had on my later tolerance of things I would normally not have tolerated.

Weirdly enough, the first day I moved in was Wine Dinner. As an experienced LSD-tripper, LSD didn't shock me; but being given drugs for FREE did. And being handd apple juice laced w/LSD w/o being told was...not unsettling..but more like just not having good drug-taking ettiquete.

Leo Sullivan (?) was nice enough to have people look in on me after i retired to my room. I think they thought I totalt freaked--which i didn't--I just didn't want to partake in Wine Dinner w/o knowing about it. I thought that gesture was very nice.

Later Wine Dinners became very fun. I loved the drum sequence, in which as people were peaking, they would start beating onanything--chairs, kitchen pots, cultlery--all to a group beat that sppeded up into a crescendo. I really liked that, destroying the chairs, feeling complete freedom. Some other barrington girl who was a council member didn';t like that i was detroying barrington property. Her dislike of doing so made it all the more fun.

In my unit, there were three "spaces". I had the worst one--it was in the middle, and another roommate had to walk through mine to get to his. The indignity of having no privacy!!

I remember once I had a couple of different roommates in my space. One was cool, and i talked the whole night long to a person who was actually receptive to my verbage. Imagine that!! Another was this straight-laced guy, whom I only remeber staying 1-2 nights there. I actually felt sorry for him that he had to be in such a bizarre place.

There were more squatters that later became my 'de facto' rommates whom I respected.

Just a few Barrrington memories

Mike said...

Hey Steve, thanks for commenting. I totally agree with you about how Barrington really increases your tolerance for... well, lots of stuff.

Anonymous said...

The Berkeley Student Co-op still owns the building, which is now Evans Manor. The hired a property manager to run the place. I lived there for over a year. Only one old Barrington mural left, in the kitchen.

Anonymous said...

I'm really glad I found your blog! I wasn't a Barrington resident, but I dated an ex-Barringtonian Kim (I think the same Kim who was your "hot lesbian suitemate"--the other Kim that Piet mentions in his response was our midwife too) while she lived in Fenwick in 1989. We went to a Wine Dinner--I think the band was Tragic Mulatto? Later I shared an apartment in SF with two other ex-Barringtonians, Mahlen and James. And I've seen Ged and Dave around SF on their bikes for years...So while I never lived there, I heard many, many tales, and if I'd gone to Berkeley I'm sure I would've wanted to live there. Thanks for sharing--it's true that there's precious little on the web about Barrington.

Chris Farrell said...

hey, I like your summary of what happened. I lived in barrington into the squat, then left.