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.