The secret history behind Berkeley’s most notorious co-op

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The Haste Street entrance to Evans Manor

On Haste Street, about halfway between Dana and Ellsworth streets, there is a white stucco, nondescript apartment complex called Evans Manor. If you’re walking past Evans Manor on a weekend afternoon, the loudest noise you’ll hear is the gentle thud of a tennis racket hitting a tennis ball on the Channing Tennis Courts across the street. The building’s narrow, plain facade disguises a deceptively massive residential complex. Every year, there is a scramble to fill the many vacant rooms. Advertisements on the Berkeley Facebook Housing Page read, “NO APPT NECESSARY PLEASE JUST SHOW UP. FIRST COME FIRST SERVED.” Most of the residents of Evans Manor don’t realize that they are living in what was once a notorious counterculture haven: Barrington Hall.

A Barrington Hall party

Originally a shelter for refugees from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, Barrington was purchased by the young University Student Cooperative Association in 1935. Barrington soon became famous for its crazy pranks and antics. In the ’50s, residents of Barrington entered a float for the university-sponsored Big C Parade. They called the float “Hoover’s Last Erection.” The bottom half of the float was designed to look like the Stanford University bell tower, Hoover Tower, and the top half was designed to look like — you guessed it — a penis. The city of Berkeley famously criminalized water ballooning after Barrington’s indulgence in the sport damaged the windshield of a police car.

Rear entrance of Barrington in 1989

In 1966, the co-op became co-ed, and many of the traditional rules about student decency and appropriate behavior were abolished. It was in the ’60s that Barrington really earned its reputation as a cradle of rebellion, activism and counterculture. In a letter to the editor of Toad Lane Review, one resident described Barrington as “a place of chaos with a sense of order” and “a place for the non-conventional.” The local chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society was founded at Barrington, and in the ’80s, the house was at the center of the anti-apartheid movement. In 1968, a mural of a yellow submarine, inspired by the Beatles song, was painted in the second-floor stairwell, and by the mid-1980s, psychedelic murals covered every wall of Barrington’s common areas. Though all but one of those murals have been painted over, you can still see them in their full glory in this commemorative YouTube video.

A flyer advertising a concert at Barrington

In the 1970s and 1980s, Barrington’s dining room operated as an unlicensed punk nightclub — one of the first in the Bay Area. Rasputin Music features Barrington Hall in its window gallery on Telegraph Ave, calling the house “the launching pad/petri dish of Bay Area punk.” Punk bands such as X, Black Flag, and the Dead Kennedys played their first shows in Berkeley at Barrington.

In 1990, after complaints from neighbors, failed health and insurance inspections and public criticism for its open drug culture, Barrington was finally shut down. Though Barrington is no more, its legacy remains. Barringtonians had an enormous influence as social activists, especially in the anti-apartheid movement and in the movement against student fee increases. Its influence in music has been immortalized in the songs that were directly inspired by the co-op. The song “Frizzle Fry,” by the band Primus, as well as the album’s theme, “Tales from the Punch Bowl,” were

A Barringtonian in a lounge area

inspired by wine dinners held at Barrington — parties where punch spiked with LSD was served. The band Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade wrote a song called “Barrington Hall,” and the lyrics repeatedly ask, “Does anybody here remember Barrington Hall? / Does anybody here remember Barrington Hall?” According to a judge presiding over a lawsuit filed against Barrington, “Barrington Hall’s reputation was larger than life, even by California standards. … If Berkeley, California, was the last bastion of sixties counterculture, Barrington Hall, the city’s oldest and largest student housing co-operative, was surely the last rampart.”

Image Sources: Featured ImageImage 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4, Image 5

Contact Lilia Vega at [email protected].

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  • Robert Gaebler

    I bet you all wondered, how in heck could KEY AND PEELE sketch out Tyrone Wallace, with Tyroil Smoochie-Wallace. I bet you wondered. Hey, now.

  • Robert Gaebler

    Just a point of information, but despite Kabam obviously prepping you all, for KABOOOOOM, you all seem to have NO CLUE how that might happen, but you let Geffen rip and dupe, Coop does Kathy, AGAIN, and look. You have no ethics or morals. You seem to have no idea I ever existed, but hi, kids. HI!

    You do NOT get to put up AC-ZZ punk, from enough microwave surveillance, to catch every pick attack and funka-chunka and tune, then let Bill help GW Bush scuttle Bill’s FBI! Or fellow CAL George Takei need not sketch our deja vu-demise, from STAR TREK, fin. 1968,

    You just don’t get to let there be THAT much dog! OK?

  • Mark Talmont

    I voted there in ’82 when somebody thought it made sense for it to be a polling place. Probably the only time it was ever graced with an American flag outside. I was in the last cluster of voters as they were closing; the supervisor walked out and announced, “the Democrats took the Senate, anybody want a bong hit?” (no takers)
    I remember later in the 80s there were a couple heroin ODs and reports of Berkeley parents barging in to remove their minor children. Also the episode where the cops were gathered outside and denied entry for some time as the uppermost floor blasted NWAs “F…Tha Police” over and over again.
    I made a few deliveries of music systems and computers to the place, always had a kind of “crash pad” feel to it. Didn’t they used to have “eat insects” nights there too?

    • noellemac

      There was indeed a period of time when there was a “bug snack” but that ended by the time I moved there in Fall ’84. However the rumours of housing minors and runaways is completely FALSE and its really annoying that it persists.

    • Jay Edelman

      The Democrats took the Senate in 1986, not 1982.

      • Mark Talmont

        Correct. How the memory fades with time.

  • This must be the shortest article I’ve ever seen written about Barrington Hall…we really are almost free of the past. If you want to know more, you can read my rant the author cited above about the end of the house, or the nice paper I wrote about all the other incarnations of this historic building. You’re lucky Berkeley is the epicenter of West Coast hypocrisy, or we’d come and take our home back

  • Mahlen Morris

    Since I lived at Barrington from 1986 and took a couple of these photos, allow me to clarify. The pictures entitled “A Barrington Hall party” and “A Barringtonian in a lounge area” were not actually taken at Barrington. They were taken at an art installation Barringtonians put on at, I believe, Kroeber Hall in 1988. For one thing, none of the ceilings in that building are as high as the ones in that first picture.

    You can credit them to Mahlen Morris if you’d like. You’ll note that my kid brother Clark and I did the YouTube video you link to of the walls (shot on Super 8mm film!).

    Mahlen

  • djoelt1

    I was in the UC housing co-op in the late 1980’s and did the food delivery as my work shift. That was the only time I entered Barrington. I recall making a delivery one day which included multiple cases of sugary cereals. One case had a desirable plastic prize. Several Barringtonians promptly opened the cereal boxes, dumped their contents on the dining tables, and walked off with the prize.

    C’mon, at least open the bottom of the box so the cereal is not wasted!

    • jdra

      Why do you think the cereal was wasted? We ate it straight off the table.