Closing days of the old Cloyne Court

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
Captain (house manager) Shannon Levis, Natasha Von Kaenel, Elizabeth Calhoun and Justin Hsiung sit in Cloyne Court the day before the Berkeley Student Cooperative voted to convert the co-op into substance-free housing.

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It was Monday night of dead week, and the members of Cloyne Court were dancing. Although the house’s residents would be required to move out of their home in just two weeks, Cloyne’s dining room was filled with about 100 people piling their plates with home-cooked Mexican food and twirling to the tune of a mariachi band playing in honor of Cinco de Mayo.

The event was similar to others recently hosted at Cloyne, but just two months ago, the same dining room held a very different scene, as members of Cloyne – who refer to themselves as Clones – used the space for late-night discussions and councils. This was part of an attempt to save their house from a proposal that would convert the Berkeley Student Cooperative’s largest house into a substance-free, academic theme house and prevent all current and former Clones from moving back in, in the fall.

But Cloyne lost its battle against the proposal when the BSC Board of Directors and some of BSC’s members voted in March to pass the proposal, making the final months of the spring semester the last for current Clones to experience the house’s unique culture that the proposal will inevitably alter.

Announced in February by BSC’s executive cabinet, the proposal came as a response to a recently settled suit filed two years ago by the mother of John Gibson, a former student who sustained brain damage after a drug overdose while at Cloyne in 2010. The suit alleged that the co-op created a dangerous environment. Although the suit’s settlement left the co-op free of direct financial liability, the cabinet remained concerned the allegations could adversely affect BSC’s ability to secure insurance coverage in the future.

Before the final vote, Cloyne’s management and the cabinet agreed to preserve the murals in Cloyne’s public spaces and to allow one house member, UC Berkeley junior Neal Lawton, to return in the fall.

About two months after the decision on Cloyne’s future, the house seems to be in a simultaneous state of celebration and mourning.

“The sense of the final moments of Cloyne is on a lot of people’s minds,” said Kate Boden, who has lived in Cloyne for five semesters and was one of the leaders of the Save Cloyne campaign. “People are spending more time trying to get to know each other, and dinners are bigger and louder. I think the idea that this is it has definitely set in.”

Similar scenes to the Cinco de Mayo celebration can be found in the house as Cloyne’s move-out date, May 18, approaches. Since the vote, the house’s events – including a Mardi Gras-themed special dinner, a bug banquet and a music festival – have provided time for the house’s members to celebrate the culture they fought to preserve.

Cloyne’s culture is difficult for the house’s members to define, but many Clones agree that the physical layout of Cloyne has largely influenced its personality.

Cloyne Court is the largest house in the BSC and, according to many of the house’s members, the largest cooperative house in North America. The vast wooden structure occupies half a block of Ridge Road,where it is located on the north side of campus. With about 150 members and a high turnover rate, Cloyne is the feeder house to the BSC and has been home to thousands of occupants since its conversion from a hotel.

“There’s a lot of history that’s seeped into this place and it’s a very oral history,” said Shannon Levis, Cloyne’s chief manager. “There’s this weird paradox of this house in that it remembers so much but can also forget immediately.”

For Clones, Cloyne’s size allows for the execution of ideas that would not otherwise be possible, whether it be the idea to create a rendition of Gustav Klimt’s painting “The Kiss” near the entryway or to stage a dementor attack on the Cal Quidditch team. This freedom to collectively achieve goals is a defining piece of the Cloyne experience, according Mirit Friedman, Cloyne’s house manager.

“I dont know if mob mentality is the right way to describe it, but there’s something about living with 150 different people that’s so powerful,” said Friedman. “Once someone gets an idea, everyone runs with it.”

The house’s physical traits have also provided Cloyne with its notorious pirate theme.

Its similarities to a pirate ship are hard to miss. Aside from its size and wooden exterior, there’s a recently built deck in the house’s courtyard, and pirate-themed murals cover the interior walls. Most notably, a painting of a giant pirate ship overlayed with photos of Clones covers part of the house’s main hallway, and every year, Cloyne hosts their infamous pirate party.

Despite the history of the theme, some Clones believe the pirate ship murals and other indicators of the pirate culture may be removed before or during the fall, according to Levis. Still, Boden is hopeful that some parts of Cloyne’s culture will remain.

“What Cloyne is, is in the walls,” Boden said. “And people recreate it all the time. There’s 150 different stories about how to live here, and that won’t change.”

As the future of Cloyne’s culture remains in question, Lawton –  endearingly named “the last Clone” –  will serve as the house’s torchbearer in the year to come. Although no one knows what type of community the next generation of Clones will create, Lawton hopes to preserve the strong support system Cloyne currently offers. When it comes to enforcing the house’s new substance-free policy, however, Lawton is less optimistic.

“We’re not even able to keep drugs out of jail, so I don’t know how we seriously plan to keep drugs out of student housing,” Lawton said. “You definitely are attracting people who are drawn to the lifestyle based on the theme’s title, but there are a lot of other incentives that might outweigh the substance-free aspect for people who just want a spot in the co-ops, want to fill a vacant paid manager position or anything else.”

Although Lawton will return to Cloyne come fall, all other Clones must make new living arrangements. The house’s fate has left some Clones disenchanted with the BSC altogether, but those still open to BSC options have chosen homes in other co-op houses, including Ridge House, Casa Zimbabwe and Kingman Hall.

For Levis, who will graduate this semester, these final months in the house have been a prolonged process of letting go. For both her and her fellow Clones, swaying to music with her housemates on Cinco de Mayo will be one of her final memories in the space she’s helped navigate through crisis.

“Cloyne is our pirate ship,” Levis said with a laugh. “It’s our way of seeing the house, and it’s our way of thinking about the house. I’ll look back on this and think of how I was the captain of a sinking ship.”

Chloee Weiner covers campus life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_chloeew .

A previous version of this article stated that “the proposal alleged that the co-op created a dangerous environment.” In fact, it was the lawsuit that alleged that the co-op created a dangerous environment.