This document is not meant to be a term paper, a political attack or a philosophical argument. You will find no footnotes, and since I am refuting the documented statements of others who witnessed the destruction of Barrington Hall, there is a "he said, she said" feeling to the effort. However, upon reading The Green Book, essentially the official history of the University Students Cooperative Association (USCA) in Berkeley, of which I was a member from 1984 to 1987, I was shocked at a range of distortions stretching from the subtle to the egregious regarding the closure of my house. I could not let this rest. I personally take responsibility for the elimination of this cooperative house, which was a blight to many, but also a treasure that can never be replicated. Yet to place blame solely upon the last group of students to live in Barrington Hall not only cheapens our affection for the building and that period of our lives, but it misplaces the blame that also resides with the management of the USCA itself, an organization that continues to lose control of various cooperative houses through their incompetence. I understand that Casa Zimbabwe and Cloyne Court were nearly lost in the 1990s, and our old rivals at the Chateau were recently destroyed in a manner so similar to Barrington Hall, it is both eerie and reprehensible. That the general manager of the USCA was George Proper on all occasions, if I could transmit the ironic message back in time to 1986, would make for a big laugh at one of our wine dinners, but certainly would change nothing. I cannot fully blame Mr. Proper; we were all set on a course that was not our own, but Berkeley's, a course that in the last twenty years I have seen replicated across California and the entire country. And there is my statement forward and back, to 1986 and 2026: that there is no blame, and probably no hope, but it should be the ambition if not the duty of an association claiming to be a cooperative to study and understand the dynamics of such cooperation at its lowest moment.
When I moved into Barrington Hall in August of 1984, I was a month shy of my nineteenth birthday, a sophomore at UC Berkeley. At the present time I am nearing forty-one, and have been a librarian for the past sixteen years, an adventure that has taken me from performing puppet shows in South Central preschools to designing thesauri for art curators in Switzerland. I am also a published author and make my home in Los Angeles, a city much less tolerant of collegiate hijinks than Berkeley ever was. I say all of this to establish that I am not, nor ever did believe myself to be, a fool. On scholarship at UC Berkeley, I made the Dean's List in Spring 1986 and graduated with honors in May 1987, during a period when my house was supposedly a mire of crime and even death. I went on to obtain Master's degrees at both the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, which may demonstrate I am consistent if not practical. This is also true of many other people who lived in Barrington Hall, who became professors, artists, writers, attorneys, teachers, musicians, doctors, and contribute greatly to the communities where they live and to the families they have. In short, we are not nor were not a reckless group of drug-addled, power-mad Students Gone Wild as insinuated in writing by our former landlords, the USCA; on the contrary, I believe we were completely ordinary, all-American, and like the last group on the decks of the RMS Titanic, we were abandoned without lifeboats to save us from Berkeley's perdition.
It is worth restating the mission statement of the USCA one more time: "The purpose of the University Students' Cooperative Association (USCA) is to offer low cost, cooperative housing to university students, thereby promoting the general welfare of the community and providing an educational opportunity for students who might not otherwise be able to afford a university education. The organization is committed to educating and influencing the community in order to eliminate prejudice and discrimination in housings."
I read this statement in 1984 and took it to heart. In my case, it was quite true; my father was a finance manager for an automobile dealership, my mother a housewife, and they could barely afford my fees at UC Berkeley, then the astronomical sum of nearly $800 a semester. With a scholarship to pay for my books, I spent my freshman year in Cunningham Hall, a dorm further up Dwight Way. I found the place juvenile and oppressive, not much better than the high school I'd just graduated, certainly nothing hinting at the great intellectual tradition I'd expected at Berkeley, or the political activism I'd read of. From my window, I could watch the embers of that Berkeley dying out; on the way to class I coldly observed the human wreckage clinging to the last vestiges of the 1960s along Telegraph Avenue. I also saw the signs of things to come on the pricey Northside, where the professors lived, and along a line of redevelopment extending up Shattuck, through the tunnel and down Solano to the waterfront. During the early 1980s we all saw San Francisco and the Bay Area transformed, not only by Silicon Valley and the Loma Prieta Earthquake, but also by the real estate genius of San Francisco's then-mayor, Dianne Feinstein. Ronald Reagan had been President for just a few years and we were again at war, this time in Central America. It was a cynical, greedy time when many people starved for meaning.
My friend Dianna (and now I apologize for identifying anyone by name, but I am not going to connect any but myself to nefarious deeds) was then living in Barrington Hall. It should fill you with dread at the nature of this infamous place to know that she was a straight-A student and a CHEERLEADER at our high school in Burbank. Visiting her, I found Barrington to be much dirtier than the dorms, infinitely more visually interesting (even so today in its whitewashed state) and the people, if eccentric, less immature. There was a better mix of older and younger students, a few minorities (UC Berkeley and even the co-ops, for all the talk, were lily-white in those days) and most important to me, half the rent of the dorms. And so the following year, in August 1984, I moved into Barrington Hall.
For my first year at Barrington, my knowledge of the "cooperative" spirit came from washing dishes, arguing with strangers and answering the telephone at our primitive switchboard. I had no inkling of the history of the USCA, Barrington, nor any of the people the various co-ops were named after. I again accept blame for this oversight, but my first criticism of the USCA, far away on Ridge Road on the "nice" Northside of campus, might be a certain blissful and uncorrected ignorance perpetrated upon the hundreds of students in every co-op about our historic purpose. For most of us, as Guy Lillian's history of the USCA suggests, it was just a cheap place to live. That was the bond I shared with some people in Barrington: lower middle-class poverty. I can say without bragging that in one month during the summer of 1986, I survived on $25, and if not for Top Ramen, a plastic garbage can full of lentils and the later generosity of my friend Roy, I would not likely have starved but would have suffered serious weight loss.
Barrington also had its share of what we nicknamed "trust fund junkies", a wealthy breed I already knew well, having grown up ten miles from Beverly Hills. Like a soap opera I couldn't turn off, they were all lovely people, of course, but I'll admit they were often a bad influence, mostly on themselves, and they had the financial resources to do serious damage to their closest friends as well. They were hardly unique to Barrington Hall, and they exist wherever rich parents send their kids to keep them off the streets. In the 1990s I worked at a well-heeled high school for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which shall remain nameless, and saw excess among younger teenagers, coke hidden in their tennis bags, that would make even a hardened Barringtonian shudder. Take away their adult supervision and put them in a building together, and not many young adults are needed to reach a critical mass. This is my second complaint against the management of the USCA, which might annoy a few of my friends: the utter lack of adult supervision. Can you think of any business or enterprise run COMPLETELY by teenagers and people in their early twenties? I know of one: Barrington Hall. The presence of even one sympathetic adult at our weekly Council meetings might have done us good, as some training for the students who managed a kitchen for almost 200 might have, but there was little that I was aware of. Perhaps this is my ignorance talking, but I've worked with teenagers for years since, and one way I've used Barrington is as an example of how adults will neglect them. That we survived as well as we did is, in retrospect, somewhat amazing to me.
The Green Book claims that "the USCA tried to provide its members with as much information as possible including how the organization works, decisions made by the organization, how the USCA fits into the student and world cooperative movements, and how members can participate in their micro and macro communities." To emphasize my previous remarks, I say this is bullshit straight out, and if I needed the Rochdale Principles spray-painted across the door to my house, then some manager should have done it. My primary contribution to the USCA was writing a check for room and board twice a semester. "Like all cooperatives," The Green Book goes on, "the houses of the USCA concerned themselves with building a supportive, functional community within the co-op as well as a respectful relationship with other community members and organizations." Again, I will offend some of you by flatly calling BULLSHIT on this. Very few people in Barrington could even name the other houses, except for the Chateau, the nearest co-op with whom we'd inherited a juvenile rivalry worthy of any frat house. Particularly regarding Rochdale and Fenwick, more apartment buildings and retirement homes for ex-Barringtonians than any embodiment of the cooperative spirit, whatever notions of our heritage existed were made up by within Barrington Hall, not taught by any recital of the Rochdale Principles.
We were bound to each other to keep our house functioning, without much help from the Central Office or any other co-op. With our long history, we created traditions, some shared with other houses: the New Members' "Orientation", the giant banana, public nudity, a tolerance for the sins and misdemeanors of others that made even liberal Berkeley look rather staid, etc. We had our motto, to be used against us frequently, the Zen quip by Lao Tze: "Those who know don't tell, and those who tell don't know." Rather than a "code of silence", this is a statement of fact, I believe, and one that very few in Barrington Hall or anywhere else obeyed. In order to succeed without much help from the USCA, especially after the 1970 decentralization, Barrington codified its uniqueness; we "started a campus student club, the Onngh Yanngh Consciousness Society for the Enlightened". Somehow this joke was reinterpreted later as a dangerous cult, the beginning of our downfall. While the club did exist, it was never taken seriously, nor did it ever receive any funding from the University or USCA. That even satire was used against us literally gives measure of how far Berkeley had changed since Barrington began its long ride, fifty years earlier.
Almost two-hundred students lived in Barrington, a number beyond most people's ability to process as a "cooperative". Unlike some of the smaller houses, where familiarity and the occasionally petty bickering is normal, a house as large as Barrington Hall was larger than most "tribes", apartment buildings, jet-airliners or even businesses. It was an unwieldy size and that it functioned properly after it went co-ed in the 1960s is a testament to the culture it created within itself, not anything that might have been printed on a flyer handed out on "orientation day" by the USCA office a mile away on the other side of campus.
It is true that the late 1970s and early 1980s spelled the end for Barrington, but not, as was stated by George Proper, because "the dominant sentiment at Barrington was anti-authority…[f]reedom was interpreted by them as doing what you want, when you want." He also believed that we "were indoctrinated in school and…community with new ideas including the philosophies of socialism and anarchy, and being exposed to many new things, including drugs." I hardly believe we were "indoctrinated"; I would take this as a slur against the University of California, which was difficult to get accepted into in 1983, as it is now, representing the top students in California. I majored in Rhetoric, my girlfriend Crissy in Art, our friends in Forestry, Nuclear Engineering, Computer Science, Film, etc., and none of us had homework related to socialism or anarchism. The gist of both statements is that we were too stupid to know what we were doing. Perhaps, as I suggested earlier, the USCA failed us with incompetent management and training, but we were all the cream of our communities; at Berkeley I met the brightest group of people that I've ever met, even to this day. To think that we were so easily misled is insulting. It is also insulting to claim that we were simply "carrying on the tradition of the Berkeley counterculture that grew out of the 50s and 60s." We had our own brains and our own problems to address. We reveled in the freedoms of Berkeley and Barrington Hall while Ronald Reagan destroyed the United States from the inside; we did vote to make Barrington a sanctuary for refugees from El Salvador (although none were ever sheltered there.) That's just ordinary white, middle-class American radicals talking; it should be remembered that the Symbionese Liberation Army, the radicals who robbed banks and kidnapped Patricia Hearst (who later joined them quite willingly) were all middle-class Berkeley students. And none of them lived in Barrington Hall. We also had real successes; the group opposing fee increases in the early 1980s and then the anti-apartheid movement were deeply entrenched at Barrington; the Biko Plaza News was published out of our study room. There were no fee increases and a free Nelson Mandela saw a new country born not a few years later. These were our problems, not the problems of the 1960s; they were assertions of our independence as Americans, with the right to decide where OUR University should invest OUR money, just as we asserted OUR right to tolerate within OUR house much that was not tolerated outside. It is true that we "found the co-op to be a welcoming and safe environment to try new things." That's called PRIVACY, the same legal reason why the right to an abortion or the right for gays to hold hands on Folsom Street exists in the Bay Area. This did not make Barrington, I would say, that unusual. The uncontrolled nature of our freedom made it a problematic place for many unstable people to live, and I mourn the damage done to them; I mourn that same damage every day to friends and colleagues who played and were burned, far away from Barrington in time and space. Drugs were not our problem alone. But in the 1960s drugs were unchecked in Berkeley. By the 1980s, things had changed, thanks in part to a Colombian scourge that ironically never got a foothold in Barrington Hall.
Let me step back to 1982, when the USCA realized that the financial decentralization of 1970 had failed the larger houses. In the case of Barrington, the largest house, the managers attempted to blame this physical collapse upon "[i]nsurance companies, neighbors, the Berkeley Health Department, community organizations, the Berkeley City Council, the University, the media and other USCA members". It is true that parties in Barrington were frequent before the Ellsmere arbitration, amounting to "several every month"; at the time the dining room was being used as a punk nightclub, one of the first in the Bay Area, and charging admission to cover the co-ops expenses. This was, of course, completely unlicensed and illegal, which again raises the question of who was responsible, the students trying to maintain the house, or the hired managers of the USCA. Barrington needed an outside cash flow because the decentralized budgets could not afford the proportionally greater upkeep of the large building (almost 80 years old then). The USCA, like any incompetent organization, did not take the matter seriously until a lawsuit was filed by two residents of the Ellsmere Apartments, our neighbors to the east, closest to the dining room where the club was held. The rehab was also necessitated by the general neglect of the house, with "broken doors and stair railings", as well as the damage and unwanted attention of the punk gigs. Would this all be the responsibility of the students in the co-op, again, or the experienced hired managers? One wonders. If you let young adults move into a slum, you can hardly turn around and accuse them of creating the blight or trying to raise extra funds to save it, yet this is exactly what Mr. Proper has done on multiple occasions.
It is also stated that the "large number of non-residents coming in and out of Barrington was addressed by moving the front door from the highly trafficked Dwight Way side of the house to the less frequented Haste Street side." This is simply a mistake; prior to the 1982 rehabilitation, the front door opened onto the parking lot, and a six-foot wall fronted a parking area for motorcycles on Dwight Way. This created an unpleasant "dead zone" near the south end of the building; by reopening the main entrance (and the original entrance from 1906) to Dwight, the natural flow was reestablished. The Haste Street door was unchanged. A more detailed analysis of the 1982 rehab and the earlier history of Barrington can be found in a paper I wrote on the architectural history of the building in 1986. Although our neighbors were undoubtedly irritated with the parties and the subsequent rehab construction, only two went so far as to take the USCA to court. The result was the Ellsmere arbitration of January 1984. It seemed a logical solution for any community problem; "three Barringtonians, three residents of the Ellsmere Apartments, the USCA General Manager, and the USCA president" would meet to solve issues, and we agreed to the terms.
Regarding the after-effects of the Ellsmere arbitration, Mr. Proper stated, "in practice the Barringtonians saw no need for ground rules. The agreement was essentially ignored from the day it was signed. House members soon forgot or ignored the agreement and continued to act in an unruly fashion." These are all outright lies. We did not ignore the agreement; if we had consistently violated it, the residents of the Ellsmere Apartments would have been quick to take the USCA back to court. The neighbors did complain when we were too noisy; they took advantage of the pagers the house managers were required to carry as per the agreement. Five of our neighbors were more persistent, but overall we lived in harmony with the dozens of others. One apartment building to our northwest came within feet of Barrington, and never handed us a single complaint. The largest neighboring building, to the southwest, overlooked our neglected, filthy parking lot, but only person in that building, Red Green, ever complained.
This changed in the summer of 1985. It is unfortunately true that less than fifty Barringtonians, seeing no restrictions or supervision, decided to make some quick money by subletting the empty rooms over the summer break. Sometimes neglect was at play; over the previous break, the Christmas holidays in 1984, my suitemate Greg left our room open for literally two weeks, and all of my records, clothes and even my bicycle disappeared. The USCA provided no security to buildings during the breaks, another paradoxical policy. Leave forty-four apartments open for three months, and then wonder at the results. When I returned early in August of 1985, the building was wrecked, many of our murals ruined, homeless people sleeping on the grease-choked stovetops and in the stairwells. It is shockingly true that "[t]here was no accountability, financial or otherwise, of the non-residents for the house", and the USCA stood by and did nothing. They chose not to punish the people doing the subletting, which if it had come to a house vote might have prevailed. But the USCA, more than Barrington, employed a "code of silence".
After that summer, Barrington Hall made the Oakland Tribune. While we tried to seriously address the curious reporters (who, we innocently thought, were trying to enlighten our neighbors, not sell spectacular tales of drug woe), the managers of the USCA offered up the remarkable "kids will be kids" defense, one that even we knew then was a reckless provocation of the City of Berkeley. Insane people began to pester us; the reporters dug up a "group known as PACT, 'Parents and Children Together', a pro-family community group". The Green Book perpetuates the lie that "teenagers who ran away from home…found a refuge with sex and drugs at Barrington. One woman even claimed that her daughter had become a prostitute there." PACT did not even exist as a legitimate organization; it was a single disgruntled neighbor. Barrington was practically an abandoned building over the summer of 1985, but even so, I never heard or saw proof that runaways were turning tricks there. All of the people crashing in my house were far older and infinitely wiser in the ways of the Berkeley streets than a runaway, the USCA, or us.
The General Manager then used a method he'd tried on Euclid Hall in the late 1960s, a far different scenario where a few managers had "taken over" a house of less than 30 members. He recommended yet another rehab, with Barrington closed and cleaned during the following summer of 1986. But as at Euclid, Mr. Proper wanted "the current house membership…moved to different houses, no house having a membership of more than 10 percent of ex-Barringtonians." Naturally this rankled us, as most residents of the house were away that summer or had moved in just after. He goes on to complain that we "viewed the complaints of the Board and the Central Level staff as unwarranted." Naturally, because none of the Barrington managers were responsible for the wreckage of the summer of 1985. It is untrue that "the sentiment of the house was in direct conflict with attempts to improve the house". We saw no interest in the USCA to improve Barrington, merely to get rid of us, sweep the problem under the rug, and then start over with another group of children who undoubtedly would have followed the same path we did. Because we were not wrong; we were unprotected and uncared for by our landlords, and did our best alone.
In Spring of 1986, rather than remove the residents of our troubled house, the membership of the USCA agreed to keep us on probation, under the direct control of the Central Office management. One would think this would solve many problems, unless of course those problems originated with the Central Office management. The membership of the USCA, particularly the larger houses, understood our predicament was not completely our own doing, but a combination of adult mismanagement, juvenile ambition, and the hypocrisy of our decade. We demonstrated our juvenile ambition after the vote by committing violence against the co-ops that had voted against us. In the end it was their sedentary lifestyle, however, that would rule the USCA and Berkeley as a whole. The traditions of all the USCA co-ops were soon in peril.
Let me digress momentarily to reveal a secret and answer a question; some might wonder why the University, which certainly shared some responsibility for the criminal offenses of its students, took so little interest in Barrington Hall. Fraternities and sororities certainly came under (rather tardy) scrutiny during the same period. So why not the co-ops? One reason I know personally is that the UNIVERSITY KNEW EXACTLY WHAT WAS GOING ON, unlike the City of Berkeley, the Oakland Tribune or the managers of the USCA. My faculty advisor, the emeritus professor of architecture Dr. W. Russell Ellis, came to me with concern over what was taking place in my house, and arranged for me to meet with Dr. James Brown, the director of the Student Health Service, one of the oldest student health centers in the United States. Then at Cowell Memorial Hospital, I kept Dr. Brown apprised of what took place in Barrington, what kinds of drugs were available, how hypodermic syringes were coming in (from a diabetic student) and the kinds of dangerous behavior I witnessed; the University was concerned (unlike the USCA) about the AIDS epidemic which had then just been identified in San Francisco. We missed the epidemic by a hair's breadth when Bill Crooks, a transient friend of my suitemate Sam, died of AIDS sometime later. One of our loudest neighbors, John Harmon (a caregiver who called himself Red Green) claimed that Crooks, "a drug dealer with AIDS who formerly hung around Barrington…indicated on a television news show that he shared needles with at least three Barringtonians." Crooks was a petty dealer if at all, and only shared needles with his street friends; thanks to the diabetic student, a large supply of clean needles was available that eliminated sharing, almost like a needle exchange program. You may recoil in horror, but again it demonstrates that we were not as stupid as the USCA wanted people to think. I transmitted this information to the University, and although very concerned, Dr. Ellis and Dr. Brown treated me as an adult, and I told them the truth, even about my own abuse. Part of the reason the University did not interfere in Barrington's affair was this knowledge that, if not to their liking, we were in control of our situation beyond their ability to help us.
The rehabilitation of 1986 was as poorly planned as the one four years earlier. It is true, unlike 1982, that "a core group of Barringtonians devoted themselves to improving the image of the house", which I know because I was one of them. Only a few weeks earlier, I was on a list of several residents that the USCA wanted to evict from Barrington Hall for this same "attitude". Had I been brainwashed into the Barrington cult so thoroughly, and if so, why did the USCA turn around and suddenly allow me to be part of the crew repairing our damaged house? Perhaps their attempt to evict me and several other members was not based on our behavior, but in our loud denunciation of the USCA's incompetence. After all, I had been a "manager" (the editor of the Barrington Bull), a position which made me culpable and an obvious scapegoat, because I gave voice (both pro and con) to residents of the house. At no point did I ever observe a monolithic "Barrington" culture, and if I had, I would have lampooned it as mercilessly as I did everything else. Because I was more than a Barringtonian, I was a proud student at the University of California, Berkeley, a statement that meant more in 1986 than I think it does now.
Referring to the 1986 rehabilitation, Mr. Proper stated, "their efforts were mocked by other house members." This is a vicious, bald-faced lie. If anybody had mocked us, they would quickly have heard our response. It is true that new graffiti quickly appeared; but as I stated earlier, this was the sad case throughout the Southside of Berkeley and the open nature of our house. Mr. Proper also noted, "the attitude of change only penetrated skin deep. At heart the Barringtonians were the same." The same as what? As we had been in the 1970s, when we were in grade school, or in the 1960s, when we were born? We did not emerge from the womb as Barringtonians. We lived in a remarkable building together, but it did not erase our individuality or our personality; on the contrary, I found the experience incalculably liberating. Indeed, there is something very un-American (and in my anger, very Berkeley) about an accusation that would paint us with such a broad brush. I believed then, as I do still, that George Proper and the hired management of the USCA used the legend of Barrington Hall to disguise their own incompetence, and continue to do so to this day. The City of Berkeley, whose government is populated by people of Mr. Proper's generation, was only too happy to believe his fairy tale. They wanted to see in us, a group of 200 Deadheads, punks, political activists, New Wavers, preppies, etc., all of us students with very little experience in life, forget organization, a monolithic group of scoundrels gathered against the new values they had declared for the "new" cleaner, drug-free Berkeley. Their hypocritical war of "political correctness" continues to this day.
At no point, even as several other houses in the USCA have fallen into similar difficulties, has Mr. Proper ever accepted any blame as the general manager of the USCA, but continues to ascribe to us some kind of unusual cooperative extremism. He further remarks on "spontaneous graffiti plastered throughout the house, the projecting of objects from the roof, weekend parties attended by five or six hundred people, and especially, the free use of drugs." These are typical exaggerations on Mr. Proper's part. Certain common areas were set aside for graffiti, and at no point did the Central Office object, nor did we object when they asked us to paint much of the graffiti over in the summer of 1986. Indeed, like the rest of the Southside we became victims of bored high school teenagers who were wrecking (and continue to wreck) much of Telegraph Avenue. They created an explosion of graffiti in Barrington Hall that destroyed many of our historic murals, certainly not a goal we set for ourselves. One broken piece of laundry equipment was indeed tossed off the roof, and we obviously were known for our parties even after the Ellsmere arbitration, although I doubt that more than two or three hundred people could even fit in our dining room, and our "wine dinners", part of the USCA tradition, were not held weekly but monthly. In the Ellsmere arbitration, we were required to limit our parties with amplified music to this frequency and to baffle the windows, which we did without fail; at our loudest, we were no more a disruption than could be expected in a college neighborhood. Unfortunately, during the early 1980s, as San Francisco boomed across the Bay, expectations were changing and Berkeley was being transformed from a college town into a bedroom community for the City. This transition, I feel, made the end of our co-op almost inevitable, and every co-op, fraternity, sorority and dormitory in Berkeley has suffered increased scrutiny from more demanding neighbors since.
Now I would like to address the issue that I do believe was responsible for the end of Barrington as a cooperative, the drug abuse. If you isolate each other complaint, only the noise would have placed us in legal jeopardy, and other than Red Green, we did not excite any particular enmity from the neighbors after the arbitration was settled in 1982. Most of our visits from the police and fire department were due to the faulty alarm system (which was never adequately addressed by the USCA Central Office); even false alarm pulls cannot be blamed, as the Maintenance crew at Barrington became, unfortunately, efficient at recognizing and defusing these too-frequent incidents. But drugs could destroy us personally, and our house would collapse from within.
The abuse and sale of drugs, though not unique to the co-ops or Berkeley, was certainly tolerated more in Barrington Hall than any other institution I have experienced; though hardly a crack house, we cannot blame our absentee landlords for these crimes, even if they were aware of them. The police certainly were and made a habit of watching the house, once arresting a friend of mine with a bag of marijuana as he exited (which he had, ironically, bought in San Francisco) and on another occasion raiding the suite next to mine at six in the morning. I did find it odd that they took less action against the house than we warranted, but frankly the Berkeley police were overwhelmed by crime. With the imprisonment and then death of Oakland drug kingpin Felix Mitchell in 1985, an intense turf war broke out, and machine-gun fire could be heard nightly along the border of Berkeley and north Oakland. While the police battled the crack epidemic (which did NOT enter Barrington) we dealt with four waves of drug abuse within the co-ops and the University at large: heroin, then flooding into the United States during the CIA proxy war in Afghanistan (which later handed us Al-Qaeda and 11 September); LSD, being manufactured on an industrial scale in the Bay Area, and distributed mostly along the Grateful Dead tours; crystal meth, flooding into Oakland via the biker gangs from Ventura and San Diego; and finally ecstasy, which first appeared in 1985 (the year it was banned) through academic connections to the University of Texas at Austin, where it had been widely used in psychological experiments.
In every instance, these four drugs found a ready market in Berkeley and were easily available; I first saw ecstasy being sold at Bowles Hall (an all-male University dormitory with a reputation like Barrington's, likewise nearly closed in 1999) and speed permeated the heavy metal and goth scenes on both sides of the Bay. Heroin, like rats, cockroaches and pigeons, could be found wherever people lived, and in the 1980s, LSD was sold openly on Telegraph Avenue. With the exception of LSD (and marijuana, of course, which was easier to buy than cigarettes in Berkeley), the other three drugs found ready dealers all over Berkeley. The difference at Barrington was our openness. I would argue strongly that we did NOT represent a corrupting influence on the community or even our own house, but manifested the same drug abuse taking place at the other co-ops, the dorms, the streets and the private homes of Berkeley. However, in our arrogant innocence, we rather foolishly bragged about what we were doing, unlike our neighbors. This was our undoing.
I say this with experience, because from the later half of 1985 to May of 1987, I was a heavy user of methamphetamine, and during the last year of that period, I was dealing the same substance, with all the profit being injected into my arm. I am not proud of that time, nor will I hypocritically deny it or blame it on others. Some might wonder if, in a place with less liberty than Barrington Hall, I might not have taken that route. My subsequent experience in Berkeley and Los Angeles says no, that one goes where one wants to go. In Barrington we had two things that exacerbated our criminal activity: our openness and our large size, which gave us a self-contained laboratory. I was hardly a street dealer, nor could I have been one for long, but within the safe confines of my own house, with enough of my friends to maintain demand, being a drug dealer at Barrington was more like a controlled experiment, a dope game. We did not turn over the huge amounts of drugs that some suspected. We were, after all, college students and viewed with suspicion and contempt by real street dealers. It should be noted that all of the dealing, crime, overdoses, persona non grata etc. that were perpetuated against Barrington were committed by residents or their immediate friends. Strangers did not walk off the street and go shopping at Barrington Hall, although the media hysteria encouraged some to try. I did witness a legendary encounter when an older man in a suit came down the hall very late one night, looking for a large amount of marijuana. We were extremely suspicious, but he told us he was from Miami and had just flown into Oakland, where a helpful cab driver had brought him to Barrington to score. A friend of mine helped him out, bemused, and this is the only time I can remember a complete stranger buying drugs in my house. While obviously true that "Barrington held the reputation among community members as the place to get drugs", it is an exaggeration; I bought and did as many drugs outside the house as I did inside. The USCA and the City of Berkeley believed that we were a closed, secretive society and also a blight on the Southside, an open market. They can't have it both ways.
Heroin, not surprisingly, was the boogeyman, even if speed was the truly destructive force in the house. The Green Book states "dozens of habitual heroin users and dealers lived in Barrington, and many students there said that they had tried heroin at least once." Not only is this statement an exaggeration, but there was no such finding by the USCA even at the time. True, plenty of students in Barrington Hall tried heroin; I was one of them. I would guess that about half the people I know of my age, regardless of what college they went to or where they lived, could say the same. Had there been "dozens" of users and dealers in Barrington, I doubt even the blinkered USCA could have kept the police off us. There were three students selling heroin in Barrington, among less than a dozen addicts who later went into rehab or disappeared into the street life, all of whom I could name if I so desired. While an unfortunate number, I attribute this more to the general conditions in Berkeley than a malaise within Barrington Hall; there were plenty of junkies up on Telegraph Avenue as well. While no excuse, it is a fact. There were also several people selling marijuana, LSD, and three selling methamphetamine, of whom I was one. I will admit that heroin, unlike everything else, was being sold to outsiders who did not live in Barrington but knew someone there. While not total strangers, they brought us trouble that selling to friends and other residents did not. Not "half a dozen in-house heroin dealers" were declared persona non grata, but only the three I mentioned and the outsiders who were hanging around them. This did not end our heroin problem because, surprise! the addicts simply started buying their drugs off the street like all other junkies. Had Barrington simply been a residential apartment building in Oakland, it would have gone unnoticed. In Berkeley, however, the USCA was helping paint a bull's-eye across the Dwight Way door, using heroin as the ammunition.
The trouble heated when "an Oakland man", whom I knew well, was hospitalized after a heroin overdose at Barrington. However, there were not "three other drug overdoses…reported that semester"; there was one, another exaggeration by Mr. Proper. He also asserts, "despite the USCA's efforts to combat the drug problem, it continued." This is a lie; there was no attempt by the USCA to control drugs in Barrington Hall. They simply tried to cover it up, which only excited the interest of the City and the newspapers more. Even Proper recognized that "as long as apathy or acceptance of drugs was the dominant attitude, the problems would continue." I agree with him there. As I said earlier, drugs were going to be the true downfall of Barrington. In the 1970s, when drug abuse was commonplace and winked at in Berkeley, Barrington was ordinary. Once drugs were demonized, any place that continued business as usual could only hope to skate by under the radar, impossible if they were as mouthy and proud of our lawbreaking as we were. By defending our freedoms, we suddenly became an embarrassment to the aging "revolutionaries" in charge of the City and the USCA, and our house was doomed to be eliminated.
The Green Book goes on to document how the hired managers of the USCA turned on Carlos Cabana, the first professional manager installed at Barrington Hall. Carlos was a young man, not much older than we were, but even his critics among the most uncontrollable Barringtonians soon realized that he was an able manager, and the house became much more livable during the end of 1986 and early 1987. I can attest to this because I spent larger and larger periods of time outside the house in my criminal pursuits, which were no longer tolerated. Proper, however, must again blame others for what came next. He refers to the "loose lid" Carlos kept on Barrington, and the continuing verbal assault of Red Green (John Harmon). Red, to his credit, "accused the Central Level Management of the USCA, particularly General Manager George Proper, of negligence in dealing with drug problems at the house. Harmon claimed that Proper knew the extent of the problems at Barrington but did nothing about them. Proper's inaction, according to Harmon, had endangered the lives of the students of Barrington." I give Red a thumbs-up for this insight. He was, however, a crank. None of his other neighbors showed much interest in us, and Red "claimed Barrington's Onngh Yanngh symbol and motto were proof of the code of silence." Like so many in Berkeley, his paranoia shot past the truth and into the stratosphere. We could no more maintain a code of silence than keep Pink Cloud out of our dining room; a place as large as Barrington was glued together with gossip, legend and conjecture.
To mention the lawsuit against the USCA by Sebastian Orfali and Beverly Potter is a waste of computer bytes. Their purpose was obviously to extort a settlement out of the co-op, especially after they tried (unsuccessfully) to sue us under the Federal RICO laws, accusing the house of being a racketeering organization, like the Mafia, involved in interstate drug trafficking. Dr. Potter personally threatened to complain to the University about me, but this was only a month before my graduation, so I told her simply to hurry. They knew the game in the new Berkeley, however; their lawyer was easily able to threaten other former and current residents, and soon turned Barrington Hall into a true liability to the co-op as a whole. In the newly litigious era of the 1990s, there was no room for a place as admittedly dangerous as Barrington.
After Carlos Cabana, the USCA brought in Robert Dick as the manager of Barrington. They then have the gall to blame him, because as "a former member, Dick understood and was sympathetic to the Barrington culture." Interesting…there's that culture again. Didn't they know that when they hired him? I might fault Robert with some laxity, but his job was to keep the house in financial order, not serve as security for the USCA. I was visiting from Los Angeles in September of 1987, when Barrington threw a wine dinner that spun out of control, probably because of an improperly mixed LSD punch. I didn't sample the punch, fortunately, but just got drunk for once and observed the mayhem. It is true that three people (not "several") were hospitalized; two for freaking out and one from falling (not "jumping") off a neighboring building into a tree. Again the media picked up the story and ran with it. The City Council debated the issue to no effect, and the University proved again that it was more aware of the situation than the Council or the USCA, when the Dean of Students, Don Billingsley, went directly to the heart of the problem, George Proper. George responded by trying to kick everyone out of the house yet again, convinced it was the residents at fault, and a fresh group of students might respond better to his mismanagement. And again the USCA members voted to continue with a manager on site, the status quo, unimpressed with Mr. Proper's denials of culpability. But Barrington could not continue, and already the members at Cloyne Court and the Chateau began to see their own neighbors stir.
It is naive and worse, hypocritical to state that the management of the USCA was unaware of what went on at our wine dinners; we had openly given out LSD and nitrous oxide for years, without shame or fear. That the Barrington managers or the house council would deny this in the fall of 1987 indicates that the house really had become blind. They began to use "plausible deniability" in a futile attempt to keep the house open. Like so many other people in the 1980s, they could not deal with the wreckage of the first half of the decade. The City Council, rather than respect the roots of Berkeley and the 1960s counterculture, pretended that past had never occurred, and that Barrington Hall had been dropped in their midst like some kind of alien invasion. The USCA and the neighbors adopted the same attitude. As a Los Angeleno, I was raised in a sinful city and taught honestly that danger was all around, and so we individually would decide our own fate. I did not graduate from high school, pack up my speed and my sheets of acid and catch the next flight to San Francisco. Everything was there waiting, and by 1990 the hippies who found themselves in charge of Berkeley were too embarrassed to admit that they, in middle age, were just as square as their parents had been twenty years earlier. Instead of facing the truth, they blamed us, teenagers, for the sins their community foisted upon us. Barrington Hall became the most obvious, and frankly appropriate, scapegoat for their hypocrisy. It is something I will never forgive them, and although I treasure my time in Barrington Hall and at the University, I have nothing but contempt for the USCA and the City of Berkeley.
Finally in 1990 the USCA committed the coup d'grace. In peril of the entire organization lost to the negligence of a few on Ridge Road, with our insurance on the line, the members cut Barrington loose and voted to refurbish it, cutting it off from the destructive management that had bled it dry. Predictably, the residents created a crisis worse than the neighborhood had yet experienced, and rather than deal with it immediately, the USCA allowed a few remaining students to play out their fantasy to destroy the building. This destruction could only be unanticipated by the most ignorant; any building in the United States might suffer a similar fate if the entire population was evicted, with a few left behind, nothing to stop them from taking pointless revenge. That, too, is all-American, and had nothing to do with anarchy. A few less idealistic Barringtonians, some well established in the Bay Area, tried to buy the building not to perpetuate a party or a political cause, but to save it from the incompetence of the USCA. George Proper states that he hired security guards to prevent the destruction, but they did no such thing.
The police saw an opportunity to clear the building of squatters and took matters into their own hands in March of 1990. I can hardly say I blame them; Proper had let the building become a true blight on the neighborhood, a bomb ready to implode. Without any internal management and full of kids from across the East Bay who hardly knew what Barrington was, it was no surprise that any kind of party quickly got out of hand. These kids trashed our house and burned our furniture, and the police capped it with an orgy of their own destruction, destroying personal property and wrecking the suite doors, many decorated by my friends' hands. I had done two myself, an illustration of Charles Bukowski and a copy of an expressionist woodcut by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a stark soldier's face that read across the forehead in German, "1918 Is Not the Second Coming". Nor was 1990, but the police put an axe through this door anyway.
And still the USCA permitted the building to be destroyed by this group of squatters, until finally a student died crawling out a window onto the roof, the stairs being barred. With the amount of damage done and liability incurred, the USCA had forced itself to sell the building. In a deja vu, they would find themselves forced in this direction repeatedly throughout the 1990s and well into the 21^st^ Century, yet their management still denies all culpability. They did learn some lessons, and it is true that the other large houses, Cloyne Court and Casa Zimbabwe, were preserved from the hypocrisy of Berkeley in the 1990 by more cautious management. But the Chateau demonstrates that in a poorer neighborhood, the good intentions of the USCA come to nothing. They cover up their ineptitude and, failing that, commit character assassination against the students they were hired to protect.
From the Toad Lane Review and the former Barrington Hall website, The Green Book quotes the following: "New Barringtonians fell into several categories. Some residents had previously heard about Barrington and chose to live there to partake in the alternative culture. A majority of residents were new to the USCA and moved to Barrington because it was the only house with an open room. A few new residents moved in to discover that they liked the Barrington lifestyle and remained a part of the community. Many new residents put up with Barrington for a semester, and then moved on. They did not like it, but enjoyed the novelty of it. Others in this group disdained living at Barrington and, at the first chance, moved to a different house. These people found little freedom in Barrington. They locked themselves in their rooms or stayed in other locations to escape the alternative culture. Often they were not yet familiar enough with the democratic process in the co-ops or did not have the time and energy to try to change the house's ideals. Therefore, the people who loved the house as a countercultural haven were left with it." These sentiments apply to every building I have lived in, including my parent's house. We had high turnover in Barrington Hall; we also had almost 200 residents. Was the turnover proportionally higher than a co-op of 50 or 20 people? I would imagine so; it is not easy to live with 200 other people under the best of circumstances. Alarmingly higher? I doubt it, until the USCA completely lost control of Barrington Hall in the 1980s. At this point the house was cut adrift, without any management support, and little wonder it quickly ran out of money and sank. By the end there was no drug dealing or street people in the house; neither was there reliable food service, telephones, or enough residents to maintain the house properly. But the USCA would also blame us for this. I question how anyone could be "not yet familiar enough with the democratic process in the co-ops." Did anyone from the USCA ever give the house training in this process? No. We had a meeting once a week and elections once a semester, like every high school in the United States, and everyone was welcomed and encouraged to attend and speak their mind. Like good Americans, we valued democracy for its entertainment value. Did everyone attend? No. Just like the rest of the country, only about a quarter of Barrington gave a shit about running it.
Mr. Proper said, "the counterculture was perpetuated by a core group of about fifty residents." By amazing coincidence, about a quarter of the house! "They were the ones who most actively participated in the house. As a united front, these fifty 'owned the house.' Often those who enjoyed the lifestyle ran for manager positions. These managers, wanting to maintain the alternative culture, enforced the rules and passed down the traditions that made this possible. Council members also perpetuated the 'freedom at its most' lifestyle. One Barrington woman went to council seeking a halt to the sexual harassment she had been experiencing from a male resident. After considering the case, the council decided that the male's right to harass the woman was equal to the woman's right to be free from harassment, and the two should work out their differences themselves." These kind of ridiculous lies inspired me to write this rebuttal. They border on libel and indeed, I defy Mr. Proper to provide any evidence of them. The Barrington Hall Council never decided to encourage sexual harassment; the toughest women I know lived in Barrington, and they would have done far more damage than the USCA, the City of Berkeley and drugs combined, if such a decision had ever been made.
Although I agree that we, the residents of Barrington, helped bring about its inevitable destruction, I would strongly contest the idea that we created an extraordinary blight on our neighborhood. From 1964 until the late 1980s, the Southside of Berkeley was a unique place in the United States, a magnet for crime, drugs and violence, but also a refuge for political activism and the counterculture. It was the Berkeley that I grew up reading about and came to experience, and in Barrington Hall I found it distilled in a pure form. But our reputation aside, we only reacted to the same situation existing throughout Berkeley and the USCA at the time. The same drugs we used were being used across the city; the same parties we threw were taking place all around the Bay Area on the same nights. Yet we were unapologetic, brash, and we did not lie to our tormentors or ourselves. That was the real crime that brought Barrington down; instead of denial, we proudly admitted what we were doing and invited fellow travelers to join us. This was too much truth for the USCA and the City of Berkeley to stand for. Once they convinced Barrington to police itself, the house was doomed to close, because the history of any co-op, as many have noted, could not stand much policing.
I also contest the assertion that we were opposed to the mainstream culture in Berkeley during the 1980s. On the contrary, we were too much part of the Berkeley culture, far more than I would have liked at the time. As a Southern Californian I was frequently annoyed by the arrogant hypocrisy of Northern California, where people assume that they are right, while the rest of the country is wrong, at the same time they think that somehow their minority opinion is really the majority. In this sense, Barrington was actually in the mainstream, and our tormentors living the Berkeley fantasy of maintaining the "good" side of the counterculture, with all the nastiness of liberty and drug abuse swept under the rug. Poor, poor Barrington.
We are accused of being unwilling to "give up the part of their lifestyle that they perceived as their legacy and essential to their identity." I would reply that we refused to lie to ourselves, and to my credit, I am proud to continue my "lifestyle" to this day, albeit in Los Angeles, where there is no such hypocrisy. I do not do drugs as I did in college, and neither do any of my friends who lived elsewhere during their years at Berkeley, or went to UCLA, or USC, or some other college. Nor would any of us assume the incredible arrogance to step into a college dorm or co-op today and try to tell the students not to make the mistakes we made. In the years since I lived in Barrington, George Proper and his straight friends will be horrified to learn that I have worked with children and teenagers, as a children's librarian, a young adult librarian and as the head librarian for a Catholic high school. I have been a mentor to my students and, with the discretion determined by their age, completely honest with them about the challenges they face, far more honest than any adult in Berkeley was with me.
I also strongly contest the assumption that "the neighbors, the City of Berkeley, the University, the media, other community members, and other USCA members joined to create a majority that was greater than Barrington", or that "the house tarnished the reputation of the organization and mocked many of its principles." Many residents of Barrington Hall had the same disinterest in the USCA that the USCA held for us, and we were too busy going to school and living our lives to worry about their reputation or principles, which as I stated earlier were never much impressed upon us in any case. I have also stated that there was no organized "majority" in opposition to Barrington Hall; the neighbors were not a unified block against us, the University was aware of our problems and, to their credit, assumed we were adult enough to take our lumps and deal with our problems in our own way; the media simply used us to sell newspapers. Only the City and the USCA were truly organized against us, because they could not convert us to their own hypocrisy until the very end.
Barrington Hall was not, as a judge stated, "the last rampart" of the 1960s in Berkeley, California. It was just another building, like so many others, that stood in the way of greed and Berkeley's new status as a bedroom community for the City. San Francisco and Los Angeles are both littered with the ruins of them, vacant lots and cold buildings where life once took place. It is true that, as long as the last group of Barringtonians survives, perhaps there will be a bit of us left in the USCA and in Berkeley. But I sincerely doubt it, and I think other cities in California have long ago stepped up as the true centers of the California dream. I prefer their present to the legends of the past. Because I want to assert, finally, that I am an American and like it. My mother's family arrived in Virginia fifteen years after the Pilgrims at Plymouth, killed just as many Indians, and won every war we fought in save two, Vietnam and the Civil War. We personally fought for the land we occupy now, Alta California, inspired by the imperial dream that now allows places like Berkeley to flourish. Gold let us build this paradise, dedicated to greed and lovely weather, and as a reprimand for these rewards, God gave us earthquakes, fires and Hollywood. To hell with politics, archaic rules and Victorian thinking, I say as a proud Californian. Barrington Hall was the birthplace of many great Californians who have spread our excellent talents across the world. It was the first place I got laid, the first place I had a brilliant conversation with a man or a woman, the first place I asserted myself against someone bigger than my parents, the first place I tried more drugs and experiences than you can name, and the first place I paid the price for my indiscretion and stupidity. Barrington Hall witnessed that transformation in thousands of young Californians, and the people who even joked about burning it down like some tripped-out matinee of "Apocalypse Now" knew nothing of its rich story. Even Guy Lillian only brushed over the history of the co-ops before they became co-ops. Barrington Hall had a glorious past, born as a shelter for displaced San Franciscans in 1906, the burnt beams of the great fire proudly on display. The largest structure in Berkeley for years, Barrington hosted refugees, professors, working families, even retirees, and during World War II over a hundred young men of every race and religion shared the suites while they built Liberty ships in Richmond, an essential part of our victory over Germany and Japan. And from the midst of the Great Depression, Barrington Hall was among the first student cooperatives in the United States. In the beginning, the USCA was headquartered in Barrington, and everyone knew the Rochdale Principles. And they were true Americans, starting with a healthy disrespect for their society, from their Red politics to tossing water balloons out the windows at streetcars and cops on Dwight Way. When the house went co-ed in 1967, it fostered a burst of creativity that continues today with us. We took what Barrington gave us and helped the bureaucracy that despised it take it down, but they had enough assistance from their own incompetence to make short work of any group of students, no matter how smart we were. Because we were not the monolithic whole that we were accused of being. We had secrets because our lives were none of their business, not then and not now. We were expected, without knowing how, to destroy the liberty Berkeley had falsely advertised to us. Today it hardly exists in that city, and our forebears in 1935 would have the same problems at Barrington that we would…the house could never exist today. But we brought it through to the end, and the building still stands today, a living memorial to a century as creative as any building in the world could want.