Cloyne Court Moves To The Mainstream

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Two naked men streak down the hallway and into the backyard where a basketball game is in progress. UC Berkeley students stand pressed together holding cups of beer and cigarettes. Despite the chaotic surroundings, a pool game continues undisturbed.

That was the scene at the "Room to Room" party held last Friday at Cloyne Court, the largest house in the University Students Cooperative Association, or USCA. Partygoers migrated between 22 different rooms, each with its own theme and drink, from Bloody Marys to brass monkeys.

For the most part though, in the midst of Berkeley's housing crisis, Cloyne Court has shed its notorious past and emerged as an offbeat living alternative for UC Berkeley students. For $2,250 a semester, students get a dorm-style room and access to a 24-hour kitchen.

As local rent prices have skyrocketed, demand for housing in the co-ops has changed Cloyne's culture.

"The house wasn't even at full occupancy until rent control was lifted," says sixth-semester Cloyne resident Erik Innocent. "Ever since then, we get more people that live here because they have to rather than want to. Every year the house gets tamer as more of those people who don't want to live here move in."

Fifth-semester resident and former House Historian Tom Stanley has also noticed the changing dynamics of the house.

"Some people would say it's more boring, but I think it's a much more pleasant place to live," Stanley says.

Seven years ago, not many people would describe living at Cloyne as "pleasant." In 1995 the USCA shut Cloyne down in the face of massive damage to the building, in what current residents refer to as "The Great Purge." The co-op association spent $200,000 to repair the damages.

"The essence of what happened at Cloyne in the late '90s is that the majority weren't happy with the living conditions," said USCA General Manager George Proper. "The mantra was 'fuck shit up.'"

At the time of "The Great Purge," conditions at Cloyne reached now-legendary levels of debauchery.

"(Certain individuals) moved into Cloyne and embezzled house funds to buy coke and speed and have huge drug parties," Stanley says.

"Five years ago there were apparently several meth labs in the basement," says Cloyne resident and UC Berkeley junior Veljko Skarich. "The older clones, as Cloyne residents were called, say this house was wilder back in the day."

Despite its controversial past, Cloyne has a wild social atmosphere. In addition to Friday's gathering, the house has a party about every other weekend, Skarich says.

Though Cloyne has a welcoming social atmosphere, this can be a double-edged sword, residents say, making it difficult to study.

The co-op has had recent run-ins with unwanted guests, including homeless people.

"We found a naked homeless woman in the hot tub once," Skarich says.

He cites another incident when a homeless man wandered into Cloyne's kitchen and exposed himself as Skarich was making a sandwich.

A crew works five hours every night to prepare dinner, which can often be a turbulent experience.

"There's no line. People push each other out of the way; it's like a big scramble-food gets everywhere," says UC Berkeley junior and Cloyne resident Bettina van Lengerich.

In addition to the $2,250 semester fee, residents pay a "house fee" of $80. It goes toward expenses such as the upkeep of the hot tub, sauna, darkroom, pool table, weight room and woodshop.

Not all the entertainment is in-house. Cloyne fields intramural basketball, softball and soccer teams, according to second-semester Cloyne resident Megan Klein.

Klein, who organized the co-op's soccer team last semester, won the female division of Cloyne's other brand of athletics-naked hallway races. Klein celebrated the end of finals by running down Cloyne's expansive hallways unclothed in front of a cheering crowd.

"There weren't a lot of girls who did it. We wore tennis shoes, of course. I don't think anyone saw anything because we ran fast," she says.

Despite Cloyne's freewheeling ways, the 151-person house remains safe, according to house social manager Marissa Hirst.

"Crime is never a problem," she says. "I leave my door open all the time."

Each resident in Cloyne works to improve the house. As a part of this service, some residents choose to paint the walls.

Artistic and full of pop culture reference, mural subjects include "The Simpsons," "Where the Wild Things Are," Albert Camus and the Stanford Tree.

The decor of the house reflects Cloyne's anti-establishment ways, Skarich says. Green Party stickers throughout the building attest to that attitude, as do peace signs protesting the war in Afghanistan.

Skarich says the co-op gives him a sense of identity.

"I haven't been proud of anything else at Cal except this place," he says.

Some say the co-op is not too different from Greek houses, though residents feel a sense of superiority over those in fraternities and sororities.

"Its very similar to the Greek system in a lot of ways," says Skarich, a former Greek pledge. "In general we are less exclusive. But co-ops are racially segregated; that's a similarity. There are no black people in Cloyne. It's mostly white people."


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