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Barrington Hall, Once Hotbed of UC Radicalism, Closes

April 10, 1990|JIM HERRON ZAMORA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERKELEY — Barrington Hall, UC Berkeley's oldest and most notorious student-run housing cooperative, which some viewed as a last bastion of student radicalism, shut its doors Monday after a final legal bid to keep it open failed.

Even in a city known for its tolerance of different life styles, the residence became a victim of changing attitudes. Since 1985, Barrington Hall had been attacked by neighbors over its residents' alleged drug use, noisy parties and generally rowdy life style. Last fall, the 18-house University Students Cooperative Assn. that operated Barrington voted overwhelmingly to shut Barrington.

Most of the 165 "Barringtonians" then living at the hall moved on, but 18 students challenged the vote in court and continued staying in the building. They recently moved their belongings out, but have been staying in the house in sleeping bags while their attorney tried to postpone their eviction.

On Monday, the students exhausted their legal options when an Alameda County Superior Court judge refused to reconsider a Municipal Court ruling against them.

Barrington Hall most recently was in the news in March when a party at it erupted into a melee between police and more than 500 youths. The five-hour confrontation began when police sought to break up the party. More than a dozen people were hospitalized.

Despite that incident, many current and former Barrington residents considered the house, as a sign painted above its entrance stated, "An Oasis of Madness in a World Gone Sane." And its passing was noted with dismay by some on Monday.

"They are destroying the last center of Berkeley radicalism," sophomore John Darrah said as he watched sheriff's deputies peacefully evict the last residents.

"They want to make Berkeley a safe place for wealthy, conservative students. They don't want them to get infected with different ideas or learn different life styles," said Darrah, one of those who stayed at Barrington until its closing.

Added Denise Tukenmez, a three-year resident at Barrington and a biology honors student who dyes her hair bright green, "Barrington is a place where you learned to accept other ways of thinking and challenge the prevailing ideas in society. There's really nowhere else like it."

The outside of the building has suffered from years of neglect. Inside, its walls are covered with graffiti and brightly colored murals, many dating back to the late 1960s.

Leaders of the cooperative association say the murals will be painted over and the building, worth an estimated $3 million, repaired. The leaders say it will be sold or turned into housing for married graduate students.

Barrington had a long history as a center of political activism.

It opened in 1933 after 14 UC Berkeley freshmen banded together to seek low-cost, shared housing. The single house they formed grew into the 1,400-member cooperative association, a nonprofit organization unaffiliated with UC Berkeley's administration.

Unlike their counterparts in dormitories, students in the co-ops are responsible for all work involved in running the houses, with each resident required to put in five hours of work per week. The co-op's board is made up of representatives elected by each house and sets policy for the association.

Ozzie Osborne, who lived at Barrington in the late 1930s, remembers its residents as leaders of campus support for the leftist Popular Front in the Spanish Civil War. "It was a radical hotbed even then," said Osborne, who recently retired after owning a Berkeley soda fountain for 40 years.

During the 1960s, marches in favor of civil rights and against the Vietnam War were coordinated out of Barrington. In the 1980s, a new generation of the house's residents directed campus campaigns against South Africa's apartheid system.

In recent years, however, the surrounding community grew less tolerant of activities at the house, especially after several incidents in which residents admitted using heroin and LSD.

"I have time and time again seen all of these sweet All-American kids come through those doors and come out as deadbeats and anarchists," said Beverly Potter, a neighbor suing the co-op association for $1 million.

She added, "I'm not against students exploring life, but I am against them becoming drug addicts and getting AIDS."

Several closure attempts failed, but students in other co-op houses began to lose patience with Barrington after their rents were hiked in order to fight lawsuits by Potter and other angry neighbors. The association's vote to shut down the Barrington followed a September incident in which a minor allegedly drank LSD-laced punch at a September party at the house.

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