The student co-operative long derided as Cal’s version of Animal House has been given a new name and a facelift that has it looking on par with the homes of neighbors who last year filed a nuisance suit against the property.
“It’s really an extraordinary change,” said George Lewinsky, a neighbor. “It looks like the kind of place I would have liked to have lived in when I was in school.”
Lewinsky was one of 15 neighbors awarded a total of $63,250 in small claims court last spring after showing that loud and rowdy behavior at the student co-op Le Chateau had damaged their quality of life.
In May, neighbors accepted about half the amount awarded by the trial judge, and the University Students Cooperative Association, which operated Le Chateau, dropped its appeal and agreed to remake the co-op.
The UCSA kicked out current residents, limited entrance to graduate students and transfers, scaled back the number of bedrooms and changed the name from Le Chateau to Hillegass-Parker House.
The three-house complex at the corner of Hillegass and Parker streets that at one point was home to 85 undergraduates now houses 57 graduate and transfer students. To make the place appealing to a more mature clientele, USCA spent about $225,000 this summer on upgrades.
“It’s amazing what just a little paint and some finish will do,” said Kathryn McCarthy, USCA’s community relations and development director.
What once looked like a shelter now better resembles a bed and breakfast. The blue graffiti of dancing figures on the walls have been washed away. The walls have been repainted and covered with framed paintings of flowers. The main room that before appeared to be refuge for unwanted couches now contains brand new leather sofas and cloth recliners.
“Most of the old furniture had just decayed,” said Lauren MacKinnon, 27, a theology student who has taken over as house manager.
The smoking room is now a dining room, replete with wood tables, and the stench of wafting nicotine has given way to the smell of fresh paint. The floors, which MacKinnon said were rotting, have been refinished and new lights and windows installed.
The new layout is courtesy of Mark Pellegrino, a San Francisco-based interior designer, who is a frequent contributor to the show “Curb Appeal” on The Home and Garden Network and a friend of Margie Greene, an USCA accountant.
“His theme was European Inn, in the Orient,” said MacKinnon, pointing out the bamboo furniture and plush couches.
More important for neighbors, the USCA has removed the kidney shaped pool and landscaped the backyard with drought-resistant plants.
“When people decided at 2 a.m. to have a pool party, it was hard for us to sleep,” Lewinsky said.
The new residents insist they have no interest in being a disturbance. “I’m a game night kind of girl,” MacKinnon said.
All Chateau residents had to sign a contract stipulating that residents wouldn’t have outdoor parties at night and that they would alert neighbors before an indoor party.
“I see this as a place that people can bring faculty members and classmates,” MacKinnon said. “I’d like for us to be able to mix activities that are both academic and social.”
The former Chateau is the first USCA building to cater to graduate students who attend classes at various Bay Area institutions, not just UC.
McCarthy said that Le Chateau had declined in popularity in recent years and that the UCSA was having difficulty filling beds. The new Hillegas-Parker House is completely booked and has a waiting list, she said.
Standard rooms rent for $525 a month and large rooms go for $644 a month.
Several of the roughly 60 residents of last year’s Chateau graduated from the university last year, McCarthy said. Remaining students either moved into different co-ops or left the system. The lone hold-over is Kenny Jensen, a graduate student in physics who decided to stay even though he said he preferred the old Chateau.
“It was full of life,” Jensen said. “No matter the time there were always people to hang out with. You really felt free.”
Jensen said he also preferred the old look, which he said, “felt like it was created by the students. Right now it just doesn’t have that co-op feel.”
Galen Hancock, a graduate student in economics and law, said he decided to move to Hillegass-Parker House from a different co-op in search of a more serene environment.
“The last co-op I lived in had a lot of undergrads,” he said. “It’s not the right culture once you’re 24.”
Hancock didn’t anticipate his fellow residents would burden neighbors, but said he feared that neighbors might pounce on any noise or indiscretion at the home.
After years of tension, Lewinsky said he was optimistic for the new co-op, but was still reserving judgment.
“I think they’ve taken a big step to changing the culture of place,” he said. “But not everybody has moved in yet, so we’ll have to wait and see.”›