The University Students' Cooperative Association or USCA is a student housing cooperative serving primarily the University of California, Berkeley but open to any student living in or near Berkeley, California. The USCA houses over 1300 students in 20 houses and apartment buildings. Residents of the houses are expected to perform work (about 5 hours a week) as part of their rental agreement; the work helps to keep the rent lower. The USCA is led by a board of directors elected by the residents. The USCA is a member of NASCO.
The USCA began in 1933, to meet the need for affordable student housing during the Great Depression. Berkeley YMCA director Harry Kingman inspired 14 students to start the first housing cooperative in Berkeley, doing workshifts in exchange for lower rent. In the fall of 1933 the students leased Barrington Hall which housed 48 students. Sherman Hall, Sheridan Hall, and Euclid Hall all opened during this era, as well as Stebbins Hall, the first women's co-op.
After World War II the USCA also purchased Ridge House and Cloyne Court Hotel to meet the demand from the increase in the student population caused by the GI Bill. In the 1960s the USCA opened one of the first co-ed student housing projects in the nation, Ridge Project, later renamed Casa Zimbabwe in the 1980s. The 1960s and 1970s saw a decline in the popularity of the Greek System in Berkeley, which allowed the USCA to purchase defunct sororities which became Davis House, Andres Castro Arms, and Wolf House.
The 1970s saw the opening of Lothlorien Hall, a vegetarian theme house, and Kingman Hall, both of which formerly belonged to cults (Lothlorien belonging to the One World Family and Kingman Hall to the Berkeley Living Love Center). This decade also saw the construction and opening of the Rochdale Village Apartments, one of the USCA's three apartment facilities. The others are Fenwick Weaver's Village and the Northside Apartments. The USCA also owns two graduate and re-entry student houses, The Convent and Hillegass/Parker House, formerly Le Chateau.
In 1990, the members of the USCA voted to close its largest co-op Barrington Hall, in reaction to complaints from neighbors and problems with the City. The decade also saw the opening of two new theme houses: the African American Theme House, opened in response to the University's closing of all of its theme houses; and, in 1999, Oscar Wilde House, the first LGBT co-op in the country. Oscar Wilde House is a former fraternity house, which the USCA was able to buy due to the continuing decline in the popularity of the Greek system in Berkeley.
The African American Theme House is one of two themed houses in the USCA. The African American themed fraternities on the UC Berkeley campus do not have houses, which makes the African American Theme House unique in having a separate house for its members.
Despite the building being named The African American Theme House, the demographic make-up of the house couldn't be more to the contrary. The black resident population of the house has been on a steady decline since its purchase by the USCA in 1997. Despite the house being known for being the most culturally diverse building in the USCA, the inhabitants are mostly Caucasian. At this rate the African American Theme House will become just another USCA housing facility.
It is also the only co-op at Berkeley that is not listed by name on the official campus maps.
The house was originally designed as a mansion by architect Julia Morgan. Its most distinguishing external feature is the three story red brick staircase leading up to the Warring entrance.
With the construction in 1923 by the University of California of Memorial Stadium and the International House in 1929 a few houses to the north, the neighborhood, once home to many exclusive and expensive mansions, turned into more of a student-oriented neighborhood dominated by sorority and fraternity houses.
In 1939 Merrill sold the home to the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. The eighty-four chapter sorority was founded in 1898 and the Upsilon Chapter at Cal was established in 1915 and initially located in a house on Euclid Avenue on the northside. The sorority attempted to make the house look more modernist by stripping the interiors of the woodwork and enclosing the front porch in glass. In 1957 the sorority constructed a wing addition to the house at a cost of $71,500.
In the 1960s, the popularity of the Greek system declined significantly in Berkeley and many sorority and fraternity houses were forced to close for lack of membership. Unable to attract sufficient membership ZTA was forced to close its doors.
The USCA purchased the building in 1971, and decided to name the house in honor of long-time central kitchen cook Andres Castro, who was seriously ill at the time, but later recovered. The USCA initially opened the house as an all-male house, but after the first year in response to the need for more female housing and an overall trend in favor of co-ed housing, the house became co-ed.
The residents of Casa Zimbabwe are affectionately referred to as Czars.
The house is divided into three segments. Residents' rooms are located in the east and west wings, both of which are connected in the middle by two stories of wide open common space. Such a layout seems to encourage social interaction more so than in some other houses.
Further evidence of having been built as a student co-op is the strange architecture. While the east wing is three stories tall, the west wing is four stories and is offset downward by half a floor. The stairwells look like their corners were chopped off as an afterthought, and none of the halls are perfectly straight. According to Co-op legends, the architects had originally designed the building to look more normal, like the campus dorms. Since many former dorm-residents move into the co-ops to escape the sterility of dorm life, the architects were asked to re-design the house to look less dorm-like.
When CZ opened in 1966, it was known as "Ridge Project" since it shares its lot with Ridge House. In 1987, the house residents successfully petitioned to change the house name to its current one, originally intended as a parody of some alternative exotic-sounding proposals. In 2002, the residents petitioned to change the name of the house to Krackistan, but the USCA Central Office rejected the proposal outright.
Casa Zimbabwe closed at the end of 2006 in order to perform major seismic retrofitting work. The house is scheduled to reopen in Fall 2007.
Cloyne is one of the biggest cooperative houses in the country with 150 residents. Despite its size the house was entirely student-run for nearly sixty years. This changed in July 2005, when the co-op was required to hire a live-in manager in order to renew the property lease with the University.
Cloyne was built in 1904, as a high-class hotel, operated by the Pierce family, who later bought it from the original investors. The building survived the devastating 1923 Berkeley fire. Cloyne Court was sold by the Pierce family in 1946 to the University Students' Cooperative Association. In 1972, Cloyne Court became a co-ed house. In 1970, the USCA was forced to sell the property to the Regents of the University of California, upon the threat of an eminent domain acquisition by the University, in exchange for a low-cost lease, most recently renewed in July 2005.
The building is one of fifty-six buildings in Berkeley listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as a City of Berkeley Landmark.
Until the opening of the Hillegass/Parker House coop in 2005, The Convent was the only USCA coop housing only graduate and re-entry students, and the only coop in which all residents had single rooms. With an older resident population and a more isolated location, it has a reputation for being quieter and cleaner than other coops.
The building was originally built in the early part of the 20th Century as a single-family mansion, supposedly to house the son of one of the Hearst family's attorneys while he attended school at the University of California. The house was designed by architect Julia Morgan, who also designed two other current USCA houses, Wolf House and Andres Castro Arms.
With the completion of Memorial Stadium in 1923 and the International House in 1929, the neighborhood transferred from one of quiet, expensive mansions into a student-oriented neighborhood dominated by sorority and fraternity houses. At some point during this time, the house became a sorority (Alpha Xi Delta) and several additions were made to the building, including a sleeping porch with a deck above that features an expansive view of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
With the 1960s, the popularity of the Greek system in Berkeley saw a steady decline. Many sorority and fraternity houses were forced to close for want of members, including this one.
In 1969 the University Students' Cooperative Association purchased the building from the sorority for use as a co-op, one of several former Greek houses it acquired during this era. The price was $75,000 (1969 dollars) and another $40,000 or so was spent on interior modifications, including changing the sleeping porch into private rooms. The house opened to residents in January 1970.
Davis House was established for juniors, seniors and graduate students, and was unique for its time in that members prepared all their own meals, including dinners, rather than obtaining them from the USCA's Central Kitchen on Northside. Like all co-ops, each member had a five-hour workshift every week, and for seven of the members, cooking dinner was the shift. They were free to select what would be served. Breakfasts and lunches were prepared individually by the residents, and at holidays such as Thanksgiving sumptuous meals would be created for which all the students wore their finest.
Davis House was co-ed, and every effort was made to have an equal number of men and women, or as close to it as possible. Three marriages resulted from the first 34 charter members.
Euclid Hall was originally the University of California Japanese Students' Club, built after the 1923 Berkeley fire destroyed the building which previously stood on the location. During World War II, when Japanese and Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from the west coast, the building was leased to the USCA, which returned it to a JSC alumni group, the Nisei Alumni of the University of California, in 1947. The building reopened in the spring semester of 1948 as Euclid Hall, and was open to students of any background, with preference given to Nisei students without housing. In 1967, faced with declining occupancy, Euclid Hall was re-leased to the USCA, which eventually purchased it in 1972.
From the 70s Until 2005, Hillegass/Parker (AKA HIP House) was the site of Le Chateau, a large undergraduate co-op for 85 residents. After Barrington Hall closed, Le Chateau became "the black sheep" of the USCA system. Housing values rose in the southside neighborhood it occupied, and neighbors organized to file 20 small claims court cases at once against the USCA. The USCA offered to evict everybody and install new undergraduates if the neighbors would drop the suits, but they refused. The USCA decided to meet the neighbors' request to convert the building into a graduate/re-entry coop, which opened in Fall 2005.
HIP House consists of three large houses, with a large kitchen in the central Main house. Additionally, it has a large backyard which was re-landscaped during the conversion. One of the house's major perks, the swimming pool in the backyard, was cemented over in order to appease neighbors. There is also a large roof deck on top of Main house.
Kidd Hall has 7 double rooms and 3 highly-prized single rooms after reconstruction in 1989 which converted two triple rooms into three singles and a double.
The house was almost sold to developers as a site for high-rise apartments, but instead embarked on a more bizarre career. From 1964 to 1969 it was known as Toad Hall and served as a rooming house for male students. In 1969, it was purchased by a Hayward attorney named Harold Mefford, who rented out the house to non-students as well. The house reportedly functioned more as a commune than a rooming house and housed at most 50% students.
One of the residents was Joy, Country Joe McDonald's personal secretary, who lived in a basement room. Author/Merry Prankster Ken Kesey (not to be confused with author/future owner Ken Keyes, Jr.) and musician David Crosby used to buy their drugs from a Toad Hall dealer, and their cars were often seen parked in front of the house.
In 1973, Mefford sold the building for $127,000, to Ken Keyes, Jr., author of Living Love - a Way to Higher Consciousness and the building became the Berkeley Living Love Center. "The Living Love Way" was disseminated via broadcasts on KQED-FM every Saturday evening. A 52-hour morning-noon-and-night group workshop, designed by Keyes, offered the opportunity for a breakthrough toward higher consciousness. The LLC claimed tax exemption as a religious organization and operated on a non-profit basis.
On November 22, 1976, the center approached the city of Berkeley with an offer to donate the property for park use if it could be determined that it was located on the Hayward Fault line. They did this because they felt it would be a violation of the "Law of Higher Consciousness" to simply sell the property to someone else.
For whatever reason, this fell through and the building was sold in 1977 to the University Students' Cooperative Association for $300,000. The Living Love Center relocated to a farm-university in St. Mary, Kentucky. The house was renamed Kingman Hall, after Harry L. Kingman, director of the local University YMCA who encouraged the USCA founders to start a housing cooperative in 1933.
Lothlorien is the USCA's vegetarian theme house. As such, all house-bought food is vegetarian and house bylaws prohibit the preparation, storage, or consumption of meat in all common areas. Because of this, most residents of Lothlorien are vegetarians or vegans, but diet is not a condition of residence and meat-eating members are quite common.
Unlike the other USCA houses, which are more like student-run dorms, USCA's three apartment complexes have no food service, and much lighter workshift requirements.
Wilde house was a major source of inspiration for Ant Hill Cooperative in upstate New York.
The apartments were constructed in 1971 on the site of a former Berkeley public school, the McKinley Continuation School which closed down in the late 1960s, and except for its Haste Street Annex building (now restored, but moved to a new location), was razed.
The house was built by Julia Morgan for the Rector of St. Mark's Church, the Rev. Edward L. Parsons, in 1905 and originally situated just above Telegraph Avenue on Durant at 2532. In 1915, with the commercialization of the neighborhood, the family of Rev. Parsons decided to have the house moved up Durant Avenue to 2732, next to the corner of Piedmont. At that time the front porch was enclosed and the location of the front door changed to fit the lot, under the supervision of the architect. When Rev. Parsons became the Episcopal Bishop of California, the family moved to San Francisco. The house was first rented and then sold. Before being bought by the USCA in 1974, the house served as a sorority.
In 2002, the USCA, in an attempt to make the building accessible to disabled residents, added a ramp that ran the length of the house along Durant to the front door, bisecting the front stairs.
Central Office handles all of the applications to the USCA and determines where members will be placed. Placement is based on how long the applicant has been a member of the USCA, the member's preferences, and the number of vacancies in their preferred house(s).
Central Kitchen handles and delivers the food orders for all of the houses but not the apartments. Food orders are handled on the house level by the Food or Kitchen Managers. Central Kitchen also handles the supply orders for all of the houses, such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies, as well as the furniture orders for both the houses and the apartments.
Central Maintenance is responsible for major work on the houses, including major projects or renovations. Most minor work is handled by house Maintenance Managers.