The Houses resemble fraternities at other American universities in the shared loyalties they engender. Unlike in fraternities, however, potentially dangerous "rushing" or "pledging" is replaced with the week of "rotation" at the beginning of a student's freshman year, and students generally remain affiliated with one or more Houses for the duration of their undergraduate studies.
Freshmen (known as "frosh" in local slang) go through a process known as Rotation during the first week of classes to get assigned to a House. This process has rules associated with it to try to give freshmen a chance to choose between the Houses in an unbiased way. These rules are located on the IHC website here
Caltech established the House System in 1931, disbanding the existing fraternities and recasting them as Blacker House, Dabney House, Fleming House and Ricketts House, now known as the South Houses. The fraternities were as follows:
Expanding student population was accommodated in 1960 with the North Houses: Lloyd House, Page House, and Ruddock House.
A new state-of-the-art residential facility named Avery House, was opened in 1996, but was not initially considered part of the House System, and freshmen were not allowed to live there. Beginning in the 2005–2006 school year, freshmen began to rotate into Avery, changing its status from an undergraduate housing option to a fully represented House.
Also in 2005, work began on a major renovation project for the aging South Houses, whose residents were relocated to a temporary modular housing complex. The renovations were completed at the beginning of the 2007 calendar year. Students moved back into the South Houses on 15 December 2006, though construction continued through the beginning of 2007.
Like most of the buildings on campus, Avery House and the South Houses are in California Mission style, and resemble cloistered monasteries with enclosed courtyards; the North Houses are of Modern design.
Despite the constraints, this two-way selection process of joining a House, and social interaction after joining, gives each House a distinctive personality that is often remarkably stable over decades. Alumni often retain fierce House loyalty and can often guess the House membership of other Caltech graduates from personality clues.
|South Houses (Hovses)|
|Blacker Hovse||Moles||Black||γδβγ (God Damn Blacker Gang)||Sed nvlla nisi ardva virtvs "Nothing is worthwhile unless it is difficult"||http://blacker.caltech.edu/|
|Dabney Hovse||Darbs||Green||DEI (Dabney Eats It)|| Fidelis et gratus "Faithfulness and thankfulness" |
Unofficial: We have sex with our eyes open.
|Fleming Hovse||Flems||Red||FEIF (Fleming Eats It Faster)||Let the deed shaw||http://fleming.caltech.edu/|
|Ricketts Hovse||Skurves / Scurves||Maroon||FGD (Fuck God Dead)||Prend moi tel que je suis "Take me as I am"||http://ricketts.caltech.edu/public/|
|Lloyd House||Lloydies||Gold||I live and die for those I love||http://lloyd.caltech.edu/|
|Page House||Pageboys||Blue||Thank You for Not Sucking!||Spe labor levis "May the work be light"||http://www.jrpage.net/|
|Ruddock House||Rudds||Navy Blue||Ruddock Rhymes with Buttock||Unofficial: Virtutis mammilas exsugimus "We suck dry the teats of Virtue"||http://ruddock.caltech.edu/|
|Avery House||Averyites or Slaves1||Purple||A very fine house||Creativity, integrity, tenacity||http://avery.caltech.edu/|
The South Houses are often referred to as "Hovses" since that is the spelling used in the inscriptions on the actual buildings, in imitation of ancient Latin writing. The South House complex opened in 1931.
Blacker Hovse was built with the help of funds donated by Robert Roe Blacker, a trustee of Caltech. Members of Blacker House are referred to as Moles.
One of the traditions of Blacker House is the Hellride. In a defiant response to the prohibition against playing The Ride of the Valkyries, and to the constant announcements of fake Ditch Days by seniors, the freshmen living in a part of the House named Hell (so called for its unbearable heat in the summer and cramped quarters) would announce a Hellride. They then barricade the hallway and play The Ride at high volume, daring the upperclassmen to break in and drag everyone to be drenched in the showers.
Blacker house features halls painted as Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. In Hell, an elevator switch is rigged to cause a red light to flash the prime numbers with the speed determined by the switch setting. Blacker's courtyard formerly featured a habitable treehouse and a giant tire swing, but the tree that bore them was cut down during renovations of the house in the 2005–2006 academic year.
The war cry of Blacker House is γδβγ (Greek letters for gdbg, or God Damn Blacker Gang). The story is that in the 1978 or 1979, it was popular for Blacker students to climb on top of elevators and ride them. One time, security went inside the elevator looking for the students, who were on top of the elevator. The security muttered, "God Damn Blacker Gang", and the name stuck. Blacker students began signing GDBG or γδβγ on all their pranks. Blacker has also been referred to as the House of Fucking Geniuses and the inscription HOFG can be found throughout the tunnels along with γδβγ. In the 1960s the house slogan was "Blacker Hovse for gracious living" which became "The Hovse of Gracious Living" by the 1990s.
Dabney House, as part of the single building that makes up the four "South Houses," was constructed in 1930 and 1931. It was known as the House of Gentlemen and the House of Captains, but underwent a dramatic change in personality during the 1960s. In 1973, the House was disowned by the Dabney family when students from Dabney House protested a presidential visit with a sign on the library bearing the simple phrase "Impeach Nixon." This event has been a touchstone for Darbs ever since. The house became associated with the hippie lifestyle, and in 1990 multiple Dabney House members were banned from campus housing for performing lewd acts in the house courtyard (an event known as "the fipi" - the Fucking In Public Incident).
Traditionally standing for "Dabney Eats It," referring to a particularly unpalatable plate of noodles in the 1950s, the acronym DEI has come to be a badge of pride for Darbs. Besides naming the house's recreation room after it and spreading it all across campus, Dabney alumni have made DEI a hidden code in the outside world. The letters can be seen in movies (most notably Real Genius) and video games (including GTA: Vice City and several Intellivision games). There are even stories of the trigraph making its way into space on JPL probes including the Voyager space craft, and being written on the Moon by astronaut Darb Harrison Schmitt. In the late 1960s, during on-campus shooting of an episode of the TV series "Mission Impossible", students stenciled "Caution: DEI" in an elevator shaft scheduled to be filmed the next day. The marking was subsequently visible on national television behind Peter Lupus as he paused in one shot, unaware of this Caltech contribution to spy drama.
More recently, Dabney started the Student Coffee House and has provided the majority of the staff. Dabney hosts the annual Millikan Pumpkin Drop Experiment (a parody of the Millikan oil-drop experiment) where pumpkins frozen in liquid nitrogen are dropped from Millikan library. This tradition was featured on the TV show Numb3rs . Dabney also hosts Drop Day, a party held the Saturday after the second term drop day to celebrate the point of no return, and Dabney Metal Night, an opportunity for the amateur bands of Caltech to play for the crowd.
While the traditional motto of Dabney House (Fidelis et gratus "Faithfulness and thankfulness") still stands on the Dabney crest, Dabney House has instituted a new, changeable motto. In line with Caltech's tradition of wall murals and wall writings, any member may change the house motto by striking the previous motto on a designated motto wall and writing a new one. The motto wall reads, in order, "The purpose of this convoy is to keep moving," "Oh my God, we're all fucking machines!," "We've got class coming out of our ass!," "Aloha, snack-bar!," and "We have sex with our eyes open."
Dabney House has a history of making rotation videos which are shown to incoming freshmen during rotation .
Fleming Hovse was built with funds donated by a number of people, and the name Fleming was chosen to honor Arthur Fleming, then the chairman of Caltech's Board of Trustees.
Members of Fleming Hovse are called Flems. The house color is Red. The motto, from the crest as commonly seen on house beer steins, is "Let the Deed Shaw. The house battle cry is "Go Big Red!" Another important maxim is "Flems stick together!", as well as the slogan "Where men are men, giants walk the earth, and the thundering herd is real".
The physical layout of Fleming House includes rooms numbered 8.5 (formerly the RA apartment, now a triple) and π (pi).
Fleming House has traditionally been the athletic house, and has maintained a tradition of athletic excellence over the past decade. The Interhouse Trophy, awarded to the winner of the Interhouse Athletic Competitions, has called Fleming home for the past 5 years. This emphasis on athletics is explicitly a part of Fleming's self-conscious rejection of the nerd stereotype that developed at Caltech after the elimination of its dress code in 1968.
Fleming has a strong rivalry with Page House. Flems refer to Page House solely as "pagesux." Both houses prank each other and include the other in initiations.
After returning to campus in 1980, the Fleming Cannon was stolen by Harvey Mudd students in 1986 (as detailed in this article). At the demands of both college administrations, the Cannon was returned to Fleming House approximately 8 weeks after the prank.
It was rumored that Harvey Mudd would attempt to steal the cannon again in 2006 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their original theft. However, the cannon disappeared a day before the anniversary only to show up at MIT, just in time for Campus Preview Weekend, during which many rising freshmen visit MIT. A (seemingly fake) moving company by the name of Howe & Ser Moving Co. has taken credit. (The name is a double pun: When substituting "and" for the ampersand, it reads "how we answer", while substituting the Latin et for the ampersand gives "Howitzer".) Displayed prominently in front of MIT's Green Building, the Fleming Cannon sported a giant, gold-plated MIT class ring around its barrel.
A day after the prank was disclosed, Fleming's members began planning a recovery operation on the night April 7th. They immediately mounted a large-scale operation, sending 23 members to Boston within 24 hours. The Flems were greeted at MIT by a group of students and police who watched as the cannon was loaded into a truck. Afterwards, a friendly barbecue celebrated the event.
Ricketts Hovse was funded by and named for L. D. Ricketts. Members of Ricketts House are called Skurves (or Scurves) due to a play on the similarity of the name Ricketts to the disease rickets and the fact that scurvy is another vitamin deficiency disease. Members of Ricketts Hovse were known as Rowdies until about 1960; alumni of that period still draw the distinction between Rowdies and Skurves.
Ricketts traditions include fire related activities and the brakedrum. Prior to early 2003, the Ricketts courtyard housed a large concrete firepot, in which massive fires were often enjoyed during cool Pasadena evenings. However, due to tightening of Pasadena fire codes and the Caltech administration's recent focus on liability concerns, the firepot was removed. The brakedrum is a contest between the freshman class and the sophomore class over ownership of the brakedrum.
Ricketts House was known for athletics and student government in the 1950s, but in the past decades Ricketts has been known less for these activities, and more for activities which push the motto "Take me as I am" to the limit. Scurves have in recent years assumed the role of agents provocateurs on campus, confronting a growing legalism on the part of campus administration with increasingly envelope-pushing displays of self-expression. A recent example has been the inverted pentagram which Ricketts had displayed for years on the front wall of its dining room. Administration members have called for the removal of the pentagram as it represents a symbol which may offend the general public who view the house during tours. Furthermore, they cite the questionable political correctness of a pentagram in the house. The pentagram was originally painted in the dining hall for the Interhouse party of 1989 - prior to this time this symbol had no particular connection to Ricketts House. In later years this became a symbol of Ricketts House, including the alteration of the Ricketts House crest (the original had ship's wheels instead of pentagrams, in keeping with its general nautical theme). Ricketts also cites the purpose of the houses; to promote Caltech undergraduate community, not to satisfy potential tourists. The hindrance of putting the mural back up has even drawn into question the supremacy of freedom of expression, as one of the basic tenets of Ricketts, over what some might call "political correctness." During the recently completed renovations, the mural was painted over, and a new mural policy has been put in place. The administration has yet to listen to cries from Ricketts Hovse officers who maintain the validity of putting their mural back in place.
In 2005, the administration pressured Ricketts to make their website private because many of the pictures and quotes on the website were considered to be potentially offensive.
Lloyd House is smallest of the three North Houses. The North Houses were constructed in 1960 with funds provided by the Lloyd Foundation and other donors. Lloyd House was named in memory of Mr. Ralph B. Lloyd and his wife, Mrs. Lulu Hull Lloyd. Mr. Lloyd was a member of the Board of Trustees of Caltech, 1939-1952. Members of Lloyd House are called Lloydies and the house color is gold. The motto is "I live and die for those I love."
Lloyd House is governed by a student-elected, student-run Executive Committee, or "Excomm," of 9 members: President, Secretary, Superintendent, Treasurer, Social Director, Athletic Director, and 3 representatives at large. The Social Director and Athletic Director are aided by the Social Team (5 members) and the Athletic Team (3 members). There are 8 Upperclass Counselors (UCC's) and various appointed positions, such as Librarian, Historian, and Pool Monkey. Traditional house events include a meet-the-frosh Ultimate Egg competition (in which Ultimate Frisbee is played using eggs), Airband, and Beachtrip (for which some members even walk 40 miles from Caltech to Huntington Beach).
Lloyd House (Building #54 on the Caltech map) is located along the Olive Walk. The physical structure of Lloyd House is an "L"-shaped, two-story building. At the intersection of the two branches of the house are "Lower Crotch" and "Upper Crotch," which serve as communal lounge areas.
Lloyd is divided into seven alleys: Purple, Kaos, VI (Virgin Islands), Fingal's, Valhalla, Inferno, and Tropic. Each alley is decorated with theme-appropriate murals. Some key murals include: the expansive Purple mural in the theme of Japanese tsunami waves, the Escher mural in Kaos, the tropical mural in VI, the "Enjoy Crack" mural in Inferno that mocks the famous Coca-Cola slogan and contains a reference to Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen, and the newly painted modern art in Tropic.
The "shed" used to be a stand-alone building in the courtyard that housed Lloyd's big screen TV. Now the "shed" exists indoors, in a room adjacent to Valhalla that used to be part of the MOSH's office.
Lloydies are known for their elaborate pranks. The classic prank of the 1961 Rose Bowl was pulled off by the "Fiendish Fourteen," members of Lloyd House. Flashcards that were intended to cheer for the Washington Huskies football team were changed to read Caltech. The Hollywood sign was changed to read "Caltech" in 1987 by a group of Pageboys and Lloydies.
Every year since 1994, Lloydies have climbed onto the top of Millikan Library to construct the Lloyd Christmas Tree, a monumental structure of numerous Christmas lights strung together to resemble a 10-story Christmas tree topped with a 12-feet-tall "L." The latest prank was the pranking of MIT's campus preview weekend, in which many Lloydies were involved.
A common folklore that has been passed down throughout the years is that of the Purple LSD lab. It has been said that sometime in the 70's, a group of chemistry majors living in Purple blocked off some of the alley for a special project. The product of their project, was dubbed "Lloyd-grade" LSD, to denote its extraordinary purity. The rumor goes that it was one of the largest sources of LSD at the time. Nearly the entire senior class (only 3 seniors are mentioned in the yearbook from 1970) was expelled when the FBI invaded the house.
Upon the arrival of the North Houses in the 1960s, members of Ricketts house splintered off to populate the newly constructed Page House. Members of the house are known as Pageboys (even the women), and the house crest includes the "mechanical horse" with a banner reading spe labor levis, a Latin idiom meaning "May the work be light" (and is often followed by "And the drinks be heavy"). House construction was funded by J.R. Page, former vice president of the First National Bank in Los Angeles, and chairman of the Caltech board of trustees from 1943 to 1954. While Page lacks the architectural history of other houses, or the affluent contributions of benefactors, its large size plus popular social activities have helped raise revenues. The largest (room-wise) of the houses, Page has been home to KCAL, the Interhouse Roller Coaster, and also used its access to the basement so that Pageboys could cover the concrete with dry ice, a prank copied in the movie Real Genius.
In response to other houses quixotically claiming certain items to be off limits in regard to pranks (rendering them "Non-RF-able"), the Page House president at the time named that The President be unprankable as well. The Interhouse committee allowed it, and to this day, the only two items in Page House that cannot be the target of pranks are the pool table felt and a poster of President Nixon. The poster is passed on to each House President shortly after s/he is elected.
All student rooms in Page are designed as doubles; however, when vacancies arise, upperclassmen may live in rooms as singles. According to house bylaws, the newly elected Page House president may choose to reside in any room as a single. Other popular rooms include the "corner doubles" upstairs and downstairs. The FU, across from the Library, is Page House's entertainment room, complete with dozens of bean bags. Its name originates from a prank in which Fleming painted a large "F" on its door. Rather than painting over it, Pageboys simply painted a "U" below it. The FU was formerly a triple, and before that was the RA apartment, which is now located downstairs. The Library itself is important to Page House culture, and although its collection is always being removed to be recycled elsewhere, its contents are meant to reflect the works and contributions of contemporary Pageboys. Due to its distinguished status, the Library is the only room in Page in which one must wear shoes.
Pageboy activities include grilling on The Bridge, champagne at Millikan ("Bubbly") to celebrate the end of quarter, and Intrahouse, in which all eight alleys in Page partake in the annual tradition of applying primer and painting edgy, humorous pictures. The painting in between alleys 6 and 7 covers "the fruit wall", a favorite target for PVC-borne projectiles, particularly fruit which tend to vaporize on contact. In addition to Intrahouse, there is the annual Stranding Of the Freshmen on Mt. Wilson, the Wait Staff Initiation, and Grease Frosh, in which Pageboys make liberal use of Caltech's grounds and upkeep fund by selecting a designated freshman in each alley (referred to as that alley's Grease Frosh), who is then sent scampering about the Beckman lawn in the effort to evade upperclassmen who are trying to tackle an opposing alley's Grease Frosh before theirs are tackled. Pageboys then rinse themselves in Gene Pool, producing a visible Crisco and lard film on the surface. Until 2003, they first rinsed in Millikan Pond, but the location has changed due to administrative request. Finally, all the Pageboys rinse off completely in the Fleming showers.
The jury is still out on a nickname for Avery's members. "Averyites" is used frequently on internal house email lists, and sometimes in conversation. The terms "Birds" and "Averoids" have fallen into disuse. Other Caltech students sometimes refer to Avery as "Slavery House," thus making the members "Slaves."
A segment of members of the on-campus houses refuse to recognize Avery as a House, although starting in the 2005–2006 school year, Avery is part of the Rotation process, houses freshman, and has official status as a student house. This change has led to a debate regarding Avery's importance to the Caltech community.
Many outside Avery and a faction within Avery maintain that this decision was driven mainly by faculty concerns and does not reflect the needs of the Avery community. But others agree with the move, pointing out that Avery's inclusiveness will give freshmen a social alternative to the sometimes-overbearing traditions held dear by other Houses. By a 10-to-1 vote in May 2004, the Faculty Board approved the decision on a two-year experimental basis, though it is widely expected to become permanent. As Avery does not have many traditions similar to those of other houses, members of Avery have a reputation as "trolls" (members of the Caltech community who spend most of their time studying rather than socializing). This reputation is in some cases well-deserved, especially for those using Avery as off-campus housing (as opposed to freshmen picking in through the Rotation process), but is also exaggerated because Avery's physical distance across campus from the other houses enhances the notion of the never-socializing Avery member.
Members of Avery House argue that they prefer Avery's alternative environment, and that much of the student population complains about Avery being a house while having limited personal experience with it. Many think that in time Avery will establish its own traditions and identity as a house, although some within the house do not agree that this is a good thing. Some examples of emerging traditions are an affinity for Dance Dance Revolution and Karaoke Revolution, which are scheduled events during prefrosh weekend hosted by Avery House, and strong undercurrents of Christian and Asian/Asian-American culture. Of these last two, the former stems from the sizable Christian population, while the latter is highlighted by the Asian food offerings in the Avery dining hall, including pocky, sushi, and various Thai beverages.
While Avery is officially a house, there are some noticeable policy differences between it and the rest of the student houses besides the historical one of only recently accepting freshman through Rotation. For one, Avery facilities (dining hall, conference room, and library) are available for use by other members of the Caltech community for events; thus, Avery members often find their house's courtyard filled with partying alumni or their library being used for faculty conference. In some cases Avery students have been unable to access their dining facilities due to such arrangements, forcing them to eat elsewhere. Another important distinction is that in addition to the already-exceptional inclusion of faculty in residence and graduate students, a significant portion of Avery's rooms are reserved as "off-campus" spots. These can be chosen by members of any House (including Avery itself) that are prevented from living in their own House due to a lack of rooms—or, in Avery's case, lack of undergraduate-assigned rooms. Finally, due to a policy said to have been put in place by R. Stanton Avery himself, Avery members are not allowed to place anything "nonremovable" on the walls, and thus their house lacks the murals that decorate most other undergraduate residences.
Caltech-owned housing that is not part of any of the eight Houses is known as "off-campus" housing, even if it is acually physically located on the Caltech campus. (Non-Caltech owned housing is called "off-off-campus.") These housing units do not maintain memberships or have the community or tradiations that the other Houses have. Off-campus housing currently consists of Marks House, Braun House, the Del Mar apartments, the Chester apartments, and a handful of single-family homes owned by Caltech. All of these are either within the Caltech campus, or within a few blocks of it. A small portion of Avery is also included in the off-campus lottery with the rest of these properties.