A Brief History of Reed Houses

By Cale Guthrie Weissman, ’12

I am reminded of a seemingly simple assignment I was given as an intern some months back: write one sentence about something I love about Reed. This seemed pretty straightforward, but it nagged me for quite a bit until I resigned myself to giving an admittedly glib response that what I like is that it is impossible for me to answer that prompt. But today while perusing the old Reed Griffins (senior year books collected and organized by the students of that year), I realized something that I truly do love about Reed. Whenever I look at these publications I am always mesmerized by Reed seniors of the past. They seem exactly like my friends and I do today. Not necessarily in the way they look, but in the sense of their demeanor and presence. These people could be my present friends, or even me. It’s same feeling I get whenever I watch “The Kids in the Hall” and it’s truly weird. I’ve looked at Griffins as far back as the mid-eighties, and all of these people look oddly familiar, and I can’t quite tell why. I like to call this homogeneity-in-difference in that all these people look and dress differently, but there is still some same-ness in them that I can’t place. Today I was able to pinpoint one possible cause (or maybe it’s an effect) of this over-encompassing overall familiarity and subtle similarity.

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While looking at the 2004 Griffin, I saw that there was a one-page section devoted solely to Reed houses. Now, Reed houses are not houses like language houses, or dorms, or Reed apartments. They are something that is just as institutionalized as these residences, but carry with them more Reed cultural relevance and power?at least in my opinion. Reed houses are off-campus houses that have been provided for Reedies at insanely low costs for as long as anyone can remember. These houses are generally dingy, and have a certain kind of old-timey appeal that a dirty, graffitied stoop has for someone who grew up on any block in New York, pre-gentrification. These houses have probably not been deep-cleaned or perhaps even vacuumed since the mid-seventies, but they embody an invisible but necessary part of Reed culture that every Reedie is aware of. They generally house anywhere from four to eight people per year and their refrigerators are generally stock-piled with leftovers from the nearby Thai restaurant and old cheese and milk.

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I’m sure every school has houses of these caliber, but what makes Reed’s different (I think) is the amount of institutional power and understanding they carry within the student body, and their names. Each house has its own name, and these names have been thrown around for what seems like at least twenty years. House names include The Fridge, The Fishbowl, The Dollhouse, The Big Pink, The Blue and Purple, and The Red Door, and with each name comes a certain oral history that has been passed down since its inception.

This especially interests me because this past summer I resided in a house known only as The Hotboxxx, right across the street from The Fridge. While the actual history of this house is a bit foggy, I do know that it is over one hundred years old and has housed Reedies for only a little less than that. For the past four years, I have gone to this house only for social gatherings, but had never thought of myself as a future tenant. However, now that I have resided in one of its seven rooms, I am proud to say that did.

Anyway, the point of this ramble is that perhaps it’s this that gives us Reedies the uncanny familiarity that I keep finding. With my living in this cheap old room I got the feeling that I am living the life of hundreds of alums before me. And it’s quite possible I’ll go to some reunion or meeting and meet these people and we’ll share memories we never actually had together, but that we nonetheless both experienced. I get the feeling that a lot of Reedies before me–as well as many to come–share in this same uniqueness in experience that we can’t possibly put into words, but can feel just by looking at someone else with the same experience. Part of this is the communal and oral history that houses such as the Hotboxxx embody. Though not everyone is going to live there, I posit that everyone at Reed either knows someone who has, or has visited to this house for some reason or another. Every minute I spent in that dingy old antique building, I felt like I was part of an unwritten history that added my name to some stone that only certain people can see. And I am invigorated by the prospect that twenty years from now I will be able to commiserate and reflect with some twenty year old about the collective ‘good old days’ that house creates.

Ed note: I’ve had at least three friends who lived in the Hotboxxx between ’03 and ’07, and remember watching the 2006 NBA playoffs in one of its large social rooms.

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