When the Baker’s Dozen, one of Yale’s all-male a cappella groups, first scouted their new Crown Street house last January, the place was in shambles: completely gutted, newspapers from the 1950s strewn about the rooms, and an inexplicable collection of oyster shells in the basement. To their dismay, it also lacked what the group’s housing manager Jordan Schroeder, JE ‘16, described as a “triangle of late-night food options.” Their previous abode, located at 109 Howe Street, boasted the satiating trio of Pizza at the Brick Oven (affectionately dubbed “PaBOs”), Mamoun’s, and Alpha Delta Pizza. But the Crown Street house, which has been designated a New Haven historical landmark, showed promise—after some serious TLC, it seemed its pristine marble mantles and shining wood floors might materialize from beneath ancient newsprint.
University administrators and admissions officers continually market the merits of the residential college system as a hallmark of a Yale education, but students like the BD’s are increasingly seeking to create a different liv- ing experience in clusters of student housing off-campus. The number of undergraduates living off-campus hit a re- cord high this year of 14 percent, according to available statistics released this week dating back to 2003 from the University registrar. The appeal is simple—students do not have to conform to living conditions dictated by the University; rather, they can craft their own version of life at Yale to meet their needs, both as individuals and as student groups.
“It’s a home,” Schroeder said of the BD’s new headquarters, into which they moved on Aug. 24 while the smell of fresh paint still hung in the air. “The house is a huge part of our culture.”
Indeed, the development of off-campus culture is transforming the concept of college housing from a traditional dorm room to a full-fledged community. Several students interviewed told the Herald that their choice to move out of their residential colleges granted them more independence, cheaper living accommodations, and freedom from the required meal plan to eat wherever and whenever they want. But the place students call home is more than a matter of simple lifestyle conveniences—for groups from all corners of campus like the BD’s, WYBC Yale Radio, and heavyweight crew, their houses are intrinsic to their identity within Yale’s social scene.
Positioned prominently on Crown Street next to BAR Pizza, the BD’s new residence is a model home. The floors have just been redone, the appliances are state-of-the-art, and the backyard features a basketball court and grill for cookouts. It stands in sharp contrast to their former Howe Street location, which they were reluctant to abandon because of its sentimental value. “All of our memories are there, but it was very much becoming unlivable,” Schroeder said. After a long renovation from Pike Real Estate, the BD’s new house has been upgraded to nine bedrooms and has an entire first floor of common space for throwing parties. Various artifacts from the original house survived the transition—notably, “Vincent,” their baker statue that has guarded the house’s front door since he was collected during a group retreat to New York City years ago, and the old front door featuring their logo engraved in a glass window, a gift from former BD’s that now serves as the entrance to the kitchen. Nine guys live in the house, but not all of them are BD’s. In fact, two of the residents are friends, “honorary BD’s,” who were incorporated into the group over time. This residence, while known as the BD house, is actually just a place where friends can live together, have their own space, and enjoy each other’s company.
216 Dwight Street, a greenish stucco façade, is a similar haunt for six members of WYBC Yale Radio this year. Radio kids have lived there as part of a tradition dating back about six or seven years, according to Patrick Reed, BR ‘16, who is among the house’s current residents. The house was built in the early 1900s by the first black dentist in New Haven, a native of Barbados, who had only ever built houses with stucco walls and tile roofs. How- ever, the house was not designed to sustain New England weather patterns and is now rotting with water damage. Though the house probably should have been condemned, it was salvaged by a group of undergraduates who Reed described as “dumpster-diving vegans” about six years ago. They scrounged for cheap furniture and reincarnated the place as the new home of Yale Radio. 216 thereafter became a haven for little-known bands and the artistically-inclined student population in the West Chapel area.
Organizations like Radio and the BD’s are a large part of Yale’s presence off-campus, but when it comes to staples of weekend nights out on the town, no group is more present the athletic houses. The men’s heavyweight crew team, the oldest sports team at Yale, boasts a house on Elm Street with a backyard and patio that serve as venues for large open parties as well as a separate one-person annex they call “The Hut.” Traditionally, ten of the senior members of the crew team live in the house, which resident David DeVries, TC ‘16, said they have owned for about a decade. According to former captain Jon Morgan ‘13, the current house is only one in a series of incarnations that have existed over the years. Not only has the team sporadically occupied a house on campus since the 1990’s, but it has also owned Gales Ferry, a permanent training house in New London where the team has spent the weeks leading up to the Harvard-Yale Race since the 19th century.
DeVries estimated about 70 to 80 percent of team members desire to live in the Elm Street house eventually, but this year, pipe repairs resulted in all but four members of the team vacating. The crew house will be restored in time for next year’s team to move in, but in the meantime, DeVries said it remains the “team headquarters.” “People are always here, watching TV on any given night,” he added. “Rarely is it just us four hanging out. I spend a lot of time with the rowing team, but that’s just the nature of the team-driven sport.”
Though outsiders might perceive the team as being insular, DeVries said the fact that they both practice and live together is ideal because they are surrounded by likeminded people who are “all on the same page.” “It’s the best possible situation because the house shuts down if we have to wake up at 5:15 for a hard practice the next day. They get it,” DeVries said. He added that the residential college system is flawed for members of sports teams who find comfort and convenience in having a stable home environment amid the demands of their rigorous practice schedule.
Though crew occupies a narrow sphere of student life, team members’ desire for a lifestyle that fits their needs can be true of any individual Yalie or undergraduate organization. From improv to Greek life, from apartment buildings on Elm Street to houses on Lynwood Avenue, off-campus hubs have become almost as essential to to- day’s student life as the timeless gothic buildings that have historically defined Yale.
Illustration by Kai Takahashi