Cheap rents, rich times: The great old party houses of West Campus

Originally published in 2000

The House of Many Women. Wow, is that one of the Stray Cats?


`You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” is the standard clear-the-house line of bouncers and bartenders eager to close up for the night. For years, clubgoers took that adage to heart, moving the party after hours to an array of ramshackle houses, most in the vicinity of the University of Texas campus. These dwellings of well-mannered debauchery were true alternatives to the well-kept frat and sorority houses.

But to walk those streets today is to visit a different town. As the rent at these quintessential party houses has in some cases quadrupled over the past 15-20 years, there are no more couch carcasses on the front porch or Dino Lee props in the trees. The House of a Thousand Beers is now home to four young men with real jobs. The only all-nighters you’ll see at the former Twist-Off House these days are to write term papers. The OAF House, whose residents once whined about paying $725 rent, is now $3,200 a month. Get ready for another article about how cool Austin used to be as I take you back to the years that inspired “Slacker,” when it was all about finding something to do when there was nothing to do. In the early ’80s, there was the OAF House at 28th and San Pedro and the House of Many Women at 28th and San Gabriel, and of course there was the Colony at 2703 Rio Grande, where punk rockers would stay up all night every Saturday, so they could wake up the sorority girls with their racket in the parking lot Sunday morning. “Go ahead and complain. We’re legal,” read a banner facing the Contessa West next door. Colony “caretaker” David McDonald would get a sound permit for the bands every week.

In the later ’80s, a new “devil’s triangle” of party houses was created to serve the vampiric tendencies of the so-called “New Sincerity” scene of melodic guitar bands. This was my scene. There was the House of a Thousand Beers on West 30th across from Trudy’s, the Big Yellow, which is now the Spider House coffeehouse, and the Lodge at 2827 Salado, all housing a bunch of guys who know that the best way to make sure you get the last beer at a party is to hide one in the toilet tank.

Jennings Crawford, his Wannabes bandmate Hunter Darby, Peter Blackstock (later editor of Seattle’s No Depression magazine) and three other guys rented the Lodge unseen. It had five bedrooms and rent figured out to $89 a man, so they took it. When Crawford unlocked the door for the first time, he found a dead rat on the floor. The kitchen was overrun by silverfish, and the back room, where the Wannabes practiced, creaked like it would soon fall off from the house (it eventually did).The place was trashed even before they moved in (a prerequisite for party houses), so they just added their own stamp. But for awhile, the Lodge was the most famous residence in town, not counting the Governor’s Mansion. Junior’s Beer & Wine store on 29th used to advertise that it was next door to the Lodge; second-term resident Ken Lieck would mention it often in his Austin Chronicle column.

The house hosted wild, raucous parties where the pre-passout pastimes included cranial bowling, where you’d roll a basketball down a long hallway at the head of someone lying down. Members of REM, the Replacements and Fishbone would stop by after their shows, looking for the party. Once, when Crawford was home alone watching TV late at night, the mohawked members of the Exploited showed up, saying they heard there might be a party. People would come by almost every night and the Lodgers started keeping a keg on ice just because they never knew when the next party would break out.

Indestructibility, in both tenants and dwelling, was the key to having a great party house. That and a loose schedule that allowed you to sleep until noon or a job you could perform hung over and exhausted. You had to not mind someone taking a shortcut to the beer through your room while you were in bed. (A dining room was just a bedroom on the way to the refrigerator.) You couldn’t be bothered by a constant stench of stale beer and cigarettes.

With rents skyrocketing in the past 10 years, the centrally located rock ‘n’ roll party houses have disappeared. Several bands who live together, including Vallejo and Reckless Kelly, have their share of bashes, no doubt. And there’s always something going on at “The Bubble,” the South Austin studio where Sixteen Deluxe holds court. But the era of the walking-distance party house, with its open door policy and bands a-blarin’, has pretty much gone the way of the legendary Ark Co-op, where you could buy a beer out of the Coke machine for 50 cents, 24 hours a day. Those days are left to the memory, because if it wasn’t for Debbie Pastor, very few photos would exist. Why take pictures when it’s just going to happen again the next night.

Remember these party houses?

THE TWIST-OFF HOUSE (1972-78) 2106 Pearl St.

Former residents: Big Boy Medlin (now with the E! network) , lobbyist Dean Rindy, Mike Bellamy, Warner Brothers VP Bill Bentley, Ike Ritter

Rent in 1973: $400 a month. Rent today: N/A; subdivided into six condos.

Infamous party: Some folks are still talking about the wrap party for “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” but the bash Rindy remembers best was a big New Year’s Eve party in either ’73 or ’74 where hundreds of people, almost all in costume, were dancing to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and the building shook to its foundation. The next day, the gang tried to clean up and ended up just hosing the entire apartment.

THE OAF HOUSE (1979-85) 28th and San Pedro

Former residents: Jukebox, Steve Anderson, David Yow, Byron Scott, Lisa Smith, Shannon Smith, Pat from the Dicks

Rent in 1985: $725 for a six-bedroom house

Rent today: $3,200

Celeb note: Among the touring punk bands who crashed at the OAF in the early ’80s were the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction.

Infamous party: Every Sunday, the OAF-ers would have a big barbecue in the back yard, even inviting the hobos who lived in the bamboo forest out back. Having the cops show up because of noise complaints was a common occurrence, especially when Scratch Acid played.

HOUSE OF MANY WOMEN (1984-87) 2827 San Gabriel St.

Former residents: Debbie Pastor, poet Liz Belile, cabaret singer Leslie Bonnell and musician Garine Boyagian

Rent in 1985: $650

Rent today: N/A; owner lives there

Infamous party: After REM’s concert at City Coliseum in 1985, the band and seemingly half the audience showed up at the big white house where the members of Faith No More often hung out for weeks at a time. When he walked in the door, Michael Stipe started reading the graffiti-filled walls, which contained some of his lyrics.

THE OAF-ette HOUSE (1982-85) Salado and 28th streets

Former residents: Melissa Merryman and Laurie Greenwell from Inner Sanctum, musician Harry Wilson (he slept in the closet), Tempe, Tomas

Rent in 1984: $295* Rent today: $1,250 a month

Infamous party: The Butthole Surfers played on the porch at the same time a huge fraternity party was going on across the street. The volatile mix of punks and frats overrunning the streets drew a legion of squad cars. Police made the Surfers stop playing, while allowing the frat party to continue. Angry punks set fire to a Dumpster and tried to push it toward the sanctioned party , but when the fiery refuse started heading toward the OAF House, it was intercepted.

HOUSE OF A THOUSAND BEERS (1986-90) 406 W. 30th St.

Original hosts: Michael Hall, Brent Grulke, Michael Corcoran, John Ratliff Later residents: Scott Anderson, photo-journalist Pat Blashill, Joey Shuffield (Fastball), art critic Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, musician Jean Caffeine, Howe Gelb (Giant Sand), author Jim Lewis

Rent in 1986: $550

Rent today: $1,600

Infamous night: After the final night of the MTV “Cutting Edge” taping, everybody headed to the big gray house that was hard to miss because there was a 10-foot phallus hanging from a tree in the front yard. (It “mysteriously” disappeared the day before Ratliff’s parents came to visit). The festivities turned ugly, however, when a group of skinheads showed up and commandeered the keg, charging partygoers a dollar a cup for beer. The hosts ended up calling the cops to complain about their own party.

THE LODGE (1988-mid-’90s) 2827 Salado St.

Former residents: Peter Blackstock, Hunter Darby, Jennings Crawford, Silky, Wes Lane, Ken Lieck, members of Johnny Law, Greg Wilson

Rent in 1988: $534

Rent today: N/A; owner lives there

Infamous party: The night the Replacements played at the Austin Opera House in 1990, Paul Westerberg announced a party at the Lodge after the show. Besides hundreds of concertgoers and ‘Mats Tommy Stinson and Slim Dunlap, the bash attracted the members of Fishbone and Thelonius Monster, who had played at the Texas Union Ballroom that night. The bassist of Fishbone was among the last to leave and he was eventually arrested for entering the wrong motel room. Actually, he had the right room number, but the wrong motel. Leaving his wallet at the Lodge didn’t help his case. When Fishbone played Dallas the next night, it was without a bass player.

Austin party houses of the 1960s

THE GHETTO

Looking like an old Army barracks, this apartment building on Nueces across from Dirty’s was THE hangout of the early ’60s, with Janis Joplin and Gilbert Shelton dropping in on friends like Ed Guinn, William Helmer (now of Playboy magazine) and Powell St. John. It’s been torn down.

CHAPA’S

The original slacker, Peter Chapa was an undergraduate student at UT for 17 years, majoring in throwing massive house parties at 1508 San Antonio St., where the champagne flowed and the stereo played Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Louis Armstrong. Among the guests during Chapa’s 1964-78 residency (at $65 a month) were author Tom Wolfe, directors John Waters and Jean-Luc Godard and just about every UT faculty member.


8 Comments on “Cheap rents, rich times: The great old party houses of West Campus”

  1. Mike Belile says:

    I remember being at some of the parties the House of Many Women, indeed the stuff of legends. I’d come to visit my sister Liz and there would be an amazing party there or somewhere (I remember going to you and Brent’s house and being in awe of the record collection), and I’d get to see her roommate Debbie who I had a thinly veiled, horrible crush on. Thanks for this!

  2. Tempy Wright says:

    Wow, this brings back some memories!

  3. I always laughed when I saw that signed Ed Asner photo thanking the Lodge for all it’s hospitalities. Cheers, Stockbauer

  4. Hi, Yikes!

    I was the guy who drove the guys from Fishbone and Thelonius Monster back to their hotels (in my ’74 Beetle). I swear I dropped him at the hotel he said he was staying at!

    I actually had no idea it had even happened until a year later when someone was telling me about that night and how he got arrested – and no one could figure out who drove them back to the hotels. I was warned to leave town when Fishbone came back through… *sigh* the bad old days.

  5. Dick Warts says:

    We used to call it “Pussy Central Station”, not the house of many women. I feel hurt that the Cambodia Lounge was left out of your oddly tedious post.

  6. Peter Blackstock says:

    Per Zillow, estimated rent at The Lodge today (2011) would be 2,096/month…. Not sure where the specious “$89 a month” figure came from (sounds like a number Hunter would misremember!), but the Lodge rent was a total of $600 a month, split either 5 or 6 ways, depending on whether Silky was slacking his rent payment on any given month. (So either $100 or $120 per.)

    This was the first year, anyway. Who knows how the money went down once Ken Leick arrived on the scene…..though I do remember one of the latter-era residents saying that one month, the landlord just plain forgot to collect the rent! I’m guessing the number of visits to Junior’s doubled that month.

    • KWL says:

      The Logde rent peaked at $750 a month, as I recall. The main problem wasn’t so much the rent going UP as it was the number of habitable rooms going DOWN!

      The Big Yellow gang were forced to bail when the landlord refused to take $50 off the rent after the original 3rd resident left and they couldn’t keep his room filled. The house them stood empty earning $0 rent for over a year before another group of musicians and barbacks took it over — at $350 a month!!! (Apparently they were friends of the owner…)

      — kwl

      PS: Peter, in future please remember the old adage: “To correctly spell ‘Ken Lieck’, you must begin with a ‘lie’.”

  7. Tony Brewer says:

    Thanks for chronicling something that a lot of folks blow off/trivialize; I was always convinced that the real show was after the show. Thanks.

    Former Big Yellow Resident


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