History of The Playground

This is a brief sketch of the history of the ownership situation of 6149 Shattuck Avenue. If you are unclear on any point, or if you would like to hear the longer and more atmospheric and gossipy version, ask Margo.


Long long ago (early in the reign of King Reagan) a group of people were living in a shabby rental house in West Berkeley. We decided we could have more fun and maybe even create something lasting by buying a house and living there instead. From the beginning we saw the House as something that could and should last into the future, whether or not any of us original members kept on living there forever.

As it happens, banks will not lend money to an amorphous group of people with fluctuating membership. Thus, we obtained the mortgage in the names of 4 of us (Margo, Philip, Christopher, and Gantt). We wrote up an agreement amongst the entire group (not just the 4 titleholders) in which we said basically that whatever the bank thought, in our hearts and minds the Playground would be owned by the group of people who lived there and had ever lived there. We would make decisions as a collective and would not allocate extra rights to the people who happened to be on the title.

Very soon, though, a conflict arose between Gantt and the rest of us. We were astonished to discover that, first of all, he had somehow avoided SIGNING our agreement, and second, that the agreement had no legal weight at all. After protracted anguish, Gantt was bought out and moved on. Our sketchy ownership situation remained contingent on the good-will of all involved.

We thought of forming a non-profit for the purpose of holding title to the House, but our early researches into the feasibility of this were not encouraging.

After a while Christopher and Margo were taken off the title, for various reasons. Philip remained as the sole titleholder.

Philip moved to the East Coast in 1996. As time passed, it became clear that – in addition to our long-term struggle with finding an appropriate form of ownership – it was unfair to expect him to be the sole legally responsible owner, especially at such a distance, especially as over time the people he knew personally moved out and people he has never met moved in. When Jonelle passed away a couple of years ago, this issue took on greater urgency. Moreover, soon Philip will be wanting to buy a house of his own, and ownership of 6149 Shattuck Avenue would make that considerably more complicated. (Philip is a lovely, sweet, patient, and very cool person. Hopefully you will all have the chance to meet him one day. Part of my agenda, and Christopher’s, is very much to liberate him from this situation and to protect his interests.)

There were two issues – one, creating an entity that could hold the title of the house without binding any one individual (or two, or three, or four individuals). Second, raising the money to pay off the balance on the existing mortgage (which is in Philip’s name).

Jesse worked out the necessary path to creating a non-profit (the Playground Affordable Housing Corporation), and right now, while Philip “owns” the house, he is formally leasing it to the PAHC, which has taken on much of the responsibility and liability of the House. The PAHC is made up of residents and former residents of the house. Those of us who are former residents are involved because we care a great deal about the House, remember our time here fondly, and want to see it carry on into the future. The “Outside Board” is made up of some of these dedicated alumni. The “Inside Board” (to coin a phrase) represents the current residents.

We spent some time investigating the possibility of raising the necessary money to pay off the mortgage from among alumni, family, and friends, but ultimately that avenue didn’t pan out.

So, right now, at this moment in history, we are trying to get a bank loan (from a bank that did grant a similar loan to another house (The Purple Rose) which was working with Jesse). We very much hope that the bank loan will come through. If and when it does, the mortgage will be paid off, Philip will donate the ownership of the house to the non-profit, and we will have a gigantic party.

Obviously over the last year or so there has been a lot of chaos and turnover in the house, and some of this stuff has not been fully transmitted to the newer folks. So I wrote this up so that you can know what is going on, and maybe to help you understand why the Board exists, where we are coming from, and why we want so very much for all of you to also become involved in charting the path into the future.


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