It all started on a quiet Sunday afternoon in a West Quad dorm room, a couple of guys nursing a hangover and tossing back a few beers, trying to decide where they were going to live the next year.
And now, seven years later, a house stands on State Street, among fraternity senior houses and other football Saturday pregame hot spots, with the letters BOX above its door. Modeled in jest after its Greek neighbors, the “fake frat” has been passed down through three generations of residents who were selected by their predecessors to protect the sacred trust of the BOX house brotherhood: throw huge parties.
Engineering senior Brian Russel, who lives in BOX house now, said the house’s original residents were a large group of friends who decided not to rush fraternities but wanted a similar lifestyle.
“It was kind of anti-frat,” he said. “It was, why would I pay money to be in a frat when I can just make my own friends and do whatever I want, have all the benefits of being in a frat without actually being in a frat?”
John Mittelbach, who helped start the “fake frat” with longtime friend Tom Champion in 2001, said the BOX house was founded on principles of unconventionality and creativity.
“The whole idea behind BOX was to provide a forum for novel behavior and friendship,” Mittelbach said.
The group, originally made up of more than 40 people, bought a couple of houses in the same area, one on Arch Street, a house on Hoover and another on McKinley, with the main location at 933 State Street — the house known today as the original BOX house.
Beyond just novelty, BOX housers take their house traditions seriously, and in their few short years of existence they have racked up enough of them to rival any fraternity.
From keg walking, the house’s way of discarding empty kegs by riding them – logrolling style – across State Street, to street dancing, where housemates crowd the intersection of State and Hoover and jump around every time OutKast’s “Hey Ya” comes on at one of their tailgates, it takes a special skill set to live at BOX house.
But rather than the many pregame rituals involving massive amounts of alcohol, Mittelbach said his favorite tradition doesn’t require a keg.
“Although the BOX house might be best known for the partying, one of my favorite traditions was the Thanksgiving dinner we had,” he said. “BOX members from the various houses we lived in were each responsible for a dish, which led to a meal of epic proportions.”
Over the years, the BOX house has often been mistaken times for a real fraternity, at times attracting freshmen asking how to get a bid.
“Some people really confuse it with a real frat house,” Russel said, “Especially guys who visit here from other schools. They’ll come up to the house, ‘hey, this is a cool house, we don’t have you on our campus.’ ”
In the end, although he said he doesn’t “explicitly hate frats,” Russel said he’s glad he doesn’t live in a real fraternity house.
“I walked by one of the frats on State Street one time on my way to class and I just saw all these pledges outside raking leaves,” he said. “If you need to rake somebody’s leaves for them to accept you, why don’t you just come down to BOX house and have a beer. I’ll buy you a beer.”
Home of the three-story beer bong
Vince McKeon, a 2008 University graduate who moved into the apartment this fall, said the beer bong has been a trademark of the football Saturday party spot for as long as he can remember.
“Ever since I was a student here, four years ago now, it was definitely around when I came here, and I used to come here during high school and it was around then too,” he said.
McKeon signed for (real estate company) apartment with the expectation of continuing the tradition, but when he and his roommate, 2008 University graduate James Johnson, moved in at the beginning of the school year they were surprised at what they saw, or rather, didn’t see.
The beer bong, which they expected to come with the apartment, was missing.
But that didn’t stop McKeon and his roommate. They immediately started looking for supplies, and after purchasing 40 feet of clear plastic tubing and an orange funnel, were ready to continue the tradition for before the first football game of the season.
“It was something we wanted to do. We both went here for undergraduate and we felt like this was something that would be fun to do, as well as carry on the tradition,” McKeon said. “I think a lot of people actually look forward to seeing it, walking to the game and seeing who’s actually taking the bong.”
The State Street beer bong has serviced the needs of many Michigan tailgaters over the years, from college freshman eager to impress their friends, to returning alumni reliving their glory days at the University. McKeon said he has even heard of grandmothers stepping up to the plate and downing a beer or two with their grandkids.
Anyone walking by is welcome to have a go at the bong, McKeon said. Although, he warns that it’s not the same as drinking from a normal beer bong.
“It’s so long and the pressure in it is so high that you can pretty much only handle one beer,” he said.
But whomever moves into the apartment next should be able to chug — McKeon said he will try to instill in the next residents a proper appreciation for the legacy of the bong.
“It’s got to be done in my book,” he said. “So I think we would probably hand it down. But if they didn’t want it, what are you going to do about it? That would be disappointing, that’s for sure.”
Guardians of the Greenwood Block Party
On a street known throughout campus for cramped, littered sidewalks, shoe-covered power lines and raging block parties, one house stands out far above the rest.
A medium-sized brick house with a whitewashed porch and dried up front lawn, hidden behind two looming trees in the front yard, 940 Greenwood Avenue represents exactly what it means to live on the street that hosts the infamous Greenwood Block Party.
Business School senior Roshan Reddy moved into the house as a sophomore with a group of friends who were desperate to get away from the law and order of the residence halls.
Reddy said they signed the lease knowing Greenwood was a popular student street, but they had no idea just how crazy it could be.
“I thought there’d be a couple things, a couple weekends going on here and there, but overall maybe just kind of normal, just might have been over hyped,” he said. “But every weekend there’s always something going on just on the street, you don’t even have to leave the street to have a party.”
Twice a year, once on the last Thursday before fall semester begins and again after winter semester ends, Greenwood throws a block party boasting an attendance of more than a thousand students.
Traffic is blocked. Water balloons are thrown. People climb trees. Fireworks go off. Cops write citations en masse. Absolute mayhem ensues.
One rule: if you live on the street you better have a keg on your porch.
“It was expected, we figured it just had to be done,” Reddy said. “I can name like five houses on the block party that don’t get a keg. Most houses get two. We get two or three.”
Reddy said their landlord, an older man from Farmington Hills who privately owns the house, has seen the place in “complete shambles,” but doesn’t seem to mind dropping by to fix the blinds, windows and anything else that is broken after their parties.
“He’s a good guy. He knows we have parties all the time,” Reddy said. “He seems to know the reputation of the type of street Greenwood is and he seems to be comfortable with us living here and has no problem with the destruction we’ve caused in this house.”
And to say that Reddy and his roommates have destroyed the house is an understatement.
“We’ve probably broken every single chair in this house,” he said. “All the tables are just completely trashed, the floors are trashed, the kitchen is completely trashed, but it’s worth it.”
Last Halloween, during a large party at his house, Reddy and his friends decided it would be a good idea to go sledding down their stairs.
“For the next 25 minutes people were just taking turns sledding down these stairs and barreling down into the door,” he said. “When we get drunk we completely destroy this place.”
But that’s exactly what it means to live on Greenwood, Reddy said.
He said alumni who have lived in the house during their time in Ann Arbor sometimes stop by and visit. All of them are grateful that the Greenwood legacy has lived on.
If one day in the future, Reddy comes back to find his house had been transformed into a clean and quiet place, he said he would be extremely disappointed.
“I would say ‘You guys fucked up big time,’ ” Reddy said. “ ‘Somewhere down the line, you or your friends who passed it down to you, somebody screwed up big time. What happened?’ ”