Building Culture: The Barn: A Fable of the old Stable

Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER
Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER

There’s a constant rainfall over UC Riverside: “Riverside is boring.” “We don’t have anything important here.” “Everything ‘famous’ in our city is useless.”

The raindrops prick the skin of students like sewing needles, like words that actually can break your bones. Those raindrops are in fact words, and the imagery they invoke isn’t prettier than a sewage pile of trash, leftovers and roadkill dangling halfway in a gutter’s mouth. And like smoke rising from a ruined dinner or an exhaust pipe exhuming smog into somebody’s evening jog, these words do more than sting — they leave a mental residue that never evaporates in one’s memory.

Unfortunately, The Barn is often the location of interest for students to unload their verbal ammunition at.

The Barn is one of the oldest structures on UC Riverside’s campus. The Barn was constructed in 1916, about 10 years after the California state legislature approved the construction of the Citrus Experimentation Station in 1905, which was the basis for what would eventually become the UCR campus. With California’s huge export of citrus and fruit goods, the Station conducted experiments in fertilization, irrigation and crops. Since owning a vehicle at this time was still an extreme rarity, with the Ford Model T only coming into mass production by 1908, travel by horse was still a common and normal way of traveling.

The Barn can be seen as being highly needed for the historically “first” UCR scientists at the Station. Along with providing a roof over the heads of the horses for these pionering scientists, the cluster of structures that made up the original Barn also served as the operational center for the Station’s agricultural activities.

In its first years, the Barn existed not just as one building, but as a cluster of different structures that operated together, including a horse stable, a carpenter shop, a hay barn (for storage) and two wagon sheds. The high-pitched grunts of horses, the clacking of their hooves upon the soft, winding dirt roads and the earthly fragrance of fresh hay and oranges were a normal part of the life of early Station staff and local residents alike.

The horse stable was converted into a cafeteria in 1954 upon the school’s inaugural year. The horse stalls in the interior were converted into dining booths, the floors were paved and the walls were sandblasted. Sadly, a fire struck the cafeteria in December of 1970, and had to be completely rebuilt the following year. This fire, along with the numerous physical changes to all of the original Barn structures as a whole, prevent it from being registered in the National Register of Historic Places.

Fast-forward to the late 1980s. Punk rock, emerging from the depths of private clubs in New York and London, and any small-town garage band impersonating the Ramones or the Clash, took over the entire world. Former UCR Barn Manager Andy Plumley stood at the entrance to the area, at the head of the ticket line. The band’s name is forgotten, but Plumley remembered that whoever was playing embodied “real, solid, hardcore punk.” This showed in the sold-out vicinity, where 300 to 400 people mushed together in a roiling, raging mosh pit of noise, body odor, swearing as a second language, and unrelenting human energy in the most basic, Einsteinian sense of the word. Plumley remembered the crowd as “20 percent UCR students, the rest from the community.”

A man approached Plumley at the head of the ticket line. Plumley told him what he’d been telling everybody else in line: that The Barn was sold out. According to Plumley, he was “the biggest guy I had ever seen.” With a safety pin through his face, porcupine-style spiky hair and a thick leather jacket, the guy wasn’t just a punk fan — he was punk itself.

“What do you mean you’re sold out?” the punk incarnate asked.

Knowing that he wasn’t a fighter, and that a fight would be bad business for the Barn, Plumley stared at him with his chest out and back straight in an effort to make him back off — and it worked. Punk incarnate backed off.

The Barn wasn’t just known for hosting punk, though. The venue has seen some of the greatest musical acts on this side of the century. Imagine moshing around with your fellow headbangers while Korn or No Doubt rocks the stage just a few feet away, or getting lost in the righteous anger of a crowd entranced by Rage Against the Machine. Many nostalgically think back to the confusing days of growing up in college, and remember the times that Blink-182, Aquabats, Sublime and Alien Ant Farm brought their music with them to say, in reassurance, that the world is indeed a confusing place, but that everything was gonna be alright.

The Barn has been witness to over a century’s worth of history in Riverside. It’s seen as many memories as much as it’s a living memory in and of itself. It might seem odd to say that The Barn is alive, but to say that it’s not alive is to suggest that it’s not the soul of the campus. Anything can serve its own physical purpose, and that includes The Barn.

The Barn served as the operational center for the first scientific unit on campus; it was witness to an influx of young, eager veterans returning from World War II waiting to attend school on the G.I. Bill; it’s gone through reconstructions, demolitions and a fire in 1970. It gave the stage to several multimillion-dollar punk acts and local alternative acts in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s as if The Barn, amidst all of its physical transformations and numerous occupants, is saying to students, “you can change me all you like, but I’m still here, and I always will be. As long as UCR remains, so does its soul.”

A storm may blow harsh winds, but a mountain still stands.

 

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