Pepperland parties no more

By Zach Wehrwein

[img id=”80559″ align=”alignleft”] A longtime hub of the Hyde Park social scene, the Pepperland apartment complex will be closing indefinitely for renovations beginning September 30th. All current residents will be evicted. Located at 1509 East 57th Street, the Pepperland is notorious for its large parties, which span the building’s entire length, making use of the fire escape balconies on either side and the expansive courtyard that connects the two halves of the building.

Presently, the Pepperland is home to approximately three-fourths of the Ultimate Frisbee team, hence its moniker, “The “Frisbee Frat.” However, the Pepperland’s history is more expansive: It was home to a gay community in the 1990s, followed by a period in which the crew team called it home. Several residents suggested that the building’s intense community-style living drew a number of bohemian students during the 1970s. Today, current residents maintain the Pepperland’s long-standing tradition of leaving their doors open, which allows residents to walk through adjacent apartments to quickly navigate the building.

Pepperland parties are famously infamous. When Aileen McGroddy, a second-year in the college, was queried about her Pepperland party memories, she shook her head, smiled, and walked away.

The building’s namesake is a reference to the 1968 Beatles movie The Yellow Submarine, in which an underwater musical paradise named the Pepperland is attacked by the joyless Blue Meanies, with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band coming to the rescue in the end.

MAC Property Management issued formal eviction notices to Pepperland residents on April 13, which were included with a standard letter asking tenants whether they planned to remain in the building over the summer. The letters were signed by MAC Leasing Manager, Paul Shultz. MAC is allowing Pepperland residents to sign a three-and a-half-month lease starting in mid-June. Residents were also told that MAC employees were seeking out apartments available to Pepperland resident looking to relocate.

Several weeks ago, a note appeared on one of the front doors of the Pepperland that read, “FYI: Pepperland closing on Sept 30th for remodeling.” At the beginning of the year, MAC informed residents of its plans to remodel selected buildings, but many Pepperland residents learned only this month that the Pepperland itself was slated for renovations.

Pepperland residents first heard about the evictions through the grapevine, when a maintenance man mentioned it in passing to one of the residents. The presumed rumor spread quickly, fueled by MAC’s recent decision to return deposits to residents.

Cassandra Betts, a third-year in the College and a Pepperland resident, said that the rumor prompted her to call MAC’s Hyde Park office for follow-up information.

“Over spring break, I called the leasing office. After being redirected a dozen times, I was put in contact with the head of their leasing office,” she said in an e-mail interview.

“He told me that in fact the Pepperland would be closing indefinitely for renovations on September 30. I asked him if this was a firm, irrevocable decision, and he said that it was,” she said.

MAC did not respond to repeated requests for an interview for this article.

Margaret Siple, a resident of the Pepperland, said that her younger brother, Paul Siple, a first-year in the College, was to inherit her apartment. She also met with difficulties investigating rumors of the Pepperland’s potential closing.

“I went to go see the management office a couple of weeks ago because I had heard rumors that it was closing. And I talked to our building manager, and he said, and I quote, ‘This must be some kind of April Fools Joke that went too long.’ So he didn’t know anything about it, and he was like, ‘No, no, we’re not remodeling your place, you’re totally fine.’ And I said, ‘Can I have it in writing?’ and he said, ‘No, we can’t promise anything,’” she said.

“So here I am, totally terrorized because this is like a couple weeks ago—nearing upon time when we would have to find a new place, if we have to move out. They were going to tell us 60 days in advance before our leases expire. Which, you know, is enough time,” she said.

However, she said that the remodeling was still largely unexpected and required significant effort to confirm.

MAC acquired the Pepperland from K&G Management last spring. Residents signed new leases in January. The locks to the building were changed and MAC made several general renovations, including the repair of the ominous fire-escape balconies, which had been battered by party-goers over the years. By many accounts, K&G Management tended to take a laissez-faire attitude in maintaining the building and regulating its residents’ activities.

“Every six months or so, [K&G] would post a letter in the side of the door about noise laws or whatever,” Siple said.

In contrast, MAC has threatened residents with eviction notices after several of the louder public parties by slipping a note under their doors last spring and earlier this year. MAC sent a detailed letter to all residents late in winter quarter, threatening residents with eviction if parties were too rowdy.

“It was much more detailed and much more threatening than the K&G ones used to be,” Siple said.

MAC also posted public notices describing neighborhood noise complaints.

Siple said that today’s Pepperland parties are not as conscientious of the needs of neighbors as they have been in the past.

“Before, they had big parties, but they always cleaned up. The courtyard was always clean the next day. The frisbee players today, I don’t think maintain a very high standard of respecting the property. Things were getting pretty out of hand—they weren’t cleaning up after their parties. There was garbage everywhere and it was a fire hazard because it was all over people’s porches,” she said.

Mariya Akilova, a third-year in the College and a Pepperland resident echoed Siple’s sentiments.

“Last summer, [MAC] tried to reinforce the stairs, but they’re still rotting from the inside. [The courtyard] just smells like piss and vomit,” she said.

Siple also speculated that the Pepperland’s upcoming renovations are a part of MAC’s larger plans to gentrify many areas of Hyde Park.

“MAC is systematically remodeling places, and they told us at the beginning of the year that they were going to do this; this wasn’t like a secret. They said, ‘You know, we’re going to go through, and every year we’re going to remodel a few buildings.’”

She added that the Pepperland is a prime location for gentrification.

“It’s right next to the Metra; it’s close to campus. If they could get new residents, they could probably charge an extra hundred bucks or something like that,” she said.

This same sentiment was echoed by several other Pepperland residents, who declined to be named, as they are currently seeking out a new landlord. They speculated that the Pepperland’s current “social scene” prevents further development. One resident speculated that once a series of apartments are inherited by a group such as the frisbee team, new residents are unlikely to accept residential changes since they come to the building with strong preconceived notions of what the residential life will be like.

In an attempt to reclaim the community culture that defined life at the Pepperland, several residents signed leases for a constellation of apartments around East 55th Street and South Cornell Avenue.

“The idea of a reconstituted Pepperland is kind of ridiculous. The building and its history are such an important part of what the Pepperland is that it can likely never be recreated,” said third-year John Lago. “Most of us—me included—are moving to a new building on 55th and Cornell, but it is only 4 [or] 5 apartments which are scattered across a few buildings… It won’t be anything like the old Pepperland, but hopefully we’ll be able to create something new there.”