The Brothers of Brooks (Arthur Cambouris)

From the distinctive pen of Arthur Cambouris:

I M not Pei was probably responsible for the design of the new Brooks house that greeted us our freshman year.  It was built on the spot where the DKE  fraternity had its home, a building which burned down a few years before our arrival.  As you may recall (and you should feel fortunate if you don't),  its style was sort of bowwow haus with a pointless portico opening onto a graceless semi circular driveway. The best we could do for winter carnival was to create two tall iced rectangles a la Stonehenge and connect the top of these frozen gas pumps to the house with strings of multicolored triangular flags. Voilà, our own drive-through gas station and the perfect counter cultural brooks house response to the reclining well-endowed ice women all around us.

This architectural wonder was as out of place among its Route 2 neighbors as were its inhabitants. When we (Bob Heiss, Tony Bliss and I) joined in 1965, Brooks house, much to the dismay of its former DKE brothers whose photos the adorned the halls, was a hotbed of the few Williams radicals who existed at the time. We were the SDS headquarters, we were the place you could actually find a Bennington woman on campus, we were the ones attending football rallies with posters fashioned out of Rudnick laundry cardboard attached to  tennis rackets urging victory with such catchy phrases as "Bomb Bowdoin, not the babies."

For apolitical me, it was an eye-opener in many ways. Where else on campus could you find a unique sampling of characters most of whom were engaging, exceedingly bright, and ready to challenge any assumptions you thought were universally accepted? And where else could you have the procession to lunch being accompanied by Bob Trent at the piano singing "Wild thing, you make my thing swing."

I always wondered how this singular group of characters came together under the old fraternity system.  They surely did not look like those guys in the photos on the wall. Starting with our class and over the next three years this band of Brooks Brothers (and yes, we did play our intramural sports with tee shirts bearing the retailer's name) seemed to me to lose some of the quirkiness we found in 1965 but the influence of those early years lingered. In our senior year you could still find a group of us squatting in the dark around a papier-mâché rhinoceros which, thanks to Mr. Bliss, was actually a huge bong which, when we all inhaled, illuminated the rhino's eyes.  An homage of sorts to those who welcomed us three years earlier.

One comment

  • Art, great job capturing the shape shifting “esprit” of Brooks House. At one point did we not formally communicate with Brooks Brothers and ask them to underwrite some of our sports teams by contributing T- shirts or something? And thank you so much for reminding all of us Brooks Brothers of Bob Trent’s wonderful improvisations on the piano. He could play!

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