The house party, a longtime staple of weekend activity at St. Thomas and social facilitator for 20-year-olds throughout the area, has died.
Known for its red Solo cups, dance music and raucous behavior, the house party was a liberator for many students who spent far too long in the library or at work during the week. For those Tommies, the house party provided social refuge — always dependable, always loyal.
Whether or not you were involved with it, you could always tell when the house party was near. Beginning Thursdays and continuing through Saturdays, one could usually spot a number of St. Thomas students wandering through the Merriam Park neighborhood, trying to find the house party that night.
The house party was always ready to celebrate when a team played, a “hell week” ended or a holiday arrived. It served as the main outlet for birthday revelry and gave students a chance to set school aside for a few hours and meet new people.
Despite strong resistance from the university and local law enforcement, the college pastime flourished behind the scenes for many years, welcoming new supporters with each incoming freshman class. The house party managed to sneak past authorities, thanks to black sheets over windows and concrete basements, but such transparency couldn’t last forever.
Two years of ups and downs
Worries for the health of house party began to build in spring 2008 when St. Paul police issued 76 citations for underage drinking at a residence in the 2100 block of Temple Court. The event sent shockwaves through the St. Thomas community, alerting students, neighbors and administration of the magnitude the house party had reached.
But the fear that incident lit inside students eventually faded, and soon enough, another semester arrived, staging the house party’s comeback. Besides rumors of “ZAP patrols” dampening some weekends, the 2008-2009 school year bore witness to many successful nights for the house party. For awhile, things seemed to have returned to normal for the house party.
As classes resumed in fall 2009, the house party got some unsuspected news. The Zero Adult Providers project, previously one of the house party’s main adversaries, was becoming unstable. With university officials and Public Safety officers confused about budget concerns and cuts to the ZAP program, the house party saw students become less anxious and greet it with open arms. Such openness didn’t last long, however.
Only a couple weeks into the semester, TommieMedia posted a letter from Elaine Weber Nelson, a 1986 St. Thomas graduate who was fed up with students’ disregard for the surrounding community. She had had enough of the litter, the puke, the late nights, and the house party was somewhat to blame. At this point for the house party, the end was near, and some students could sense it.
City ordinance brings final days
The house party’s last breath came soon after the city of St. Paul passed its social host ordinance Dec. 12. When the ordinance went into effect, the house party suffered a large hit in prominence and popularity. At the time, many denied the ordinance’s effect and attributed the house party’s dip to the stresses of finals week and the holiday season, but slowly and surely, the house party was letting go.
Some had hoped to see a revival in the house party’s condition after a long J-Term break, but the fear of a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail proved too much for the party and most of its advocates. Small groups fought to sustain the house party, hosting sporadic tournaments and themed get-togethers to show not all support had been lost. Unfortunately, though, the grandeur was gone.
No one was willing to risk getting caught fraternizing with the house party, especially with so many banding together to put it to an end. Why take a chance at getting busted when the local bars offered a safe and legal alternative?
Moving on in the house party’s absence
Gone now are the Facebook invites and mass text messages telling of the house party’s next blowout. Instead, students are planning weekend getaways and renting buses to hang out with their friends, as if they have forgotten what it was like to walk into a house full of classmates—both friends and strangers—all singing, dancing and having a good time. Undoubtedly, bars around the area have seen a growth in attendance. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, we’ll have to wait and see.
The house party will surely show up again in some new incarnation, but never as it was before. The house party as we knew it, with all its spontaneity and camaraderie, is gone. It will be missed.
Grant Goerke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.