Shrine to debauchery, warehouse of stolen signs and the last safe place on campus to drink beer from a urinal, the Band Shak died this summer. It was 25.
The Shak was scheduled for demolition by 2000 because it did not meet seismic safety codes. In August, the University announced it would move up the destruction date in order to clear space for a new building that will house the Alumni Association and the Office of Development. The bulldozers will roll in late October. Until then, the Shak is a corpse awaiting burial.
A cavernous, beer-drenched, 6,000-square-foot former power plant, the Shak was ugly to look at and offensive to smell. Even worse to some alums and campus administrators, the Shak was home to the Band, hardly the most beloved group in certain quarters. So who’s going to miss it, anyway?
Not Arthur Barnes, DMA ’65. The Band’s longtime director, who retired in 1996, had been asking the University for a new building for years.
“I won’t be sad at all when it comes down,” he says. “It was an abomination.”
And not Hal Mickelson, ’71, the Band’s legendary stadium announcer in the 1980s. “It really is one of the worst buildings in the world,” he says.
Both men preferred the Band’s previous home, a wooden structure that was torn down in 1973. The Shak, by contrast, was an acoustical nightmare. Its main room, where the Band rehearsed, once housed an ROTC rifle range. Even after the concrete floor was covered with rugs and the walls with pilfered signs, it was still impossible to “hear anything except drums,” Barnes says.
Not that the players cared. For a marching band not best known for its music, acoustics are a fairly low priority. Members loved the Shak because it was so run-down. “The Band is the most independent, creative world for students at Stanford,” says 1984 drum major Jim Kohn, ’85. “The Shak was representative of that. It was our place away from everyone else.” No building on campus better bore the stamp of its inhabitants. “Since it was such a worthless building,” Mickelson says, “the Band was able to do what it wanted with it.”
There were rooms for every aspect of Band life: the Drum Room (where percussionists jammed broken sticks into the drywall until it was declared a fire hazard), the Dollie Room (where every Band dancer left her signature and, occasionally, fluorescent paint prints of her breasts), the Friendship Room (home of the drum major’s waterbed), Michelob Terrace (where Velvet Hammers -- a secret recipe, rumored to include grain alcohol -- were mixed in a toilet bowl and beer flowed from a urinal), the Tenor Loft (overflowing with spent nitrous oxide cartridges and bedecked with the motto, “If you aren’t drinking, you aren’t my friend”).
There was the bottle target. Upon finishing their beers, players would yell, “Clear!” Then they would take aim at the bull’s-eye painted high on a wall of the main rehearsal room, and watch broken glass pile up on the deep ledge below.
And then there were the signs, hundreds of them, taken from highways and parks and businesses and just about anywhere else the Band went. Caution -- Nursing Home Crossing. Doggie Rest Area. Lost Children. Three dozen placards on the subject of parking -- No Overnight Parking, No Parking on Sidewalk, No Golfers Parking. “If you see a funny sign,” says drummer Jonathan Russell, ’00, “you’ve got to liberate it.” For this, Band members have gone to great lengths. Students in the early ’80s got away with a University of Michigan Union sign by convincing a security guard they were part of a fraternity prank. One member went undercover, spending two days at Berkeley Band camp just to make off with a large blue-and-gold University of California sign.
With demolition imminent, the signs must go. That could take weeks, especially since former drum major Ray Gruenewald, ’82, bolted some of them down, ironically, to thwart thieves. But 25 years of legends will follow the Band wherever it goes. The failed attempt to turn the backyard water tower into a hot tub. The tradition of Big Game week, whereby instrument sections tried to out-build each other, packing the rooms with castles and roller coasters and anything else their Stanford minds could imagine, only to tear it all down after the game. Legions of silverfish that came from steam tunnels below and never quite went away. The VW Beetle that once hung from the entryway rafters.
The Shak is survived by the Band, a now-homeless group seeking temporary quarters. Eventually, the LSJUMB will settle into space at Encina Gym, carting along as much of the Shak as possible. The new site may have better carpeting and nicer sound, but it won’t have the Shak’s personality.
“I don’t think the University realizes how much people care about this building,” says Band Manager Claire Bacher, ’98. “It’s like losing a part of me, a close relative. I have a bigger attachment to this place than my family home.”
In lieu of flowers, just send beer. The new place has to have a urinal somewhere.