Dark, dank and diverse: students find many uses for Oakland basements


Anastasia Eichler, a sophomore majoring in ecology and evolution, sets the finished basement of her South Oakland house as her bedroom. (Photo by Sarah Connor | Staff Writer)

By Sarah Connor, Staff Writer

Mac Clark heard knocking and high-pitched talking coming from his basement about two weekends ago.

Following a Halloween party he hosted at his South Oakland residence, the senior mechanical engineering major unlocked the door leading to the basement and cautiously made his way down the creaking stairs to follow the eerie noises. He examined the area at the bottom of the stairs, but there was nothing there. He found himself in the very back of his basement amongst a wallpaper of dust and numerous old washing machines when he heard a quiet, “Hello?”

From emitting strange noises to providing extra storage to becoming a party destination, South Oakland basements take on many roles. Whether fully furnished or never finished, basements of Oakland homes have many different functions. And for Clark, the quirk of his basement was a woman dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, knocking and yelling to be let out.

“Turns out one of my roommates locked the door as people were leaving the party,” Clark said. “The girl was looking for her friend and ended up in the basement.”

Clark said the girl had been in the basement for fewer than five minutes, and that he was planning on checking the basement after the party anyway.

“I was going to check mostly just for any trash or cups soon, but the knocking seemed a bit odd,” Clark said. “Very spooky.”

Clark said the scene of the action resembled a horror movie — old washing machines, at least six or seven of them, lined a wall in the back of the basement. A rusty trio consisting of a shower, toilet and sink sat in the corner, likely untouched for decades. Worn out furniture like folding chairs and car seats also littered the back of the underground room, covered in tarps.

This basement proved to be a great place to store semi-ancient artifacts. Of these objects, the most intriguing was a traffic light sitting in the center of the room. The red, yellow and green of the traffic light shining through the dust and old bricks created an almost supernatural feel in the dingy basement.

“My mom found this somewhere back home, so she thought it would really complement the aesthetic of our basement,” Clark said.

Getting stuck in an eerie basement with an old traffic light wasn’t the only unusual activity happening in basements on Halloween weekend. With parties happening in houses everywhere, a different type of gathering was happening for fans of music in basements of Oakland houses.

A traffic light sits in the center of the Mac Clark’s basement. (Photo by Sarah Connor | Staff Writer)

In recent years, house shows have become an integral part of the local rock and punk music scenes in Pittsburgh, with the Oakland area concentrating much of this scene. Every weekend, Pitt students and music fans take advantage of the funky environment house shows offer.

Thomas Troyan, a sophomore majoring in computer science, is a frequent spectator at these house shows. He said most take place in South Oakland, but some do pop up in North Oakland from time to time.

Some of the houses that tend to host these popular shows develop names such as the Jelly Fox, Ba Sing Se, Cafe Verona and the Bushnel. Most fans are unsure of how these venues get their interesting names, but many are rumored to come from films, video games and lyrics from popular songs.

“You’ve got local bands like Surf Bored and Short Fictions [that perform at house shows], but also bigger bands have come through like Diners or Show Me the Body. Show Me the Body played Coachella,” Troyan said.

Troyan said the big Show Me the Body house show was crowded and recalled a great amount of moshing in the basement.

“You’ll occasionally have people hanging upstairs, but all the music is in basements,” he said.

While some Oakland residents have discovered creative ways to use their basement for mosh pits and traffic light storing, others have found much more traditional uses for the basements of their homes. Anastasia Eichler, a sophomore majoring in ecology and evolution, said the basement of her South Oakland house is her bedroom.

The finished basement includes a bed, desk, dresser and closet, but also includes a full bathroom, storage closets and a washer and dryer.

“My roommates have to come to my bedroom to do laundry,” Eichler said. “Our house only has three bedrooms, but since the basement is finished and comfortable, we are able to have four girls living here. Splitting the rent and utilities between four instead of three people made living here vastly more affordable.”

Eichler took advantage of the extra space in the large basement by hanging festive holiday lights and three decorative tapestries.

“I think the decorations make it feel a little less basement-y in here,” she said.

Eichler’s basement has also become a cozy hangout for the house’s residents and their many guests. Eichler’s lifelong friend, sophomore biology student Shannon Connell, even has her own hideaway within the home.

“We have this huge storage closet in the basement, and my parents had a spare mattress at home that I had initially just thrown in the closet to help my mom de-clutter,” Eichler said.

She said she and Connell would stay up much too late studying in the basement, and she would not want her friend to walk all the way back to her home in Tower C in the early hours of the morning. To fix this problem, the girls threw some sheets and pillows on the mattress in the massive storage closet and it became Connell’s room for late study nights. They decorated this room with old lamps, soft blankets, holiday lights and a poster advertising the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things,” Connell’s favorite.

“I love it — it’s my little Harry Potter closet,” Connell said, referencing the cupboard the famous character was forced to live in throughout his childhood. “We love the basement, it’s a great study spot and a great place to hang out with my best friends,” she added.

Connell and Eichler said they have a lot of memories in the basement — eating three Sorrento’s pizzas in one night, cutthroat games of Uno and uncontrollably laughing at the films from the “Fifty Shades” trilogy.

“This basement is probably my favorite place in Oakland, if I’m completely honest,” Connell said. “That’s why I never want to leave. The action never leaves the basement.”