How Temporary Became Tradition: The 50th Anniversary of the Mods

The collegiate Gothic architecture and manicured quads on Boston College’s Middle Campus paint an image of prestige. By comparison, the reddish, wooden-paneled structures that clutter Lower Campus may appear to be an eyesore, but the Mods have cultivated a legacy that traverses generations of Eagles. 

Students flocked to the Mods in celebration after Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary pass in 1984. After authorities caught the Boston Marathon bomber in 2013, a sense of relief and release fell over the Mods as students gathered there. In March of this year, when students received news that the University was closing campus and  sending them home due to COVID-19, the Mods were the site of some of the strongest emotions, with seniors attempting to cram Senior Week activities into their final five days on campus. 

This year, despite an unusual quietness in the Mods due to COVID-19 residence hall policies, seniors have found creative ways to preserve a sense of normalcy. Fifty years on, what was intended as a temporary solution for a campus housing crisis has become, in many ways, the heart of the BC experience.

[twenty20 img1=”141100″ img2=”141101″ offset=”0.5″]

[aesop_chapter title=”The Birth of the Mods” bgtype=”color” full=”on” video_autoplay=”play_scroll” bgcolor=”#000000″ maxheight=”15px” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

In 1970, with BC becoming co-ed and many more students choosing to live on campus rather than commuting for classes, BC had a housing crisis on its hands.

In August of that year, then-BC Housing Director Kevin P. Duffy made one of his first decisions on the job—constructing a group of modular apartments to compensate for a lack of housing for the academic year.

The University gave upperclassmen who were in need of housing the option to live on Upper Campus, the newly acquired South Street dorm, or in the Modular Apartments, once they were constructed. More than 600 upperclassmen volunteered to live in the “Mods,” as they would come to be known, and by September, construction was underway. In the meantime, BC housed students who chose to live in the Mods in nearby hotels.

Construction on the Mods got off to a rocky start.

The University originally set the opening date for Oct. 3, but had to push it back to Oct. 15 when plumbers hit rock while trying to install pipes, a misfortune that set the tone for a fall full of challenges. As a crane was lowering the first of 43 Mods into place, it dropped the prefabricated home, destroying it upon impact. 

[aesop_gallery id=”141075″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

On Oct. 27, the kitchen-bathroom portion of a Mod unit tumbled off the flat bed trailer across I-84 as it was being transported from Connecticut to BC, creating a highway blockage that lasted six hours. 

Although various factors frequently slowed construction down, by the end of October, the first six Mods opened their doors to 72 students. Upon moving in, though, not all logistics had been settled, which led to situations like students having to temporarily shave in mirrorless bathrooms.

[aesop_gallery id=”141079″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

[aesop_chapter title=”Becoming a BC Icon” bgtype=”color” full=”on” video_autoplay=”play_scroll” bgcolor=”#000000″ maxheight=”15px” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Partying quickly became a primary trait of the Mods. When the Mods first opened, BC gave the first batches of students a short, five-item list of policies to comply with, mostly surrounding not damaging the building and furniture. But the quickly emerging party culture forced the administration to add more rules, and with this new reputation as a party hotspot also came some negative press. 

By 1976, students had to register parties of more than 15 people and pay a BC security guard an hourly rate of $32 to be present at gatherings larger than 30 people. The University also banned outdoor Mod parties in hopes to limit outsiders and lessen drunken vandalism that had taken place, according to Dean of Students Rev. Edward Hanrahan. 

In September, the University fined residents of Mods 248 and 278 for holding a joint party that exceeded the guest limit of 75 people per Mod. Students felt they had been unfairly charged and vandalized the Mods in response

This vandalism, according to Hanrahan, was largely due to “the just incredible pervasiveness of beer as a constant and solitary beverage.” 

[aesop_gallery id=”141077″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

In April of 1973, the University evicted two Mod residents after discovering an estimated $700 of damage to their Mod, including the breaking down of all but one door by using a keg as a battering ram. 

This was not an isolated incident. At the end of the previous year, 114 doors to the Mods needed replacing, Director of Buildings and Grounds Fred Pennino told The Heights in 1973. By the time the end of each academic year rolled around, students had modified the Mods in some way.

“The Mods are really something to see at the end of the year,” Pennino said.

Robert Capalbo, director of Housing and Residential Life from 1985 to 2001, could attest to that. During a room inspection, he and a colleague walked into a Mod living room and the interior seemed different.

“It felt as though something was off,” Capalbo said. “But we couldn’t determine what it was.”

After a few moments, they realized that the Mod no longer had any stairs to the second floor. The stairs, they later discovered, were at the bottom of the Reservoir, Capalbo said.

In 1979, Mod culture was thrown for another loop—this time by the Commonwealth. Massachusetts raised its drinking age from 18 to 20 in April 1979, meaning that most freshman and sophomores could no longer legally drink on campus. For the Mods, this meant a crackdown on open-keg parties.

Despite BC’s increasing enforcement of rules in the Mods over the years, the Mods remained a social hub on campus—especially on game days. 

Steve Lipin, BC ’85, who lived in the Mods, recalled how after BC football wins, it seemed like the whole stadium flocked to the Mods.

“I was there for ’81 to ’85, so I was there for the Flutie years, and [I have] amazing, amazing memories of these ‘come-from-behind’ victories,” he said.

For Lipin, his year in the Mods was not only fun, but it also provided a taste of the increased independence and freedom that would come with adult life. He and his friends liked life in the Mods so much, he said, that they simply stayed put. It was not until about two to three days after graduation that someone came by and asked them why they were still there.

“We squatted,” Lipin said, “Graduation ended, and we didn’t really leave.”

Paul Ricciardelli, BC ’91, who also lived in the Mods, agreed that for seniors, the experience in the Mods is unbeatable.

“It was unquestionably the place to live,” Ricciardelli said. “From a social aspect, it’s the only spot on campus where you can have a yard, you could have a grill, you can have room to move around outside.”

[aesop_gallery id=”141083″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

The Mod culture that has developed over the years is undoubtedly unique to other on-campus dorms, according to Tyler Dillon, who currently serves as resident director for the Mods and Stayer Hall. The Mods, he said, foster the formation of a distinct type of community.  

“Each Mod is kind of like a household,” Dillon said. “I think there are fantastic communities across campus and all of our halls, but it’s just a little bit different in the Mods.”

While residents of the Mods are not connected through shared halls like in other residential dorms, the Mods foster their own sense of camaraderie among residents. 

“The Mods are such a residential community,” Chris Heasley, former resident director of the Mods, said. “It feels like a neighborhood here.” 

[aesop_chapter title=”Trouble in Paradise” bgtype=”color” full=”on” video_autoplay=”play_scroll” bgcolor=”#000000″ maxheight=”15px” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Because the University constructed the Mods to resolve a temporary problem, the structures were not built to last for many years. Their provisional nature has caused a variety of issues over the years, from fires to pipes breaking to skunks nesting. For some, this adds to the character and charm of the Mod experience, but others see it as a drawback. 

In 1971, the first year of the Mods, a fire in Mod 148 rendered it unusable, leaving six residents “homeless” and ruining $2,200 of personal property. Fire trucks arrived in minutes, but were delayed because the gate to the Mods was chained shut.

[aesop_gallery id=”141085″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Other times, fellow students were the first responders to step up in moments of crisis. Ricciardelli recalls how in the late hours of one fateful night, as he was sitting in his living room, a fire alarm began to blare. Ricciardelli exited the sliding door and saw a fire in his neighbors’ Mod. He later learned that the fire had been started by a guest who left a burner on, he said. Ricciardelli sprang into action, commandeered a fire extinguisher, and doused the flames.

[aesop_gallery id=”141081″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

While many look back on their time in the Mods fondly, incidents of violence and assault have tainted others’ memories there. 

In 1977, the Mods were the site of an alleged assault of a female student. Some incidences of violence and assault were perpetrated by non-BC students, including a 1983 case in which a 25-year-old attempted to rape a female student. In 2010, a student was stabbed outside Mods 14A and 14B during an altercation with five non-BC assailants. 

Over the years, the University has repeatedly tried to improve safety by cracking down on non-BC students entering the Mods. In 1979, following a month of increased violence and vandalism, Duffy and Capalbo imposed a two week party restriction and increased security measures to try to root out outsiders. In 2000, BC added a wrought-iron fence to the perimeter of the Mods, with the goal of increasing security and decreasing underage access to the Mods, Capalbo said—although it was met with disdain from the senior class. 

One factor that made the Mods an easier target for robberies is students’ traditional open-door policy. One week in March 2003, The Heights reported robberies in three different Mods.

Matt Baker, BC ’03, was a resident of one the Mods that was robbed that week. When he returned to his Mod after the break-in, he noticed a difference. 

“I knew something wasn’t right, because everyone else was out,” he said. “There’s no reason to lock [the sliding door] to go to the dining hall.”

[aesop_chapter title=”The Mods in Times of Tradition and Turmoil ” bgtype=”color” full=”on” video_autoplay=”play_scroll” bgcolor=”#000000″ maxheight=”15px” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

From underclassmen flocking to Mod 27A and 27B to watch the annual strip Mod show or the residents of Mod 13B constructing their very own bar complete with a fish tank, the Mod environment has fostered some of BC’s zaniest and most notable stories. 

The Mods’ reach extends beyond just those who live there. The little red structures have become ingrained in the surrounding community, with events like Monster Mash, which invites local elementary schoolers to trick-or-treat at the Mods. They have also become the site of some of BC’s most popular events for all students, including Modstock, an annual concert put on by the Campus Activities Board (CAB) in the parking lot of the Mods on the last day of classes each May. 

[aesop_gallery id=”141087″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Beyond being the spot for celebrating sports wins and hosting wild parties, the Mods have reflected important cultural moments in the past 50 years of BC history. 

In 2013, after news broke that authorities had caught the Boston Marathon bomber, the Mods reflected the atmosphere of anguish and tension felt among students. 

“It looked like every student on this campus instinctively headed for the Mods,” Andrew Skaras, former Heights editor and BC ’15 wrote. “It was another moment of social and cultural release.”

Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, the Mods showcased the political polarization on campus. After the first gameday of the season, Mod 33A garnered attention by displaying a “Make America Great Again” banner. Days later, residents of neighboring 35A plastered their Mod with signs supporting candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. 

[aesop_chapter title=”Making the Most of it: Mod Life in a Pandemic ” bgtype=”color” full=”on” video_autoplay=”play_scroll” bgcolor=”#000000″ maxheight=”15px” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Rising seniors routinely cross their fingers as housing selection pick times roll around, but only 438 lucky seniors have the honor to live in the Mods each year. Mod residents from this year’s senior class, though, have experienced Mod life very differently from their predecessors.

The tradition of cramming more than 30 individuals into a Mod living room every weekend now seems like a distant memory. The University’s COVID-19 protocols dramatically altered social life across campus, including the implementation of a two guest policy for apartments and suites, which made typical Mod gatherings impossible during the fall semester.

“I’ll joke with my friends now that it’s like we went to more Mod parties as freshmen than we do as seniors,” Ben Thomas, MCAS ’21 said. “So, that’s been a kind of funny aspect to it.”

With students unable to attend football games and prohibited from tailgating this year, the Mods were eerily quiet on game days. For the seniors who had been dreaming for three years of hosting their own Mod tailgates, this year was disappointing. 

“Obviously none of that can happen right now … so it’s a little bit of a letdown,” Abby Schlageter, MCAS ’21 said.

During his past two years as resident director for the Mods, Dillon has had to help students through the many challenges of navigating college life, but this year has been particularly difficult, he said. 

“I think this year … really trying to help students deal with ambiguity has been difficult,” he said. “I think obviously with the pandemic and the changes on campus, really helping students find as much fun and enjoyment as they can in a safe environment while still realizing that we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”

Despite the fundamental changes to Mod life this year, though, the Class of 2021 has found ways to still celebrate the essence of life in the Mods. 

Because they could not tailgate, he said, Thomas and his roommates tried to come up with alternative game day activities that could only be done in the Mods. They settled on filling up an inflatable pool in their Mod yard for one of the first games to cheer on the Eagles while enjoying the sunny, 80 degree day.

[aesop_gallery id=”141090″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Thomas’ neighbor in the Mods, Julia Krauss, MCAS ’21, said the inflatable pool was one of the most memorable “tailgate” events of the semester.

“The most fun [memory] was definitely the pool in the backyard,” Krauss said. “They said they were gonna get one, and I was like, ‘No way they actually get it,’ and then I walked outside and there was a huge pool filled with water.”

[aesop_gallery id=”141093″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Another Mod displayed football games on an outdoor projector so that multiple Mods could watch together while remaining physically distant. 

“Our neighbors have a projector that they put up for some of the night games, so it’s been fun to be able to sit outside and watch in our backyard,” Schlageter said.

Even beyond football season, seniors in the Mods found creative alternatives to maintain the sense of community there. Wanting to utilize their outdoor space before the Boston weather got too cold, Thomas and his roommates pitched a tent in their yard in November. 

“We had our grill going too,” he said. “So, we made a couple s’mores, roasted some marshmallows.”

[aesop_gallery id=”141095″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

[aesop_chapter title=”Here to Stay?” bgtype=”color” full=”on” video_autoplay=”play_scroll” bgcolor=”#000000″ maxheight=”15px” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Since their early days, the Mods have held a unique and largely revered reputation throughout the BC community, but their existence has been threatened on a number of occasions. Due to the Mods’ ongoing safety concerns and their inefficient use of campus space, the University has made multiple attempts to set a life expectancy for them. 

In 1974, Pennino, then-director of buildings and grounds, projected that the siding repairs which cost BC around $3,000 per Mod would make the Mods last just 20 more years. In 1992, a student sit-in delayed the University’s planned removal of 14 Mods to make space for Vanderslice Hall and Corcoran Commons until after commencement. 

In 2006, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., unveiled a master construction plan for BC, which included demolition of the Mods within eight to ten years. But in typical Mod fashion, the structures survived, dodging yet another bullet. 

Despite their intended temporary nature, the Mods’ impact on the BC community is indelible. 

“You think something’s gonna be temporary, and then it becomes part of a landscape and even part of the culture,” former Mod resident Steve Lipin said.

Despite the attempts to remove the Mods, many current students and alumni are adamant that the iconic structures must stay. The Mods have become a hallmark of BC, and getting rid of them would be a huge loss, according to Thomas. 

“The tradition alone means they should stay,” Thomas said. “I know they’ve been around for 50 years now. I’d love to see them still be around 30 years from now, and I could, like, come back to BC for a football game and look at the Mods and say, ‘Hey, that was almost the experience that I had.’”

Lipin, whose time in the Mods came to an end 35 years ago, also wants to see the Mod legacy continue. 

“After 50 years, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said.

[twenty20 img1=”141104″ img2=”141105″ offset=”0.5″]

For Capalbo, former director of housing, the social flavor of the Mods is something BC cannot go without. Due to the safety concerns they raise, though, he thinks the University should replace the small townhouses with new structures that preserve the Mod feel, he said. 

The “pre-fabricated, flimsy shacks of plaster and wood” have proven their resilience time and time again, far outliving their originally allotted five to seven year lifespan, according to a 1994 opinions column printed in The Heights, which described the Mods’ unexpected rise to fame at BC. 

“They were an impromptu ‘band on the broken arm’ that is the Boston College housing crunch,” 1994 Heights features editors wrote in the column. “Who could have guessed that they would become the coveted trophy of seniors successful in the housing lottery and a paradigm of the college social scene?”

In a 2013 column, John Wiley, BC ’15 and former Heights Editor-in-Chief, labeled the Mods as BC’s “best mistake.” 

“The Mods are offensive to all reason, but remarkably appealing to our sense of what it means to be an Eagle—we see this in our alumni, who flock back to the Mods before every football home game,” Wiley wrote.

Whether a proponent of replacing the Mods with more updated residence halls, a proud alumni, or a current senior dealing with the alternate reality of living in the Mods, the impact of the little red structures on the BC experience is undeniable.

“The Mods grew BC from a commuter college,” Wiley wrote. “Somehow in their low form, they helped elevate this Jesuit institution to stand among the nation’s best, blessing it with chaos and community.”

Photos by Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor and Courtesy of Heights Archives and Ben Thomas

Featured Image by Vikrum Singh / Heights Editor

Anna Lonnquist, Stephen Bradley, MC Claverie, John Kalil, Eleanor Crowley, Colleen Conley

Learn More →