A campus visitors’ guide to ‘Animal House’ ... then and now

First, let us dispense with the bad news: You won’t get to see the actual “Animal House.”

The Eugene building that played moviedom's most famous fraternity got demolished back in 1986. But, while the actual abode of beastly behavior can be revisited only through photographs and memories, many other locations that were featured in “National Lampoon’s Animal Houseremain intact around the UO campus — even if some inevitably have changed over time.

With this summer marking the film's 40th anniversary and Cottage Grove gearing up to reclaim the title of world's largest toga party on August 18, much interest has been rekindled in the role that the university played in bringing "Animal House" to the silver screen.

Critical responses to the movie are ever-changing, as well. However you feel about its humor, taking an “Animal House”-themed walking tour is a fun way to learn about local movie lore and revisit memories of college days. For first-time visitors, it also can be a great way to get acquainted with one of the most photogenic campuses on the West Coast.

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Stop 1: Pay your respects at the gravesite of ‘Delta House’
755 E. 11th Ave., between Hilyard and Alder streets

In what may be regarded either as cosmic irony or retribution, the most famous party house in movie history was scraped to make way for Northwest Christian University’s School of Education and Counseling.

Believe what you will about divine intervention, but don’t place the blame for Delta’s demise entirely on the "Dean Wormers" of the world. By all accounts, the building had fallen into a derelict state by the time NCU purchased it.

Built in 1903 for the family of A.W. Patterson, an eminent Eugene physician, by the middle of the century the stately mansion was serving as a fraternity and already beginning to show wear around the edges. When the film’s producers scouted it in 1977, it was a private rooming house with a sagging porch and graveled-over front yard. It passed the audition with flying colors and won the titular role.

Although the original building is gone and it was never an official property of the University of Oregon, the lot is conveniently located right around the corner from campus and it remains probably the most appropriate place to begin any “Animal House” tour.

Today, at the lot where Delta House once stood, a bronze plaque mounted on a boulder serves as a kind of "memento mori." Along with acknowledgment of the property’s role in cinema history, you can read the full story of its original owners, who were prominent Eugene pioneers and early benefactors of UO.

Stop 2: Setting the scene on the Memorial Quadrangle
Just south of East 13th Avenue, between Kincaid and University streets

From the former site of Delta House, it’s just a short walk east and south to UO’s Memorial Quad. A scenic approach is to head east on East 11th Avenue and cross near the Dad’s Gate EMX stop, then pass through the historic, wrought-iron gates, on through both sets of doors at Lillis Hall and continue across East 13th Avenue.

The expansive lawn that will lie in front of you arguably is the heart of campus — and indisputably among the most visible spaces in “Animal House.”

Knight Library, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and the distinctive crisscrossing sidewalks all appear prominently in early, establishing shots as the freshman characters Flounder and Pinto stroll across the Faber College campus on the way to fraternity row on pledge night. The statue of founder Emil Faber also is depicted as standing on the quad; it was beheaded for the film’s grand finale.

Interested in doing in-depth research on the history of “Animal House”? Special Collections and University Archives in the Knight Library houses documents and materials related to the film’s production in Eugene.

Stop 3: Linger a little longer at Gerlinger Hall
Women’s Memorial Quadrangle, between Kincaid and University streets

In the movie, the protagonists take a road trip to Emily Dickinson College to pick up dates. No road trip actually is necessary to visit the place: Real-world geography places Emily Dickinson right next to the Faber quadrangle.

Turn left in front of Knight Library and it’s a short walk to the next stop on your tour, Gerlinger Hall.

This was an example of appropriate architectural casting. Although the space had been gender-integrated by the time of filming in 1977, Gerlinger was originally built as part of the UO Women’s Memorial Quadrangle. Completed in 1929, it was designed for women’s physical education and featured classrooms, ballrooms, a swimming pool and an alumni hall.

Many of these spaces remain little changed to the present day, as Gerlinger features some of the best-preserved historical interiors on the UO campus. Don’t pass this one by without taking a look inside.

Stop 4: Fore! more good times, look behind Jane Sanders Stadium
1677 University St.

Walk south on University Street past the Pioneer Cemetery, then take a left on East 18th Avenue and duck behind the outfield wall of Jane Sanders Stadium.

This grassy slope was the site of the memorable scene in which Otter and Boone hit golf balls at the Faber College ROTC, causing the villanous Niedermeyer to be bucked off and dragged by his horse. (Above left, director John Landis describes shooting this scene in an archival KEZI-TV news clip.)

Comparing and contrasting with the same area of campus today, it points to the amazing growth in the UO's athletics infrastructure over the past four decades. In addition to the softball stadium, outdoor tennis courts and artificial turf fields now occupy the former parade grounds. Behind them, a brand new, state-of-the-art track and field facility is rising at the site of historic Hayward Field.

Stop 5: Grab a bite — but don’t throw it — at the famous Fishbowl
Erb Memorial Union, 1395 University St.

Next stop is the Nancy and David Petrone Fishbowl in Erb Memorial Union, scene of the world’s most famous food fight.

Funded by a gift from UO donors, this space was extensively renovated in 2016 but with an eye towards carefully preserving its historic character, much beloved by alumni from all eras. While the choices are a little more "food court" than "cafeteria" these days, the Fishbowl remains a vibrant centerpiece for food and socializing on campus.

If walking around has you feeling in need of refreshment, it's an ideal spot to break for lunch, snacks or a cup of coffee. More dining choices than ever are now available at the EMU, but please refrain from turning any of them into projectiles.

Stop 6: Go to class, and then report directly to campus court
Fenton Hall, 1021 E. 13th Ave.

You DO remember that no less than one important classroom lesson was depicted in “Animal House,” correct?

You’ll get extra credit on your final exam if you can recall the topic of Donald Sutherland’s lecture. Flunk the test, and like the movie’s heroes, you could end up facing grave charges in a court of academic justice.

In either case, you have now come to the right place. Both the classroom and the fraternity council scenes were filmed inside Fenton Hall. Built in 1906 as the university’s first library, since 1936 this building has housed various classrooms, resource spaces and academic offices. Today it is home to the Math Library and the mathematics department.

It's a reminder that college isn’t all fun and games, not even in the anarchic universe of “Animal House.”

Stop 7: Parade through the marbled halls of authority
Johnson Hall, 1098 E. 13th Ave.

For the final stop on this tour, you are invited to stately Johnson Hall. It's right across East 13th Avenue from Fenton. There’s no need to sneak in like horse thieves under cover of night: It’s open to the public during normal business hours.

In real life, as in the movie, this handsome building houses the offices of the university president and chief administrators. (Unlike in the movie, running an actual university is serious business. While you are visiting, please be respectful of the many people who are working here.)

While horseplay will have to be kept to a minimum, Johnson Hall is an excellent place to mull the historical question: How did the University of Oregon, of all campuses, find itself on screen playing the role of fictional Faber College in “Animal House”?

As director John Landis explained it, "I couldn't find 'the look.’ Every place that had 'the look' said 'no thank you.'"

Back in 1977, the young filmmaker was growing frantic because Universal Pictures had greenlighted his project at a minuscule budget of $2.8 million and wanted it to be finished quickly. The script for “Animal House” was set in 1962 and Landis needed to find a cooperative campus with a classic, ivy-adorned appearance.

Easier said than done. The producers submitted the script to a number of schools, but all of them balked. Principle photography was scheduled to begin in October and with the days of summer waning, the time to secure a shooting location was growing perilously short.

Where could they possibly find an academic administration that was sufficiently open-minded to accommodate the boundary-pushing —to put it mildly — comedy of the National Lampoon brand?

Enter the University of Oregon and its president, William Beatty Boyd.

Boyd was the next administrator to hear from John Landis. Somebody had tipped the director that Eugene, Oregon, of all places, was home to just the sort of leafy, architecturally rich college campus he was searching for. The school and community also had something of a progressive, bohemian and freewheeling reputation that lingered from the 1960s. Landis inquired, would UO maybe be willing to at least talk about participating in this movie?

It was not to be Boyd’s first brush with Hollywood. A decade earlier, he’d served as an administrator at the University of California, Berkeley when that institution passed on the opportunity to host production of "The Graduate."  Also conceived as an edgy, boundary-pushing comedy in its day (deemed too edgy for Berkeley), Mike Nichols’ film became the biggest box-office hit of 1967, earning rave reviews and Academy Award nominations. Its prestige with critics and scholars had only continued to grow over the subsequent decade.

The legacy of "The Graduate" may have helped sway Boyd; however, it seems he never ceased to harbor some serious reservations about the content of “Animal House.” While he eventually agreed to allow filming on the campus — the university negotiated a $20,000 fee — the president also insisted that Oregon not be mentioned anywhere in the finished film.

It was sort of like the “double-secret probation” of location shooting, but the film’s producers gladly accepted the terms.

In the end, Johnson Hall itself would become one of the most recognizable buildings in “Animal House.” Boyd even allowed the cameras, and the horse, access to his own office.

The rest is history.

This concludes our campus tour, but there's plenty more to explore. Check out additional filming locations around Eugene, downtown Cottage Grove and Dexter. And view archival video and a gallery of historical "Animal House" and UO photos at Oregon Quarterly.

By Jason Stone, University Communications

Archival images courtesy of  Special Collections and University Archives, UO Libraries

"Animal House" Tour Map created by Campus GIS and Mapping Program