Seven men and six women pooled their resources and talents, spending a year building a 52-room, million-dollar mansion in this small town 35 miles northeast of San Francisco.
Three months ago they moved into the three-story beige stucco house with seven of their children. The castle-like structure has 10,500 square feet and is situated on a mountain in the midst of a 120-acre forest.
Each person’s annual salary, ranging from $20,000 to $40,000, goes into a common pot. The combined incomes are used to buy groceries, clothing, supplies, home furnishings and to pay for insurance, utilities, house payments, education, transportation and entertainment costs.
Eleven of the group are related, two are friends.
“So far it is costing us $12,000 a month to run our cooperative household--$4,000 for house payment, $8,000 for everything else,” general contractor Melvin Phillips, 48, said.
Each person receives $10 a week spending money.
Phillips’ wife, Carolyn, 43, an attorney, said the group expects that by working together and “putting our money into the right places we will eventually have considerable more income from our combined savings than if we tried to make it on our own. None of us would ever dream of owning a house like this if we hadn’t pooled our resources.”
Phillips said it cost $50 a square foot to build the mansion or a total of $525,000, about half of what it would have cost if they did not do the work themselves. They did subcontract some of the construction.
On the first floor is a huge kitchen, a dining room with a table big enough to seat the 20 residents, a family room, sewing room, laundry room with four washing machines and four dryers.
Everyone eats together: breakfast at 7:15 a.m., dinner at 6 p.m. and lunch at noon if they are home. One member of the group, Liz Good, 30, is not employed. She stays home, is chief cook and cares for the children.
Others take turns helping with the cooking, setting the table and doing the dishes.
“We have no officers. All adults have equal status regardless of our incomes, regardless of age. We are ruled by consensus,” Phillips said.
“There are house rules. Everyone eats together. No smoking indoors. If there are any disagreements we air them out by discussing each issue until everyone agrees.”
He noted that the arrangement has nothing to do with religion, that the group has a variety of political ideologies, that members are Catholic, Protestant and one is a Scientologist.
Phillips said he happens to be a conservative Republican, ironic in light of the fact they are participating in what many might call a Marxist experiment.
Another Year Needed
Every Monday night the household has a formal meeting. Every one works two hours a day after returning home from their regular jobs Monday through Thursday and they work all day Saturday. They are expecting it will take another year to finish the interior of the mansion--carpeting, piling, bathrooms, wall papering, painting, etc.
Members hope to be self-sufficient in the future by growing crops and raising livestock.
Friday night is family night, set aside for all to see a television movie, play games, read or visit. Sunday is a free day.
There are 19 bathrooms in the house. Each person or couple has his or her or their own suite with a bedroom, bathroom, parlor and bedrooms for children. There are a dozen phone lines.
“We are members for life, unless someone wants to leave,” says social worker Marilyn Atchisson, 41. “If a person leaves, he or she does not receive any refund. There is no equity for those who leave.”
According to house rules, children make their choice at 18 whether they want to remain as participants. No new members are permitted without unanimous approval.
‘Working Out Very Well’
“Oh, it’s working out very well. We have always been extremely close, all of us. We’re planning to live like this the rest of our lives,” said mail carrier Laura Campbell, 39. Atchisson, Campbell and Carolyn Phillips are sisters.
Another sister, Marion Lange, 55, and her husband decided against becoming a part of the unusual relationship.
But three of the Lange children, Liz Good, Marilyn Abbott, 25, a bookkeeper who also keeps track of all household records on a computer, and Richard Lange, 28, a telephone linesman, live in the big house. So does Abbott’s husband, Steve, a construction worker and Susan Smith, 23, Lange’s girlfriend.
Other members are Melvin and Carolyn Phillips’ two sons, Stephan, 20, a steamfitter, and David, 22, who is working on his Ph.D. in comparative literature.
The seven children, belonging to three of the couples, range in age from 4 to 15.
Robert Bailu, 72, a long-time friend of the family, has helped all along but has yet to move into it. Laura Campbell’s boyfriend, postal clerk Ernie Alviar, 41, also has worked on the house and hasn’t committed himself and his paycheck so far.
“Ernie is trying to decide whether or not he wants to marry me. Being involved here means not only marrying a woman, but marrying a family,” Campbell said.