The house that Gonzo built

By SHAELYN DOLEN  |  April 1, 2009

Lincoln Logs and secret lofts
A small horde in surgical masks rumble by, holding cans of spray paint and recently painted silver cardboard boxes. Three girls swing eight feet off the ground in a hammock, nervously watching the bolts as they strain under their weight. Several couples follow the moves of a female instructor giving an “ecstatic dancing” lesson.

And that’s just what’s happening on NASA’s third floor.

Yes, it has a dainty front porch and the old woodwork of similar 100-year-old two-families in this Allston neighborhood off of Comm Ave (Gonzo requested the exact address of his Shangri-La also remain a secret). But it is definitely the only one whose front lawn boasts a retro-orange plastic bowling-alley bench and whose driveway showcases an old trolley car re-outfitted with strobe lights and a sound system worthy of MTV’s Pimp My Ride.

Inside, NASA pulses with energy — at various hours of the day, college frat guys might be clustered around kegs while girls in long, patterned skirts dance in the halls and Harvard faculty sip wine at the table. Some will sit on the gleaming wooden floor and some on the cushy velvet-covered couches, listening to the Cashed Fools’ “Bluesadelic Funkacide” in what once was a parlor. An Italian girl in the incredibly well-stocked kitchen hands out bowl after bowl of spaghetti, intermittently draping yards of homemade pasta on every imaginable bit of space, from pieces of furniture to light fixtures. The stairs, hallways, walls, and ceilings serve as forums for uplifting slogans, such as “Leave it better than found” and “Help yourself by helping others.”

But the biggest draw, and what newcomers always ask about first, is NASA’s third floor, which is beyond a black-velvet curtain, past the sign that reads GUIDED TOURS ONLY, and up the stairs designed to look like a suspension bridge. The 16.5-feet-high cathedral ceiling provides the perfect space for a loft room, covered in a wide assortment of pillows, stuffed animals, and board games. The far wall is one large window, overlooking the city of Boston. A ladder hangs down to the floor below, swaying slightly as three grad students climb up to build mini cabins with Lincoln Logs. A homemade movie based around a trip to the Salvation Army is projected onto the wall. It’s on a continuous loop, but you still might miss some: a rowing machine, suspended by sailing rigging, dangles precariously from the ceiling, obstructing the view.

On a recent visit, one room over, a man in a wheelchair races across the oak-covered floor and shoots a basketball at a regulation-height hoop, his opponent breathlessly following. Others sit on the side of the court on a futon. This is where Gonzo is covering tea tins with duct tape today, creating personalized, mobile “cubbies” for his frequent visitors’ belongings. His long, tightly curled brown hair covers his face as he sits cross-legged in the corner of the loft, contemplating where the silver pieces of tape should be applied. Little scraps stick to his purple-and-blue mohair jacket. A comment is made about the ensemble and he jumps up and starts rummaging through a box full of odd clothes picked up at consignment shops over the years. “I can’t decide if I’m a pimp or a Muppet,” he says, before triumphantly pulling out a leopard fur hat. “Maybe I’ll wear the pimp hat, too. Then there’s no confusion.”

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