During the early 20th century, a Caltech committee visited several
universities and decided to transform the undergraduate housing system
from regular fraternities to a House System,
similar to the residential college system of Oxford and Cambridge. Four (south) houses (or hovses
, so named for the inscription on the gates
thereof) were built: Blacker House, Dabney House, Fleming House, and Ricketts House. In the late 20th century, three north houses were built: Lloyd House,
Page House, and Ruddock House. During the 1990s, an additional
house, Avery House, was built to accommodate those who feel the original
seven houses were not suitable for them. Some students jocularly refer to the Undergraduate Computer Science Laboratory as
another house, as a few spend most of their time there. The four south houses will be closed for renovation during the 2005–2006 school year. They will be replaced with
"South Park," a collection of trailers on the Avery Lawn for the term of the renovation (planned for just 1 year). Although some
undergraduates may continue to lead normal lives, others will become disillusioned and disassemble junked cars and leave them in
front of their trailer.
There are many annual traditions at Caltech, demonstrating the weird and
wonderful creativity of its inhabitants. Every Halloween there is a pumpkin drop from the top of the Millikan Library, the highest point on campus, where the
frozen pumpkin supposedly flashes as it hits the ground. And then there is the annual Ditch Day, where seniors ditch school but
design elaborate tasks and traps at the doors of their rooms to prevent underclassmen from entering. This has evolved to the
point where many seniors spend months designing mechanical/electrical/software obstacles in order to confound the underclassmen.
The faculty has been drawn into the event as well, and cancel all classes on Ditch Day so that the underclassmen can participate
in what has become a highlight of the year.Another tradition was the playing of the Ride of the
at 7 AM the morning of finals week with the largest speakers available in the hallway of the freshmen. The
playing of that piece is not allowed at any other time, and any offender is dragged off into the showers to be drenched in cold
water fully dressed. The playing of the Ride
is such a strong tradition that the music was used during Apollo 17 to awaken Astronaut Harrison Schmitt, the only astronaut-scientist to explore the moon.Caltech students have been known for the many pranks (also known as
) they have pulled off in the area. The two most famous are the changing of the Hollywood sign to read Caltech, by judiciously covering up certain parts of the letters, and the changing of the
Rose Bowl scoreboard to an imaginary game where Caltech
soundly trounced MIT.
Another unique feature of the Caltech community is the Honor Code, which
states simply: "No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community."
This is enforced by a Board of Control, consisting of members of the community.