Red house a college-town landmark in Lincoln

Saturday, October 30, 2010 | 8:58 p.m. CDT
Fans gather in front of "The Red House," a well known tailgating location near Charleston Street in Lincoln, Neb., prior to the start of Nebraska's last conference game against Missouri. After this season, Nebraska will be leaving the Big 12 for the Big 10.

LINCOLN, Neb. — The North Bottoms neighborhood sits just north of Memorial Stadium, separated from the concrete giant by rows of railroad tracks. And on a Nebraska game day in Lincoln, North Bottoms is the place to be.

The North Bottoms is a student community, Lincoln's equivalent of Columbia's East Campus. With run-down houses and stone alleys, the neighborhood is years of hard work away from looking presentable. But no one around seems to mind; every block is having a party, every truck is stocked with beer and food. 

Even with all the activity, one North Bottoms house sticks out.

Mitch Sawyer owns the bright red house next to the railroad tracks. Sawyer doesn't live in the red house — there's not even furniture inside it. The red house is Sawyer's tailgate home. 

For Nebraska home games, Sawyer turns the red house with the red "N" on the roof into a party house. He hires bands to play in his backyard, fires up 10-foot long grills and fills a trailer with kegs that anyone can tap. 

It's the third season Sawyer has hosted tailgate parties at the red house. For his first tailgate, Sawyer rented a mechanical bull. Saturday's tailgate wasn't mechanical-bull fun, but a few hundred people in a backyard with a band and countless kegs was still a good time.

"It's definitely not a high-end area," Sawyer said. "The house isn't much; it has a bathroom. It's more or less a lot to park, to hang out, to tailgate. We talked about just tearing the thing down, but it serves a purpose, and for now it's fine."

Even though it might not be much, Sawyer's red house is a pretty expensive tailgate spot. He and a few friends bought the house in the summer of 2008 for $58,500. 

Sawyer's friends live in New York and were looking for a place to stay when they came in for Nebraska games. After finding the run-down house on the Internet, Sawyer drove down from his home in Fremont, Neb.

"The loan officer was like 'It's in such a great location, why hasn't anyone picked it up before?'" Sawyer said. "Well, if you see it you might think differently."

Buying the house was a family affair for Sawyer. His sister was the real estate agent, and the bank that gave Sawyer the loan was staffed by close friends and cousins. Three years later, Sawyer can hardly walk a few strides without running into a friend.

The house never turned into the home-away-from-home for Sawyer's New York buddies. The two-bedroom, one-story house is bare. A bedroom door has been busted "The Shining"-style, and the only thing that indicates anyone owns the house is a stereo on the floor of the living room.

Just getting the house into that condition took a lot of work, Sawyer said.

Sawyer is a "garbologist," his fancy word for garbageman. 

"Business is picking up, every day," the fun-loving Sawyer said.

Sawyer runs the cleanup portion of his brother's construction business in Fremont, and being able to make his own schedule and having access to construction equipment made the trashy house appealing to him. 

Fixing up the house is a  work-in-progress for Sawyer. One of the first projects was painting the house red. What other color would he paint it? 

Now, Sawyer's house is a North Bottoms landmark. People give directions around the neighborhood based on its location.

Eventually, Sawyer and his friends want to be able to rent the house out, but to do that, Sawyer has to continue to fix the place up. Saturday tailgates at the house are his reward for a week of hard work at his day job and on his side project, the house.

"I would still do it again," Sawyer said. "You can't put a price on a good time."

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