June 24, 2006

Inside the Sigma Phi House.

Hey, it's another architectural tour. Yes, it's a frat house -- an inhabited frat house -- but the place was designed by Louis Sullivan. (It's also only two blocks from where I live.)

The main sitting room:

The Sigma Phi House

The dining room:

The Sigma Phi House

The porch swing:

The Sigma Phi House

A light fixture:

The Sigma Phi House

A fireplace:

The Sigma Phi House

The whole photoset.


Eli Blake said...

An inhabited frathouse.

OK, I guess. Just be sure you disinfect your hands when you get home. Also change your clothes and wash thoroughly if you aren't willing to burn them.

OK.... a bit harsh. But I'm proud to say I went to school at a college where all non-academic fraternities were banned during the 1940's and remained so ever after. IMO, the academic environment was much enhanced (based on my experiences as a graduate student later at a university that did have them.)

Dave said...

That looks like no frat house I've ever been to.

Ann Althouse said...

I just think it's amazing that an architectural landmark like this is subjected to the hard wear and tear of fraternity life. But the guys that live there seem to do a great job of taking care of the place. I didn't photograph the bedrooms upstairs, because they were full of personal belongings, but these rooms were messy in the standard way that, being the mother of two young men, I'm entirely familiar with.

Anyway, the guys respect the place and are very proud of it, and really, I'm glad that young people get to live in a beautiful space and that such a sturdy, substantial building is that beautiful.

The couple it was built for only lived there for two years before moving out. They didn't like the style -- Sullivan was their parents' architect. They wanted a place designed by their own guy. Looking at these interiors, which I find very beautiful, I tried to imagine being the sort of person who would dislike the style. I could see finding it oppressive, overbearing, dark, and too masculine.

Unknown said...

It's easy to see how much influence Sullivan had over Wright in the interiors.

Sullivan's one of my favorite American architects, but I like Richardson a little bit better.

george said...

My grandparents lived diagonally across Van Hise Ave from this fraternity house when I was a kid in the 1940's. It was lovely then, and I'm pleased to see that it has been well treated.

Maxine Weiss said...

A frat house.

...with "personal belongings" in the upstairs bedrooms, that are not appropriate to be photographed.

I can only imagine the sort of paraphrenalia (sp?) in those frat bedrooms.

Details, please.

Ann, you always leave out the good stuff!

Peace, Maxine

Ann Althouse said...

Maxine: You have a vivid imagination. I'm just referring to ordinary household messiness. It's surprising that we were allowed at all to walk around in the bedrooms and would have been rude to take photographs.

George: I know the house you mean. It's very nice -- I know the people who live there.

Wickedpinto said...

I've always loved natural tones in houses, at least in large spaces, I think that white, or variants of white are a copout.

In large spaces, I LOVE woodtones.

Maxine Weiss said...

Ann, you really think so?

The upstairs bedrooms of a frat house.

I'm assuming there are common ideas most people do have about what goes on at such places.

Or so I've heard.

A frat house isn't exactly a monastery.

Maybe this one is the exception?

I've been on the Tucker Max website.

I know what goes on.

This frat house is the exception, you seem to suggest.


Peace, Maxine

Randy said...

Like the others, I'm surprised it is still so beautiful (and apparently so original) after this long time, considering the occupants. Good for them! Thanks for the pictures, Ann - I love the style!

Mark the Pundit said...

To make it a true frat house, one thing is needed: a toga party.


(OK, someone had to say it)

howzerdo said...

Beautiful pictures, of a style I love. Thanks.

k said...

Echo howzerdo... gorgeous. Just beautiful, and the photography, Ann, is exquisite.

Maxine needs to keep her imagination to herself. I'm with you, Ann... I don't know a young, single, college-age guy who keeps a room in a state that would be ... uh, is the word "photographable," or "webbable"? ... and discretion IS the better part of valour.


Ricardo said...

"You have a vivid imagination."

Speaking of imagination, is it just me, or does that "dining room" remind one of a modern day version of the Knights of the Round Table, or the Knights Templar? Young knights-to-be, strengthening their bond by sharing food, and talking over their latest conquest?

tiggeril said...

That is the cleanest frat house I have ever seen. My god.

ronin1516 said...

I was a brother of the delta tau delta at the univ of michigan, Anne's alma mater. And given my fraternity experience, I must say, I am amazed!!! Most frat houses I have visited, whether it be at Michigan or elsewhere have been pig-stys or worse. I am glad that the brothers of Sigma Phi in badgerland, are smart enough to respect the heritage of their house and maintain it well.
Maxine - I must say that with the advent of political correctness and feminist thought at most major institutions of learning, frat houses, mostly, are not like what you think off. No "Animal house" type of antics!!!

Dave said...

Wow, that's beautiful. I'm impressed that the fraternity has kept the house in such good shape.

Ann, do the bedrooms upstairs have the same kind of architectural detail as the more public areas of the house?

Wickedpinto said...

Speaking of imagination, is it just me, or does that "dining room" remind one of a modern day version of the Knights of the Round Table, or the Knights Templar?

It doesn't make you imaginative, it makes you a D&D Dork. *hi5* my brother!!!

Anonymous said...

As a former fraternity resident, I'd have killed to have a house as stylish as seen in these photos. My 'house was an indestructible concrete-block monstrosity. This place has some serious swank.

As for the upstairs pics based on my experiences about all you've missed by the lack of same is the surprising variety of bongs available at today's finer head shops.

Cousin Don said...

Obviously a good portion of their house dues go towards a cleaning service.

Broadsheet said...

When I attended the University of Wisconsin, I had the extreme fortune to also live in a Louis Sullivan House. It was directly behind our main sorority house, separated by only a flagstone patio, and only senior girls were allowed to live there. I had my own room with two walls made up entirely of the beautiful casement windows with stained glass wheat etchings like those in the Sigma Phi house, built in bookcases and a desk, and my own powder room. It was heaven, and I never once took for granted the fact that we had the enormous pleasure and responsibility of living in such a house. The fact that my father was an architect had something to do with it, I'm sure. Although the living room could be descrbied as dark and masculine, my room was nothing but light. It was magical in the springtime, and one of my favorite college memories.

MadisonMan said...

Did the tour include the secret chapter room where the fire was a year or so ago? I think the city made them fill the room in -- it didn't have legal egress.

Maxine Weiss said...

Yeah, that round dining table.....the images That conjures up.

And that swing. What sort of louche and lewd debauchery takes place on that swing ?????

You'all are right. It's just me and my crazy imagination.

Political correctness and feminism at universities has led to da mens being perfect gentlemen!

Good to know!

Peace, Maxine

Telecomedian said...

Maxine, Maxine, Maxine -

While some fraternities are places of debacuhery and mayhem, many are keenly aware of their surroundings. At my school, Towson, official fraternity houses were banned because of county zoning, so most of the "unofficial" houses were either in the scuzzy part of Towson or scattered amongst the upper income, high class neighborhoods. The vast majority of students took exceptional care of their houses.

In my experience at a few different schools, most dorms were as crazy, if not more so, than any Greek life.

Some dorms are just big houses near a campus. I'm remembering an episode of Queer Eye last year in which the guys redid a fraternity house in Texas, and turned their average dorm into a stylish place. I wonder how they've treated it since.

Still, a Louis Sullivan is, at the end of the day, a Louis Sullivan, and something that can be appreciated by 50 year olds and 20 year olds alike.

vermonti said...

Why all the negitive vibes toward fraternity brothers? I am a member of the Sigma Phi Society, and know that the brothers care deeply for the house and work hard to keep it clean.

Anonymous said...

I must say that I am a little offended as well. I too am a brother of Sigma Phi, not in Wisco though. I hope that you would not judge me a delinquent or malevolent deviant just based on the fact that I was member of a fraternity...one that you apparently know nothing about at that.

I also happen to konw quite a bit about the architecture and history of this home and several other Sigma Phi homes...7 of our 8 homes are considered great historical and architectual significance...this is an integral part of our society - but I don't really feel like sharing anymore.

Unknown said...

Ann et al.-

I actually ran into your photo set on flickr before visiting the house myself. Yes, I am also a member of this fraternity, which happens to be one of the longest standing in the country (Founded 1827). And, yes, many of our other houses are also beauties. The chapter at University of Michigan, for instance, was designed by Wright apprentices in the sixties with an intended interpretation of the Bradley House in your neighborhood, including replica lighting. Formerly, that chapter lived in the massive old Henry Ford Mansion (where the UMich Hospital now stands)...

So, yes, architecture is a big part of our legacy. I grew up in a Breuer-designed house in Pennsylvania, so I know about the hassles of keeping up an architecural gem/experiment. The pictures are beautiful, and I was pleased to be welcomed there myself recently and see how well they keep it. I was even there for a party, and I can tell you that (as far as I could guess) Louis Sullivan would be happy that his design is not only appreciated by architecture lovers like us but also used... whereas so many spaces that are 'cared for' are not lived in or truly enjoyed for what they are... accomodations for living. The form is only truly inspired when it is fused with function, and we all know those aren't my words...


FLT said...

1. The brothers of Sigma Phi of Wisconsin are not only honored to live in this house, but also proud. They clean weekly from top to bottom and I challenge anyone to find a fraternity house in better condition.

2. Thank you Ann for portraying us accurately. We appreciate visitors and would proudly show anyone criticizing how very wrong they are.

3. Maxine, your imagination is not only overactive, but quite rude. You have no basis to your claims and are completely wrong on all assumptions. The schools at which Sigma Phi is represented are among the top in the nation, UW Madison included. (not to mention Yale and others which Sigma Phi did not feel were impressive enough to found chapters)

4. To answer Dave's question, the upstairs is at least as beautiful as the public areas. There are 8 bedrooms total, with a new library donated last year (2006).

5. Vermonti, anonymous, and R.C. hope to have a visit soon (another from R.C.) and glad to see you looking out for us.

6. Nothing more needs to be said about anything negative involving the house or society, as you have all been welcomed to visit and disprove any myths yourself.

Appreciate the house for what it is...a beautiful, well-maintained legacy of an amazing architect.

Unknown said...

As a member/alumni of the Alpha of California Sigma Phi Chapter at UC Berkeley, I can attest that Sigma Phi is very respectful of the homes they live in. The Thorsen house in Berkeley, residence of the California Sigma Phi Society, is a rare Greene and Greene Ultimate Bungalow that has been well cared for throughout the years. Please visit http://www.calsigmaphi.org/ for more info.

Czach said...

Here here @FLT, As a brother of the California Chapter, we and the brothers at Wisconsin hold a great respect and consider it an honor to take care of our respective houses. I'm currently the House Manager of the California Chapter and I can tell everybody here, that the brothers of the Sigma Phi, no matter where, love the environments we are in and take good care of them.

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure to live in this house during academic year 1963 (not as a member). Wonderful to see the place again, especially the round table, where we enjoyed being together for meals, singing and gabbing.