News Tidbits 2/6/14: A Sorority Totally New To Cornell

7 02 2014

Image Property of Phi Mu sorority.

Courtesy of the Cornell Sun and Cornell Chronicle comes news of the latest addition to Cornell’s Greek Life – social sorority Phi Mu.  According to the news articles, sorority interest has increased in the previous few years, from 670 registrants in 2010 to 873 in the latest rush (Chronicle claims 871…don’t know which is correct). This moved the Cornell Pan-Hel system to add a 13th sorority. If one views Phi Sigma Sigma as a replacement for the departed Alpha Omicron Pi, then Phi Mu would mark the first time there have been 13 Pan-Hel sororities on campus since 2003, when Delta Phi Epsilon and Chi Omega closed, and were replaced by Alpha Xi Delta the following year. If you go a little further back, there were 14 as recently as 1996, before Alpha Gamma Delta closed (comparing the old photo in that link to my 2008 shot, their physical house went downhill fast).

Given that there are a number of sororities that used to have a presence at Cornell, it’s rather unusual to see a colonization rather than a re-colonization; Phi Mu has never previously been installed on Cornell’s campus. Lookins at their wikipedia page, it would seem that most of their 117 chapters are based out of the South and Mid-Atlantic; so being in the northeast is unfamiliar territory for this sorority.

A new sorority is all and well and good, but my primary interest lies in this sentence from the Sun article:

According to [Katherine-Rae Cianciotto, dean of students], Phi Mu is currently researching housing options and will likely have a house beginning in Fall 2015.”

There are options ladies. It will be interesting to see where the sorority ends up making its physical home, and hopefully build upon a house’s history.


News Tidbits 9/24/10: New Fraternity to Open on Campus

23 09 2010

Arguably, it may not be a good time for expansion, but that’s it’s own issue. The Cornell Daily Sun has published an article discussing how the IFC is inviting the fraternity Phi Kappa Sigma (known on many campuses as “Skulls” due to their insignia) to speak to the IFC general body before a proposed recolonization this upcoming spring.

Most apparent is that this illustrates how much easier it is for a new fraternity to open on campus vs a new sorority. Sororities have to have the Panhel’s benediction and have to compete against other sororities for the opening (like what’s currently going on for the new 12th sorority; five sororities are narrowed down to three, who must then give presentations before Panhel decides which sorority to offer the position to). For a fraternity, a national organization (i.e. you don’t necessarily need an interest group) has to express interest, and a good plan of execution on how to establish itself on campus.

A little bit of background on Phi Kappa Sigma. They were a fraternity that previously existed at Cornell. The Cornell Chapter was founded in 1891, but closed in 1990. The current Pi Kappa Phi house at 55 Ridgewood Road (“Greentrees”) used to be occupied by Phi Kappa Sigma (Cornell owns the house; on the facilities website, the house is still identified as Phi Kappa Sigma). The house, built around 1900, was the property of George Morris of the Morris Chain Company (later Emerson Power Transmission) until 1935, when it was sold to Phi Kappa Sigma. Sometime between 1935 and 1990, the Skulls sold the house to the university (likely for tax and maintenance purposes correction: It would seem that Phi Kappa Sigma put the house up for sale in 1990 and it was purchased by Pi Kappa Phi). After the Skulls vacated the premises in 1990, Pi Kappa Phi, which was recolonizing at the time, moved in the following year. I’m not sure how a recolonization may affect Pi Kappa Phi’s living situation. The fraternity is similar to Phi Delta Theta in that their newly established or reestablished chapters are dry houses.

Hopefully, they’ll have a better go at things than other recently recolonized chapters. Theta Xi failed to make significant headway and from what I’ve heard, has gone dormant once again. Kappa Alpha still exists, but as a mere shadow of its former self. But, only time will tell if Phi Kappa Sigma can once again make its presence known on Cornell campus.

The Roof is On Fire (Literally)

24 02 2010

I can’t say anything in particular inspired this post, except my slight, ever-present fear of the interior of Bradfield catching fire. Technically, there was a small fire in Bradfield on the fourth floor a couple of years ago, but thankfully it was quickly brought under control. Which, compared to some of Cornell’s history, is very, very tame as fire events here go.

The most notable fire on University property is fittingly the most well known, the Cornell Heights Residential Club fire in April 1967. Cornell Heights, now known as Ecohouse (Hurlburt House), was bought by the university in 1963 (its former use being a motel) and was being used to house students in an experimental program that would allow them to complete a PhD in any department in six years (which, for anyone who knows  plans on or knows people pursuing doctorate study, six years from college freshman to PhD is a pretty sweet gig if one could keep up with the work). The program began to be housed in the building in 1966, so they hadn’t even been there one full year when the fire occurred. The PhD program had 43 students, three faculty-in-residence and a faculty-adviser-in-residence, and the second floor held twenty-four senior and graduate women, for a grand total of 71 occupants. The fire started at 4 AM, when most residents were sleeping or busy pulling all-nighters.

looks better from the outside, doesn't it?

Images property of

Well, the building was thoroughly modern by 1960s standards, which means that just about every piece of nondescript furniture inside was made of some toxic material that could be hazardous if ingested, inhaled, seen or most importantly in this case, burned. The fire caused a toxic smoke to be emitted from the plastic upholstery, suffocating the victims, and sending ten others to the hospital for smoke inhalation (52 others escaped unharmed). The lack of adequate fire exits, alarms and sprinklers, especially on the second floor, only exacerbated the situation. As a result of the tragedy, the university undertook a major overhaul of its fire safety standards.

The second deadliest fire wasn’t technically university property, but was associated with one of the fraternities. Chi Psi lived in a glorious mansion built for the insanely rich Jennie McGraw, and completed in 1881. Too bad the tuberculosis she had killed her just as she arrived back home to witness its completion. Well, the house was auctioned as part of the “Great Will Case”, bought by McGraw relatives who then sold off most of the furniture, and then sold the unoccupied house to Chi Psi in 1896.

The primary suspect in the fire of December 7, 1906 were oily rags in a broom closet and flammable varnish on the wood floors. Although the building was finished with stone, the wood-frame construction made the place into a hellish inferno. Most of the 26 brothers were trapped in the burning building, with some only escaping when the collapsing walls gave them opportunities (at least one man escaped by falling with the collapsing wall onto the snow below; others jumped three stories). Of the seven people who died, two fraternity brothers were killed when they failed to jump from the collapsing southwest tower, two more died when they ran back in to rescue others, and three volunteer firemen were killed when the north wall collapsed on top of them, and “slowly roasted to death” as a New York Times article of the day puts it.

Turning to less fatal events, the Chemistry Department suffers the dubious distinction of being the most fire-plagued program in the history of the university. First of all, their first building, the old Morse Hall, partially burned down in 1916. When Olin Lab was under construction in 1967, the exterior tarp caught fire while it was under construction, causing a wall of flame along the partially-completed building (luckily damage was minor). The building had another minor fire in 1999.

Now imagine a ten story wall of flames. You get the idea.

Tjaden Hall had a flat roof on its tower portion for about forty years because lightning set the original roof on fire in the 1950s and they had to remove it. Then you have minor fires in the dorms once every couple of years or so. Balch Hall had a minor fire in the fall of 2004, and one of the lowrises in the spring of 2006. I think Donlon Hall had a minor fire sometime in the past few years. Point is, they’re usually mild, little news-makers, enough to end up at the bottom of the front page of the Sun for a day, and life goes on.

Regarding the Greek end of things, things get a lot more interesting. A brief (non-exhaustive) list:

-A fire burnt down the lodge of Kappa Alpha in 1898.

-Delta Chi’s house burnt down in 1900.

-Delta Upsilon had fires in 1909, 1916, and 1919. The 1909 fire completely destroyed the house.

-Sigma Alpha Epsilon lost a house to fire in 1911.

-Alpha Delta Phi’s house burnt down in 1929.

-Alpha Epsilon Pi had a house burn to the ground in 1929.

-A wing of Zeta Beta Tau’s house was consumed by fire in 1939.

-Zeta Psi’s original house burnt down in the late 1940s.

-Kappa Sigma suffered significant fire damage in 1948.

-Tau Epsilon Phi lost the old wing of their house to a fire in 1961.

-Sigma Pi’s house was reduced to a burnt-out shell in 1994.

So historically speaking, fraternities are not the best places for fire safety. On the flip side, I’ve never heard of a Cornell sorority house burning down.

This Isn’t Your Father’s Fraternity

29 12 2009

So, with Rush Week coming up, I figured it was about time that I did another Cornell Greek System related article.

So, a fair number of guys who come back for rush week do so on their parent’s urging. Which seems a bit funny, considering the stereotypes and all, but it’s likely that the parents who are pro-Greek were in a fraternity or sorority themselves. Sometimes, someone’s father might try to prod them towards the house that they were a member of back in the day.

Well, fraternities are rather preculiar in that the character of a house can change completely in about three years, as members graduate and new brothers are initiated.  So, your father’s fratenity, while it may have been a “small nerdy house in 1970-something” or “a big jock house back in the ’80s”, may be something completely different today.

For this entry, I decided to compare the membership numbers of houses. For one thing, numbers are solid; character is subjective. Secondly, I’m only doing fraternities; sororities tend to be somewhat less elastic with numbers, especially since they operate with a quota system that sets the number of pledges a sorority may have.

The first number is the active membership number from the Spring 2009 semester for Cornell fraternities. The second number is for Spring 2005, selected merely to illustrate the dynamics of change (or lack thereof).  The last number is from Spring 1983, selected because it is a legitimate date that token rushee X’s dad might’ve graduated from college, but also because  it was easy for me to get a hold of the figures (on paper, so no links unfortunately).

A few details: Membership percentages in Greek houses in 2009 was 33.15% of the total undergrad male population, with 47 members on average (50 chapters fell under the “fraternity” designation, but that includes MGLCs – accounting for their typically small number, the reduction is to 42 chapters, then the IFC average is about 54 members). No offense meant to the MGLC folks, but I have no 1983 data for those chapters, so they are excluded.

For 2005, there were 40 IFC chapters, and an average of about 47 members per house (fraternity membership was 28.75%).

For 1983, there were 50 IFC chapters, and an average in the low 50s.The chapters that existed in 1983 that don’t today are

Phi Alpha Omega, a small collegetown-based fraternity started around 1982 and gone by 1986.

Triangle, down to eleven members. Their national would shut them down by 1985.

Theta Delta Chi, which closed in 1999 (to their credit, they have one failed recolonization attempt, from 2003). They failed to submit information in time to be included in the 1983 publication I’m using.

Phi Kappa Sigma, which closed in 1990. They had 35 members in 1983.

Phi Sigma Epsilon, which merged on the national level with Phi Sigma Kappa in 1985, closing the Cornell chapter. It had 73 members in 1983.

Chapter /Spring 2009/Spring 2005/Spring 1983

Acacia 39/29/33

Acacia was on the brink of closing in the late 1990s, when membership dwindled. It seems to have recovered well enough.

Alpha Delta Phi 57/69/56

Alpha Epsilon Pi 35/NA/NA

So, here’s the problem. The first time AEPi closed was in 1984. The second time was in 2005. Way to screw up by stats guys. I looked up their 2004 data; its membership number recorded 29 brothers.

Alpha Gamma Rho 52/63/86

Alpha Sigma Phi 51/56/71

Alpha Tau Omega 75/61/63

Alpha Zeta 55/24/53

Alpha Zeta almost closed in the mid 2000s, so that makes it upward climb more impressive. The 1983 value may be off, since this co-ed fraternity only recognized women on an honorary level at the time, so they were left off the roster. The other two values are combined co-ed.

Beta Theta Pi 30/51/49

Beta is in the midst of reorganizing, hence the low 2009 figure.

Chi Phi 73/72/ 56

Chi Psi 53/47/84


Delta Chi 82/27/65

Delta Chi closed and reopened in 2004,  hence the low 2005 figure.

Delta Kappa Epsilon 46/45/68

Delta Phi (Llenroc) 64/41/57

Delta Tau Delta 40/27/56

Delta Upsilon 66/50/60

Kappa Alpha 17/NA/39

Kappa Alpha closed in 1990 and reopened in 2007.

Kappa Delta Rho 39/34/47

Kappa Sigma 71/42/87

Lambda Chi Alpha 67/58/69

Phi Delta Theta 47/54/70

Phi Delt reorganized in 2000, when it threw out the then-current membership and started fresh as a dry fraternity.

Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) 84/53/93

Phi Kappa Psi 72/61/87

Phi Kappa Tau 56/51/34

Closed in 1994, reopened in 2000.

Phi Sigma Kappa 51/56/65

Pi Kappa Alpha 61/56/102.

Wow. I never knew Pika was once the largest house on campus.

Pi Kappa Phi 65/48/25

Closed in 1986, reopened 1990.

Psi Upsilon 37/57/NA

Psi Upsilon was closed from 1981 to 1985. They also reorganized in 2008.

Seal & Serpent 17/20/35

What happened here was a slaughter of their reputation. That was covered in a previous entry.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon 91/89/35

On the other end of the scale, the rise of SAE is impressive. Who would’ve guessed they were such a small house back in the day?

Sigma Alpha Mu 70/52/21

Sigma Alpha Mu was rechartered in 1983/84.

Sigma Chi 67/61/79

Sigma Chi Delta 12/8/14

An item worth noting- the vast majority (80%+) of Sigma Chi Delta’s membership in the 1980s was of east Asian ethnic groups.

Sigma Nu 55/61/72

Sigma Phi 58/47/45

Sigma Phi Epsilon 51/52/50

Not as stable as it looks. Reorganized in spring 2006, closed for the fall, reopened in 2007.

Sigma Pi 39/83/94

Reorganized in 2008.

Tau Epsilon Phi 59/11/30

TEP must be doing something right.

Tau Kappa Epsilon 31/34/44

Theta Delta Chi 63/40/69

Theta Xi 23/NA/NA

Theta Xi was closed in 1970 and didn’t recolonize until 2008.

Zeta Beta Tau 43/51/NA

They didn’t submit in time for their 1983 data to be published.

Zeta Psi 53/29/43

So in conclusion, although your dad may regal you with stories of his fraternity days, don’t expect to have the same experience if you pledge his old house.

The Case of Two Different Fraternities of the Same Name

5 04 2009

So, I’ll open up this topic by saying that while some of the work is my own, a lot of the research was done by a friend of mine  named A.C., so I’ll start by giving him credit for going through some of the research and sharing it with me so that it could be published onto this blog.

First of all, the case is really old. This dates back to over one hundred years ago, in the 1890s. The fraternity in question is the Alpha Zeta fraternity on Thurston Avenue. According to their website, the Cornell Chapter was established in 1901.

Then we have the following article from a Daily Sun blurb in 1890:


That’s discrepency number one. Number two is that the current Alpha Zeta at Cornell is a co-ed aggie house. There’s nothing about being limited to western hemisphere non-European speakers of Spanish and Portugese (essentially, Latin America).

The following is a list of fraternities on Cornell Campus published in the Sun in May 1892:



Apparently, this ethnic Alpha Zeta lived at Cascadilla Place. Also, a few side comments – Huestis Street is now College Avenue, women lived in Sage College and as a result all the sororities were based there, and most of the houses were in the Collegetown-State Street corridor because that was between the campus and the boarding houses in the city where most male students lived.

Now, here’s an excerpt from the e-mail I received from A.C.


“Hello B.,

Here’s some information on the other Alpha Zeta.

From the Cornellian, it was active from January 1st 1890 to at least 1893.
It likely ended in 1894 when their youngest members graduated and they did
not have any new initiates.”


Therefore, we can make a logical conclusion. In 1890, an Alpha Zeta was founded at Cornell for non-European spanish and portugese speakers, perhaps a predecessor to the modern Latino fraternities of Lambda Upsilon Lambda and Lambda Theta Phi. However, if it closed in the mid 1890s, then there were no more Alpha Zetas in existence, and the name was free to be use. A few years later, the Cornell Chapter of the agricultural Alpha Zeta was opened, and we end up where we are today.

So, with regards to a incident happening where they were both on campus at the same time, that would not have been permitted. However, if there are local fraternities that lay claim to the name before a national tries to move in, then the national would probably have to negotiate a name change for the local.

Fraternities You’ll (Probably) Never Visit

22 12 2008

So, Cornell is a campus that has had firm roots in Greek Life (one of the reasons why it is a frequent topic of discussion in this blog). Occasionally, you’ll look at an older campus map or even the current edition and notice some Greek houses you’ve never even heard of.

During the summer, I made an effort to write an overview all the IFC chapters (which I think was a successful endeavor). However, I also mentioned Omega Tau Sigma, mainly because I liked their house (I’m a sucker for tile roofs).


As I cited previously, Omega Tau Sigma is a professional fraternity for veterniary students, with the house essentially functioning as a co-op.

A second example of this would be Gamma Alpha of Cornell. This was one of the two random Greek houses in Collegetown, with Gamma Alpha located at 116 Oak Avenue. Gamma Alpha is a professional fraternity for biological science graduate students [1]. I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of this one on me, but the house dates from the late 1800s.

The other Greek organization listed in Collegetown is Alpha Psi. Located at 410 Elmwood Avenue, I’ve had a damned hard time trying to locate any information about this organization, but it would appear that they are another professional veterinary fraternity that was founded at Cornell in 1907 [2].

Then, of course, we have fraternities that have long since left Cornell. I decided to explore part of this by using the 1928 Cornell Map, since my previous “where are they now” dates from about 1970, so I’m approximately covering the span between the two . Here’s the link to the 1928 map if you care to follow along:

Sigma Kappa Sorority (150 Triphammer) – discussed in an earlier entry, but long story short, closed in the mid 1950s, operated as Chi Gamma for a short while and eventually became the Triphammer Coop.

Eleusis (313 Wait) – Also covered in a previous entry. Local fraternity that would become part of Theta Kappa Nu in 1934/35, and merged with Lambda Chi Alpha in 1939.

Theta Kappa Phi (201 Heights Court) – The initials were tongue-in-cheek for “The Catholic Fraternity”. Founded at Lehigh in 1919, the Cornell chapter was established sometime in the 1920s. The Cornell chapter had closed by the time the national merged with Phi Kappa (another Catholic fraternity) in 1959 to become Phi Theta Kappa, which still operates on college campuses today [3].

Scorpion (105 Westbourne Lane) – Established in 1914 at Cornell [4], moved to Westbourne Lane in 1927. After the original Tau Kappa Epsilon closed due to the depression in 1936, Scorpion became the replacement Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter in 1940.

Delta Zeta (200 Highland Avenue) – This sorority still exists today with 158 chapters [5]. They were established at Cornell in 1908, and held an annual convention here about a decade later [6]. Delta Zeta closed in 1932, one of several organizations that shut its door during the Great Depression.

Rho Psi (212 Fall Creek Drive) – Established in 1916 as a Chinese fraternity. Closed in 1931. Article suggests Cornell’s Alpha chapter might have been the only one with a house. No chapter exists anywhere today. [7]

Delta Sigma Phi (210 Thurston Avenue) – The Theta chapter of Cornell was installed in 1907 [8]. The chapter went inactive during World War II. Their national still thrives today (notably, during its time at Cornell, the national fraternity wrote a Christian-only clause, thus formally excluding Jewish students. The policy would not be repealed until the 1950s).

Omicron Alpha Tau (934 Stewart Avenue) – According to Marianne Sanua, author of “Going Greek: Jewish College Fraternities in the United States”, Omega Alpha Tau was founded in 1912 at Cornell and was known as “the most Jewish” of fraternities, strictly maintaining a Kosher kitchen. The fraternity closed amid financial troubles in 1934. (Sanua, pg. 79)

Phi Delta Sigma (The Knoll) – A local fraternity that became a chapter of Phi Kappa Tau in 1930. Their Corporation Board is still called Phi Delta Sigma.

Sigma Phi Sigma (103 McGraw Place) – A local fraternity founded in 1910 that merged with Scorpion TKE in 1941 [4].

Sigma Upsilon (636 Stewart Avenue) – The most I can find suggests it was a literary honors fraternity [9]. However, according to Cornellians from that time period (1927, 1931, 1933, 1934), it was an independent fraternity founded in 1915, and closed permanently around 1933.

Phi Alpha (1953-1960), Phi Epsilon Pi (1911-1970) and Kappa Nu (1951-1963). Jewish fraternities that closed as a result of mergers. (Sanua 320).

Theta Alpha (618 Stewart Avenue) – Existed at Cornell from 1910 to the 1930s. A fraternity which had four chapters, including Alpha at Syracuse and Beta at Cornell (according to Baird’s Manual of 1920, pg. 374, and the 1927 Cornellian).  No chapter exists anywhere today.

Zodiac (515 Stewart) – A local fraternity established in 1904. According to ATO’s website, after an unsuccessful run with another national, the fraternity merged with Alpha Tau Omega in 1936 [10].

Phi Sigma Delta (102 Edgemoor Lane) – When Delta Sigma Phi began to “blackball” Jewish rushees, the disenchanted decided to get even by starting a rival fraternity for only Jewish men (note that their initials are Delta Sigma Phi’s only backwards). Cornell’s chapter was founded in 1912. The organization lasted until the mid-1950s, and in some sense evolved into Young Israel, now the Center for Jewish Living [11].

Beta Psi (505 Dryden Road) – Established in 1920. Apparently was a social fraternity, though no students in CAS. Closed by late 1934. Had four other chapters. This fraternity no longer exists.

Phi Delta Mu (301 Eddy Street) – Founded in 1925 as the Zeta chapter.  Alpha chapter of this Jewish social fraternity was at the City College of New York. There were eight other chapters before this one closed around 1934. It would appear this fraternity no longer exists today.

Iota Alpha Pi – A historically Jewish sorority that founded its Cornell “Beta Delta” Chapter in 1966. After the dismantling of Christian-only clauses in larger sororities, the chapter saw a rapid decline of its fortunes and the national, as well as the chapter, ceased to exist after 1971 [13]. The sorority was originally founded as J.A.P. (fanning the flames of Jewish girl stereotypes for years to come), but changed to Greek lettering shortly after its founding.


[2]  (page 6-14)












Where Frat Houses Go To Die

29 11 2008

Okay, maybe not so much. Reasonably so, Cornell has seen many fraternities in its day, and while many still remain on campus, they often move during their tenure at the university. Other organizations have come and gone with the times. Well, the fraternity and its symbols may be gone to all but their alumni and the old yearbooks, but the houses…what happens to them?

It really depends on luck and the general mood of the times. The most common fate for Cornell fraternity houses is demolition, whether it be for a parking lot, an apartment building, or for a physical expansion of the campus. The Rabco Apartments (the rather worn-down brick buildings on the 300 block of Thurston) sit on the site of what was Phi Kappa Psi’s house. DTD’s old house is now a parking lot, as is Zeta Psi’s first house at Cornell (granted, it burnt down in a fire in the late 1940s). Kappa Alpha Society’s Victorian masterpiece was torn down for Hollister Hall in 1957.


This view used to be blocked by DTD’s old house. But now it’s a very nice parking lot.

Rather than continue on that depressing tangent, some houses are fortunate enough to find a new life. Some are for university functions. Pi Lambda Phi, having closed in the 1970s, is now the Undergraduate Admissions office. Triangle’s house (pre-1985) is the dorm 112 Edgemoor, and 14 South was home to Kappa Alpha Society (they moved here right before the demo and remained until they closed in 1990). TriDelt’s house prior to 1965 is now the Alumni House on North Campus.Image courtesy of Cornell Facilities website (

14 South was AOPi's house from about 1992 to 2006. In 2012, it became the home of Phi Sigma Sigma.

Some are converted into private residences. The Westbourne Apartments in Cornell Heights are the product of a conversion of Beta Sigma Rho’s fraternity house (they closed in 1972). 210 Thurston, now a private annex house, was the home to Sigma Alpha Mu for decades. On the 300 block of Wait Avenue, the light purple stucco house with the tile roof has been home to two sororities and one fraternity (Eleusis fraternity in the 1920s [1], Chi Omega prior to 1953, and Phi Sigma Sigma from 1954 to 1969).100_2440

Having your house turned into a co-op is another popular option. Examples include-Watermargin: a former house of Phi Kappa Psi).Prospects of Whitby: former house of Alpha Xi DeltaTriphammer Co-Op: Former house of Sigma Kappa and Chi Gamma sororities.660 Wait Avenue co-op: former house of Zeta PsiHowever, The best reuses are the most awkward ones. Like when another fraternity or sorority resides in your old house. Here’s ten examples of that:Theta Xi: Zeta Psi alumni bought the property after Theta Xi closed in 1971. Then Zeta Psi sold themselves to Cornell for a $1 in the 1990s to avoid paying property taxes. Now Theta Xi wants their house back, and their pulling Cornell’s strings. I love real estate drama, especially when I get it first hand from the Zeta Psi brothers.Phi Sigma Epsilon: After they merged with Phi Sigma Kappa in 1985, the Cornell house was closed. Alpha Chi Omega sorority moved in some time afterwards.Beta Theta Pi: Their house prior to “Castle on the Rock” is now Pi Kappa Alpha’s house. Granted, this was prior to 1906, and Pika moved in around 1917, so this is a very old example.Phi Kappa Sigma: “Greentrees”, their house up until 1990, became the house of Pi Kappa Phi within a year of the Skulls’ closing. Delta Phi Epsilon: This sorority founded their Cornell chapter in 1962, and closed for a few years in the early 90s before closing completely in 2003 [2]. They still own 115 the Knoll, which is Alpha Xi Delta’s current house. I’d like to point out the irony that AXiD closed in 1964, right after DPhiE arrived, and they reopened in 2004, right after DphiE closed. Rumor mill likes to circulate that DPhiE is waiting for the right moment to reactivate Cornell chapter, which is a source of angst for AXiD sisters living in the house.Alpha Epsilon Pi: Their house was occupied by Sigma Alpha Mu as a “second house” during the 70s’.Pi Beta Phi: Prior to their current houses’ construction in 1956, they lived where Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemistry fraternity resides today.Theta Chi, or Tau Delta Phi: AOPi’s closing on Ridgewood is nothing new for that house. Theta Chi lived there when they closed in 1999, after living there for around twenty years. Also, the chapter was home ot the fraternity Tau Delta Phi until that chapter closed in 1969.Chi Omega: This sorority, which reopened in 1987 and closed again in 2003, lived in Phillips House on Sisson Place. Current students will be more familiar with this place as the location of Sigma Alpha Mu’s house.Kappa Alpha Theta: Tridelt moved from the Alumni House to Theta’s original house in 1965. It wasn’t even a year after Theta disaffiliated after having issues with their national.Last but not least: this house, former home of Alpha Chi Rho (defunct), Pi Kappa Phi and Lambda Upsilon Lambda, is still up in the air for renovation:100_1370

Anyone have any news on any plans for the building and possible redevelopment?[1][2]

North by Northwest of Campus

12 08 2008

The house of the Chi Psi fraternity of Cornell University. Chi Psi has had a colorful if traumatic history in its century-plus long history here at Cornell. The Chapter at Cornell was founded in 1869. While they lived elsewhere, Jennie McGraw, the daughter of John McGraw, who was a wealthy lumber merchant and one of the first trustees of Cornell (for whom McGraw Hall is named) [1], fell in love with the first university librarian, Daniel Willard Fiske. She was old for loving at the time, pushing forty. She was also suffering from terminal tuberculosis. Regardless, she and Willard eloped and engaged in a whirlwind tour of Europe, while an opulent mansion was built on the edge of the gorge. She lived just long enough to see it with her own eyes, passing as they arrived home in 1881 [2]. Willard moved in, but his behavior was considered a little too exuberant for someone whose wife just died. Plus, due to some legal issues with Jennie’s will (which might make for a good entry another day), he and Cornell ended up on really bad terms, and he spent most of the rest of his life in Italy (on the bright side, he somewhat reconciled with Cornell in later years and donated his library upon his death in 1904 [3]).

That story is tangent to Chi Psi. Willard sold the opulent McGraw-Fiske mansion to the fraternity around 1881[4]. It was during the cold night of December 6th 1906 that the second deadliest campus tragedy in Cornell’s history occurred.

Sources tend to indicate it was caused by flammable polish being used on the floors. Others have gone as far to suggest that the house was cursed due to Jenny and Willard’s indiscretions. Regardless, the house caught fire. And in the days before real fire engines, any water to be used on the house (that wasn’t frozen) was a mere trickle. Of the twenty-six fraternity brothers living in the house, four died. When one of the exterior stone walls collapsed, it landed on volunteer firemen from the city of Ithaca, killing three of them. By the end of the night, the house was destroyed, and seven people were dead [5].

Photo Courtesy of "Greetings from Ithaca"

Photo Courtesy of “Greetings from Ithaca”

Through the tragedy, the fraternity persevered. They built the current house the following year (known as “The Lodge”), and have lived there since.

So, I took two photos partially to get a good idea of the shape and ornamentation of the house, but more because a woman in a towel came up from the gorge as I was taking photos…and I didn’t want to give the wrong idea. I ran south after a large guy appeared by her side, and she probably thinks I’m a creeper and pervert. I prefer photos of ornamental busts to women’s busts.


The Thurston Court Apartments is a 22-person university-owned apartment building with one and two-bedroom student apartments [6]. Primarily used for grad housing, in recent years the building has been opened up to undergrads as well. The building was built in 1932 (fun fact: the entire building was once painted white, including the ornamentation).

The house of Seal and Serpent fraternity, Cornell’s independent fraternity. The fraternity was founded in 1905, and the current house was built in 1929 in the Tudor Style [7]. In the past several years, the fraternity has suffered from a chronic shortage of interest; rumor mill says they only had three pledges last spring.

Maybe this has something to do with it:

“…Fraternities have a reason to fear such stereotyping. The Seal and Serpent society, a house which was primarily gay in the 1980s but now has just two gay brothers out of 16, has had some difficulty overcoming “the gay” label during rush…”

I s’pose this doesn’t help – I still hear this from a lot of people both in and out of the Greek community  (the quote is from a Nov. 2000 Sun article).  Going through this blog’s search bar history, there are over 200 hits for “gay fraternity”.  I’m willing to bet it’s not with good intention.


The house of Alpha Phi sorority. Alpha Phi Cornell was founded in 1889 with assistance from the Alpha Chapter at Syracuse University [8]. Originally based out of Sage College, they lived with Alpha Zeta for a year  and on their own in a couple different houses until they bought their current house from an Alpha Phi alum in 1921. The side wings were added in 1937, and a back wing (not pictured) was added in 1961. The chapter went under a reorganization sometime in the early 1990s due to low membership intake, but I’ve found nothing that indicates it ever closed. Currently, Alpha Phi has one of the highest sorority membership numbers at Cornell.

Hardly 500 feet away is the house of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. I know Kappa has been in the news lately; and it really sucks to be them right now (unless you like embarrassment over attention). The sorority’s Cornell (Psi) chapter was founded in 1883, and moved into the current house in 1921 [9]. The chapter was inactive from 1969 to 1977, a time period well-known for its anti-Greek sentiment.

Louie’s Lunch was founded in around 1918 by Louie Zounakos, who emigrated to NYC from Greece, and later moved up to Ithaca. The original Louie operated the truck up until 1955 [10]. The original truck was replaced in the late 1940s. The truck was then owned by the Machen family until 1997, and is now currently operated by Ron Beck. I do have a preference to one truck over the other, but I won’t say which.


Photo courtesy of “Greetings from Ithaca”

The house of Zeta Psi fraternity. The house, built in 1930, was originally that of Theta Xi. Zeta Psi, meanwhile, has the distinction of being the first fraternity founded by Cornell, even if it was decided by a coin flip (see the entry for Chi Phi). The chapter built a luxurious house in 1891 on the corner of Williams Street and Stewart Avenue, but moved out in the 1940s due to low numbers as brothers left to go fight in WWII. The original house burnt down in the late 1940s, and was replaced by a parking lot. In the meanwhile, Zeta Psi lived with Young Israel for a short while before moving into 660 Stewart Avenue in the late 1950s. A donation from a wealthy alumnus allowed them to buy the current house in 1972 [11].





[4] ***

***Page 10 has a picture of the McGraw estate in its heyday









Far West Campus, Second Photo Tour

4 08 2008

The house of the Cornell Chapter of Delta Upsilon fraternity. The house was built in 1890 in  the Queen Anne Style [1], and burned at least three times over the next thirty years [2]. The fraternity was founded to counter secret societies. Which, considering some members have most certainly been members of the Sphinx Head and the Quill and Dagger, is vaguely ironic.

Cornell’s Telluride House, located on South Avenue. The house was built in 1910 and originally housed electrical engineers working for Lucien L. Nunn, and who also attended Cornell [3]. The Cornell chapter was the first Telluride house. Telluride takes it name from the town of Telluride, Colorado, where Nunn lived most of his adult life [4]. The house’s website describes as an intense academic experience, and that members “enjoy tremendous autonomy”. So, I’m getting the impression of a fraternity, only much more academic and not nearly as social.

Photo Courtesy of "Greetings from Ithaca"

Photo Courtesy of "Greetings from Ithaca"

The house of the Sigma Phi Society. The first house was torn down to make way for the law school. The second and current house was built in 1932 and designed by Frederick L. Ackermann in the English Country House style. Ackermann also designed Psi Upsilon, the neighboring fraternity, and the relation between the two is obvious. If you can’t tell them apart though, you’ve probably had too many drinks at Sigma Phi and it’s time to go home. Detail-wise, the two differ considerably.


Although, one can never go wrong with the right ornamentation. I honestly thought that someone was sitting up there when I first glanced at it. No, I wasn’t drunk.

Psi Upsilon’s House was built in the same year. I believe this is also the fraternity that was known for having an indoor squash court, so Psi U. has a bit of a reputation of being wealthy. The chapter has also been booted off campus twice, the latest last month (the other case was in 1979). 

The house of Delta Tau Delta. The house was built in November 1965 [5], but they previously lived in a now-demolished house on Edgemoor Lane (the parking lot next to Theta is the site of their old house). The only reason I knew this house existed freshman year was that one of my roommates had a free magnet from DTD. Yeah, can’t say I care too much for that 60s archi-torture.

The new Noyes Center is about the only thing I like on the newly reconstructed West Campus. Completed in Janurary 2007, the building serves for community functions for West Campus (weight room, convenience store, etc.).

The original student union, a penal-style brutalist structure, was dedicated in 1967 to Jansen Noyes 1910. Before the legal drinking age was raised in 1986, it had a “pub” to serve students.

 (photo courtesy of








Far West Campus, the First Photo Tour

31 07 2008

The house of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. As previously covered, the house was this dreadful brutalist monstrosity constructed in 1964 when the fraternity moved from 312 Thurston Avenue [1]. The house was extensively renovated in the second half of the 1990s, gaining a more postmodern appearance that has earned it the nickname “The Gables”. Prior to 312 Thurston (now demolished), Phi Kappa Psi lived in the Watermargin house. It was among the first fraternities chaptered at Cornell, established in 1868.

This house belongs to Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, currently the only sorority on West Campus. The house was built by Sigma Chi in the 19th century, who left it for Greystone Manor in 1923, and Theta Chi fraternity moved in. Bay the 1980s, Theta Chi had moved out of the house for a mansion on Ridgewood Road, and “Theta” moved in. Theta was dispelled from its national in 1965, but returned to campus in 1980 [1], and moved into this house during the 1980s.

Speaking of fraternities founded early in Cornell’s history, Chi Phi and north campus fraternity Zeta Psi were both founded on opening day 10/7/1868. The two flipped a coin to see who would be declared the first fraternity at Cornell. Well, Chi Phi still uses its early start in rush promos, but Zeta Psi is officially the first fraternity (Zeta Psi and Chi Phi have a rivalry to this day). Craigielea, their tudor-esque house, is well over a century old (1890, partiall rebuilt after a 1903 fire), and has continuously been in their posession. The house was designed by W. H. Miller of Uris Libe fame [2].

And this is what’s left of their (pledge?) project, bleachers that they built last April. Shame, really. I wonder if they did it or someone who hates Chi Phi did it.

Delta Kappa Epsilon (DEKE) fraternity house is a Romaneqaue Revival House built in 1893 by W.H. Miller [3]. The house is known as Gray Stone Castle, and sits on the National Register of Historic Places [4]. As amazing as the house is, the chapter hasn’t been doing all too recently; rumor mill says numbers were so low in recent years that actives had two rooms each.

112 Edgemoor Lane, a small campus dorm designed for about 20-25 occupants. As I explained in a previous entry, this house has a lot of significance to me personally. So, the house, built in the Colonial Revival style, was built in 1881. The house was home to Sigma Phi Epsilon up into the 1960s, when Sig Ep moved out and Triangle fraternity moved in. Previously, Triangle called a house at the junction of Campus Road and Stewart Avenue home, but the ca. 1839 farm house was torn down to make room for DTD’s new house [5]. After Triangle was deactivated by its national in 1985, the house was made into part of Cornell’s campus dorms.

Lambda Chi Alpha’s house also sits on Edgemoor Lane. Originally known as ISWZA [5], Lambda Chi was chaptered in 1913, and the house was purchased around 1918 (it was built in 1899). Lambda Chi is known for having a feud with its neighbor Chi Phi. The house also maintains a gazebo on the edge of the gorge, which was built in recent years.

The house of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. The house was occupied by Beta Theta Pi, who occupied the house until they moved in 1906. About a decade later when Pi Kappa Alpha colonized on campus, the chapter moved into this house. My slight personal issue was that they had a steep driveway in the back, and some jackass in a Jetta would try to do 0-60 every time he went down the hill. The whining engine gets quite annoying after a while.

The Jewish Living Center. The house dates from the 1890s[6], with the kosher dining center to its south (not pictured) dating from the late 1980s. The center was known as Young Israel until the late 1990s. Judging from their website, the independent organization has had a contentious past with its relations to the University. The old fraternity house for Seal & Serpent (pre-1926) used to be next door, but it was demolished to make room for their parking lot.