In light of recent changes in Greek life housing, it is fitting to take a trip back through the years of the Lawrence quadrangle and then before. Construction on the five original Georgian-style houses began in May of 1940. Previous to this the houses of fraternities were across College Ave., the Phi Delta Theta house was even across City Park. Changes have happened repeatedly, and the university has helped.
The understanding of Greek living today is that the houses are rather funky and full of character. Holes in the walls that materialize every so often are signs of the houses being lived in, and the fraternities love that. So was the case for the houses before the quad. One Sig Ep almunus recalled “sleeping with a roof over your head but still having three-foot snow drifts,” while talking of the sleeping porches. Out of the attic of the old houses there were porches which would be lined with sleeping young men at night all months of the year.
Beta dances in the main room consisted of frequent ducking under the chandelier imposing itself in the middle of the dance floor. “Phi Delt Park” was the name given to City Park because every time members wanted to go to the main campus a trek across the park was necessary. Owning the park was fair compensation for the everyday journey.
No house was the same, but both college and neighborhood community members agreed that the houses being owned by the fraternities drove down property values of surrounding dwellings. An agreement and plan was made by administration to authorize a quarter of a million dollars for the construction of a new quadrangle across from Russell Sage Hall that would house the fraternities and ease the minds of neighbors of the university.
Henry Wriston, for whom the art center is named, was the designer of both the Lawrence quad and the Brown University quad which was enclosed by a 10-foot moat and a 6-foot stockade fence to keep out the Providence riff raff responsible for thousands of dollars of student property going missing every year. Wriston toned his abilities back for the Lawrence version and created what is present today.
The fraternities all pooled the money from selling their houses and used it to fund the project along with college funds and those of alumni donors. Completion took several years, but the campus social center became the quad, and during the pleasant months the grass was endlessly torn and rutted by intra-fraternity football and baseball games. The close proximity of all the houses allowed many pranks and mischievous missions to be undertaken whether stealing other house’s mounted hunting trophies or shining flashing spotlights into the curtain-less sleeping porches.
During the war years the houses changed hands several times, and one year only 26 Phi Delt men represented the male population of the quad, the other houses consisted of all exclusively women. The years eventually saw a change of living allocation again though, and some fraternities even left the college altogether. The dynamic nature of the houses and their occupants is a defining piece of Lawrence and the quad in the last 70 years.