Preservation Magazine, Spring 2016

Inspiration: Campus Comeback for an MIT Fraternity

MIT’s Alpha Theta Chapter of Sigma Chi fraternity

photo by: Sean Litchfield

From left: Architectural details in the library include a coffered ceiling and built-in benches under the bay windows; The restored and expanded central staircase.

More than 1,000 college students have called 532 Beacon St. home since MIT’s Alpha Theta Chapter of Sigma Chi fraternity moved into the elegant brick row house in 1919. And hundreds of those current and former residents came together over the past two decades to ensure the house would stand for the next generation of fraternity members. Late last year, the building received a prestigious 2015 Preservation Achievement Award from the Boston Preservation Alliance.

The revival of 532 Beacon St., built in 1900 for a local lawyer and his wife, was many years in the making. Basic repairs and upgrades to its heating and plumbing were made in the 1970s, but 20 years later, the house needed extensive, costly repairs.

“We took a survey of our members to decide what to do: sell the building and build new, or work with what we have,” says Dan Craig, who joined Sigma Chi as a freshman in 1999 and now serves as president of the Alumni House Corporation. “Overwhelmingly, our members supported keeping it. There’s so much heritage and so many memories tied up there.”

For the next 15 years, Craig and his Sigma Chi brothers actively fundraised, tapping into the support of the fraternity’s 684 living alumni to raise nearly $4 million. The next challenge was carrying out a full renovation and restoration with minimal interruption to current students, finishing before the next recruitment season. Work began on the last day of finals in December of 2013 and was completed the day before fraternity rush began the following August.

The project team of LDa Architecture & Interiors and Sea-Dar Construction restored the historic facade, the grand central staircase, and the interior common rooms, including the dining room and library. They preserved the historic leaded-glass windows and ornamental features throughout the house. They also integrated new systems, such as air-conditioning and a wheelchair-accessible elevator, into the existing fabric, and built a fifth-floor addition not visible from the street.

“A lot of people said they thought they wouldn’t recognize [the house] when the work was done, but they were surprised to see that it still felt like the home they always knew,” Craig says. “When I heard that, I almost melted. That’s exactly what we were trying to accomplish.”

Lauren Walser headshot

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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