Whittier College to Move Them : Fraternal Groups Will Lose Houses

Times Staff Writer

More than classes ended last week on the 1,150-student Whittier College campus. A tradition of sorts also came to a close at the century-old liberal arts institution.

Members of four fraternal societies began moving out of their houses along Painter Avenue, apparently to make way for a proposed multimillion-dollar college performing arts center. Some societies have occupied their houses for more than a decade.

The site and specifics of the performing arts complex--including a 500-seat theater, drama education center and classrooms--won't be announced until June 10. But it is expected the block of aging single- and two-story houses on Painter just north of campus is the likely location for the center.

Moving Elsewhere

Anticipating that the Whittier College Board of Trustees will approve the site and fund-raising efforts for the project later this summer, campus officials are moving the societies to smaller bungalows and houses scattered about the hillside college.

Once campus officials receive the go-ahead, wrecking crews will probably raze the houses on Painter between Philadelphia and Olive streets that have formed the college's "Greek Row."

"When the walls of this house come down, some of the tradition will be lost as well," said Philip Arroyo, a junior biology major and member of the Lancers Society, who lives in Lancer Manor, the group's two-story, beige and blue-trimmed house at Painter and Olive. Of the society's 27 members, six lived in the house this year.

"We are close, like a family, and this house promotes that feeling," he said. "Sure, we've got a place to live next year, but it only sleeps a couple, and there will be no room for meetings, parties and pledging.

"The question is, how much does the administration value societies?"

Campus officials say they value them a lot.

President Eugene S. Mills points with pride to the institution's top alumni and their membership in societies, which began at the college in the early 1920s as literary groups but have evolved from their academic roots into more traditional fraternities and sororities.

Bob Giomi, associate dean of students, said he believes societies "are essential" for helping some students make the transition from high school to college.

About 20% of the student body or roughly 200 undergraduates belong to one of the five female and four male societies. The societies average about 18 to 30 members.

Support Network

"Some students arrive here a little unsure of themselves, a little lonely," said Giomi, who is also the college administration's liaison with the societies. "For those people, the societies form a support network. They are important to campus life. They have a place on this campus."

But this summer, the societies face the first of what may be several moves in coming years. Giomi said all nine societies may eventually be placed in some type of apartment- or condominium-style housing as the private college expands on the eve of its centennial celebration in 1987.

"I just hope we are not destined to become the nomads of the campus," said Nick Franz, a Lancer Society member and senior accounting major.

Eight of the nine societies now occupy houses, with seven of those leasing residences from the college.

Marilyn Deppe, the campus housing director, said the college owns 32 duplexes, bungalows and houses on the campus perimeter, including seven along Painter Avenue.

Four of the societies--the Lancers, Penns, Athenians and Orthogonians--are on Painter or just around the corner on Olive and must move by mid-summer.

A fifth society, the Thalians, is situated behind the houses on Painter and will have to move from its house by June, 1986.

Bemoan Lack of Space

In each case, the societies are moving into smaller houses that members contend have less privacy and space.

"They are putting us smack-dab in the middle of campus," said Franz, whose society, along with the Penns and the largest female society, the Metaphonians, is 50 years old this year. The Lancers are moving into a three-bedroom bungalow across from the library near the center of campus.

"It's going to make it a little hairy to operate next year," said the senior accounting major during a recent party at the Lancer house. "We are basically a solid bunch of guys. But we like to get together and have some fun. This could cramp our style."

Before 1973, societies simply met in members' apartments or private homes in the Whittier area. The college did not offer them housing, and the societies couldn't afford to buy a house.

Unlike other universities and colleges, where fraternities and sororities are affiliated with well-financed national organizations, founders of the Whittier societies chose to be independent so that no higher authority could put restrictions on who could join. But the Whittier societies have paid the price for that autonomy, lacking the resources to buy their own housing.

So when the college offered them houses 12 years ago, the societies jumped at the chance. Housing costs for society members are comparable to living in the dormitories on campus.

No Vacancies

About 62% of the student body lives in the dorms or other campus-owned housing. This year campus housing was filled to capacity.

Deppe said society members, on the average, pay $1,600 a year to share a room in a house. A single room costs several hundred dollars more.

"But we get more bang for our buck here," said Greg Thomjon, a member of the Penn Society, which leases a roomy, two-story stone and clapboard house. Around campus, the house is called Green Gables because of its lime-green exterior. "This place is an institution and we don't pay much more than the dorms. It is quieter, bigger and far more private. It's also the perfect place to party.

"And now they want to tear it down. It's wrong."

Jerry Laiblin, the college's director of development, said the trustees decided several years ago that the houses eventually would be torn down because they are old and too costly to maintain.

Despite their condition, some members believe the houses help create an image for the societies.

"The houses give the societies an identity, a focal point," explained Michele Gagnon, a Metaphonian and this year's president of Inter-Society, the council that governs the nine societies. "I didn't have many girlfriends until I joined the society. I quickly learned the house was a place where I could go and find a sympathetic ear.

"Thank God we get to keep our house--for now," she said, referring to the Metaphonian house on Earlham Drive, the biggest among the societies with nine bedrooms and sleeping for 11 members. "I know what the other (societies) have been going through. It's been terrible."

Sentimental Attachments

Deppe conceded it has been an "emotional period" for the societies because of the attachment they've developed for their houses.

The administration studied the possibility of moving the houses, rather than razing them. But Deppe said that would have been too expensive, costing about $26,000 a bed to move a house versus $16,000 to $18,000 a bed to build a new house.

"We understand this is for progress, for the betterment of the campus," said Collin Cushnie, a Lancer and a member of a college task force that examined the societies' housing troubles earlier this year.

"And sometimes progress is painful. But tradition must also be preserved. I hope they don't forget about us."

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