Pledging to preserve Greek house

Susan Frobish saved a former Greek house located at 606 W Ohio St. from developers planning to tear the house down or build apartments. Frobish is a former member of the Greek community and feels the house should remain in the Greek system. Erica Magda

By Jill Lowthian

Last May, Urbana resident Susan Frobish bought and began renovating an old Greek chapter house.

The former sorority member and sorority house mother said she had no intention of living in the house, but hoped to save it from being torn down.

According to the University’s Archives Research Center, the house, located at 606 W. Ohio St. in Urbana, was built in 1929 for the Theta Upsilon sorority. It was later owned by Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemistry fraternity, whose alumnni Frobish bought the house from.

“There was talk of somebody who wanted to convert (the house) into condos,” Frobish said. “There are too many fraternity and sorority houses being torn down and putting condos in their place.”

Since purchasing her house, Frobish has rented it to groups of students and has leased it to a group of men for next fall. However, she said she hopes that one day it will be returned to the Greek community.

“Part of my motivation for purchasing it was to hopefully pass it on to another fraternity or sorority that could keep it in the system,” Frobish said.

Frobish’s hope for the house is a possibility, said Ashley Dye, assistant dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs.

“(Fraternities and sororities) definitely can move into houses like this,” Dye said. “They are independent when it comes to their housing situation.”

Currently, 63 out of the 96 Greek chapters at the University have certified housing, Dye said.

According to Alice Novak, adjunct University professor of urban and regional planning, Illinois has the largest concentration of Greek houses in the nation, which at one time consisted of at least 80 fraternity houses alone. Of these, only 43 houses remain as fraternity houses.

While some have been torn down, others are being used for non-Greek purposes, Dye said.

Even though Frobish’s house and many others remain standing, some, such as a fraternity house located at 904 S. Third St., are not. The house was recently torn down and is set to be replaced with a new multi-family development, according to a city of Champaign commercial permit issued in February to a developer.

This decline in Greek houses prompted the formation of the Society for the Preservation of Greek Housing in 1988, said Rod Reid, president of the society.

The society helps fraternities and sororities restore and renovate their houses by raising funds through donations.

“We could see that some of these houses were being purchased by people tearing them down and building apartments or parking lots,” Reid said, “And we just hated to see these beautiful pieces of architecture destroyed for what it seemed like was just money.”

Despite the society’s efforts, the number of Greek houses is still at risk of declining further, he said.

“There are other houses that are on the verge of being sold and used for something else,” Reid said.

In addition to the society’s goals, the city of Urbana has also shown an overall support for historic preservation, Novak said. The city has seven local landmarks and three historic districts, some of which include Greek chapter houses.

“I think the community has realized that the truly unique features we have in a community are historic,” Novak said, “And the community has recognized that they need to be protected.”

In light of this effort, the city of Urbana developed the Historic Preservation Plan and Ordinance in 1994. This was meant to increase the city’s control over the redevelopment of its most historic properties.

Of the current Greek houses, 16 are recognized under the National Register of Historic Places, the nation’s official list of sites worthy of preservation based on historic significance. Most of the houses are recognized because of their architecture and engineering.

“Many of the Greek houses represent the absolute finest architecture we have in our community,” Novak said. “I think that the local community needs to take measures to keep the houses that are left.”