The Chapter House
- 1904 — Two club rooms in Krumirine Building on East College Avenue
- 1905 — Herman House, 225 South Allen Street
- 1906 — Old Sigma Chi House, Allen Street
- 1907 — A larger house farther out on Allen Street, specially built for the University Club. This was their house at the time of installation as the Delta Delta Chapter of Sigma Nu.
- 1911 — The Chapter arranged to have Mr. Lytle build the “White Elephant” on West College Avenue, contracting for a ten-year lease at $1,000 per year rent. The lease was extended at $1,200 per year until the fall of 1925.
- 1925 — Ground was broken on the campus for the Delta Delta Lodge in March and the foundation began in April. The house was completed in the early fall of 1925, and on November 7, 1925, the Delta Delta Lodge was dedicated. The dedication program, with pictures of the original construction, can be found in the GALLERY.
Much effort was expended in striving for this chapter house of their own.
As the Lytle House was extra-large and well-designed it enabled the chapter to room 38 or 39 men in the house, so that by good management the chapter made a surplus of about $1,600 per year for the five years preceding the occupation of the new campus home. During these years the chapter ranked second to none in college, which was mainly due to the exceptional personnel and the leadership. The striving for a new chapter house accounted much for keeping the chapter on its toes.
Shortly after graduation in 1907, R. L. Bovard was selected as Delta Delta alumni Secretary and Treasurer. After several return visits to the chapter, “Bo” induced the active men to start the Chapter House Fund by turning into same that part of the initiation fee which was not due to the General Fraternity, and also turning over to the Fund any surplus available at the end of each school year.
The house building fund grew steadily but slowly until, in the fall of 1914, R. L. Bovard suggested adopting the House Building Fund Note Plan, whereby each active member signed up $100 notes payable at $10 per year. The payment was to become effective with graduation. “Bo” suggested to the alumni that they should sign similar notes.
When the campaign was launched, a total of 113 alumni signed notes, 50 of them paying immediately the entire $100. The active chapter voted to pay off their notes at the rate of $3.00 per month while in college, instead of waiting until graduation.
In September 1920, work on the design of the new chapter house was begun. In the summer of 1924, it was decided to have Prof. A. L. Kocher, Dean of the School of Architecture of the college, prepare the final plans. These plans, at the request of the college, called for a Georgian Colonial design.
The success of the chapter house movement was owing chiefly to the tireless unselfish work of Brother R. L. Bovard, ’07. He was the custodian of the fund since its origin and through his efforts, it grew steadily. All the work in connection with the dealings with the college, the architects, contractors, the General Fraternity, and the chapter’s lawyer were handled by “Bo,” assisted mainly by Brother W. W. Smith. Others on the building committee were “Baldy” Braddock, Evans Crow, Pat Sullivan, Roy Clarke, and Russ Mason.
A description of the original design, as reported in the March 1925 Delta Delta, follows with notes added by Brother Nelson, ΔΔ916.
The following description appeared in the Delta Delta News in March 1925. The author is not listed. From the house dedication program, we know:
- Design began in September 1920
- House plans were revised in the summer of 1924
- The deed was granted by the university in October 1924
- The construction contract was let on February 18, 1925
- The ground was broken in March of that year and completed in the early fall
- The “lodge”, as it was originally named, was dedicated on November 7, 1925.
Based on the date of the Delta Delta News article and the above dates, one can conclude that the article’s description was based on the approved construction plans. However, as with many construction projects, the as-built design may have differed from the original plans.
“NEW CHAPTER HOUSE IS A MAGNIFICENT STRUCTURE”1
The new Chapter home is a house of the Georgian type following out the general design of the new Watts Dormitory and the Varsity Hall.2 It will be a fireproof structure built of the same texture and color of brick laid in Flemish Bond. The stone trimmings are of white Indiana limestone. A graduated slate roof3, using thick slates at the base and diminishing thickness toward the ridge of the roof is specified. These slates will be in shades of bluish grey and green. The house is designed to normally take care of thirty-six men with extra rooms for servants and guests.
The exterior follows somewhat the same lines as the English Tudor house plans originally suggested. A walk from Burrowes Street leads directly to the central entrance in front. The house has an overall length of 110 feet along Burrowes Street. A terrace which is about twenty feet in width will extend along the front, this terrace to be paved with slabs of white stone in irregular shapes. A similar terrace extends along the rear of the House.
The hospitable front entrance door in white, above which, in broken pediment, is a Sigma Nu Coat of Arms in stone. On either side of this entrance, large stone pilasters extend to the main pediment in the roof.
The right of the main portion of the House is a sun-parlor porch which can be enclosed in winter and opened in summer4. The kitchen wing extends to the left of the main part of the house, and to the rear.
From a service standpoint, there is provided a large laundry with an entrance to the kitchen yard. Also a kitchen stores room, and a cold storage room5. The laundry, kitchen stores room, and cold storage room are convenient to the fire tower which extends from the basement to the third floor and is used as a rear stairway from the kitchen to the basement. The coal storage room will accommodate two carloads of coal. This room has a built-in coal chute to the rear yard. The furnace room adjoins with the furnace and hot water heater. An ash lift is provided from this room to the rear terrace. Provision is made for a large trunk room and toilet.6
The Billiard and Pool room7 will at present be left unfinished but can be completed as our finances permit. The main feature of the basement is the Chapter Room 37 feet long and 26 1⁄2 feet wide. This room is arranged so that members can enter from the front basement hall, while pledges can only enter through a special preparation room. A wide brick fireplace for burning logs is located in the center on one side. An emergency entrance to the fire tower is provided.
Main Floor Hall
Passing through the front Colonial doorway we enter a vestibule and then another door opens to the main hall. To the right of this entrance, the stairway leads to the second and third floors. To the left is a large cloakroom where a telephone booth is also located. On stepping into the hall one notices three large double doors which frame the fireplaces in the living room, library8, and dining room. The hall will be finished in dark-colored gumwood.9
To the right of the hall, one enters the living room which is also finished in dark wood. This room is 37 X 26 1⁄2 feet in size. Across the ceiling extend four large hand-adzed spruce beams. In the center at one side and inviting fireplace with a Tudor arch in stone forms an attractive feature. French doors on either side of the fireplace10 lead to the enclosed porch. At either end of this room are two large windows. Another side window with four wide entrance doors assure plenty of light. Our plans call for this room to be eventually paneled in dark woodwork from floor to ceiling.
This room lies to the rear of the main hall, and between the living room and dining room. On either side of the entrance door from the hall are built-in bookcases. Along the rear wall is a fireplace, having a French door on either side, these opening onto the rear terrace. This room is finished in ivory-cream-colored woodwork.
Two wide French doors, one from the main hall and one from the library give access to this room which is of the same size as the living room and Chapter room. The fireplace is of strict Georgian design, the opening is lined in front with black marble, and the woodwork, including the fluted pilaster on either side, is finished in ivory-cream color. Four large windows, in addition to two French doors, supply plenty of light, while two extra doors, one to the pantry and one to the rear hall, take care of service. The room is planned to normally seat forty-five men but is large enough to accommodate seventy-five during House Parties.
The kitchen is planned to take care of the maximum requirements of the house. A large range, a sink for washing wishes, tables, and cupboards are supplied. An incinerator opening in the kitchen to the basement incinerator11 and a special can set in the concrete floor of the kitchen porch take care of garbage disposal. The pantry room which lies between the dining room and kitchen gives plenty of shelf space for deserts and serving, and under the window, a second sink for filling water glasses is provided.
A side door from the kitchen leads into the rear hall, from which are located the refrigerator room, two servant bedrooms, the servants (sic) bathroom, and the fire tower.12 The fire tower stairway gives access to the basement service rooms and upper rear halls, One door of the tower opens to the rear terrace, the other doors are automatic self-closing as called for by State Laws. Provision is made in the fire tower for the addition later on of a trunk lift to the third floor or the basement.13
Eleven large study rooms, each with closet space, as well as two guest rooms and one large lavatory onto the hallway. Between the guest rooms, which look out onto the rear garden and over the College Golf Course, is located the guest bathroom with a white tiled floor. Each study will have space for at least two single desks and two chiffoniers, with two desk chairs and one easy chair. The room light is located in the center of the ceiling with individual desk lamps for each student. The main lavatory provides four washbowls, two toilets, and two shower baths. Two linen closets open onto the side hallway.
On this floor are located a dormitory, eight study rooms, two linen closets, a trunk room, and a lavatory of the same size as the one on the second floor. The dormitory has five windows and two doors which assure plenty of air. It will accommodate forty-five men if necessary, although some of the men will probably prefer to have their beds in their study room. During House party times the door to the front stairway can be locked, so that the boys may use the fire tower stair and turn over the second floor to the girls and the Chaperones.
There are many features of the House that are to be added at a later date when finances will permit.
The following endnotes are provided by Brother Nelson, ΔΔ916.
1. This article, “New Chapter House is a Magnificent Structure,” appeared in the March 1925 edition of the Delta Delta News.” Based on this date, the article was published after house construction plans has been approved and about one-month after construction had begun. Based on other historical records and accompanying photographs, the foundation had been completed and construction of the first floor had started by the date of publication. It is unknown as to how accurately this description matches the finished structure.
2. Watts, the first of the existing West Halls dorms, was built in 1923. Irvin followed in 1925 and was likely under construction at the same time as Sigma Nu. Jordan was built in 1930. The recently constructed Varsity Hall would be renamed as Recreation (Rec) Hall.
3. I believe a remnant of this slate roof still exists on the overhang above the kitchen door entrance.
4. Later enclosed (date unknown) and became the House Mother’s Suite (HMS). The HMS was converted to an uncovered patio in 2021.
5. Presumably, the four rooms in the south basement with original terra cotta foundation blocks appear to confirm.
6. The configuration and location of the coal storage room, furnace, and water heater is unknown. These may have been located below the library in the room behind the basement trophy case (later used for a walk-in beer keg cooler and before that, an unfinished file room). Access to a chimney would have been required and there is evidence on the wall below the library fireplace of the needed penetrations. A portion of the ash lift appears to remain in a bricked-in recess in the southwest corner of the north basement and directly under the rear terrace. Interestingly, this recess is not shown in the fire reconstruction drawings. If it existed, plumbing for a toilet is no longer evident.
7. This room is in the north basement. Used as an unfinished chapter room following fire reconstruction and later finished with paneling for party use.
8. The double doors to the library do not appear in the dedicated pictures of this room. Rather, an open curved arched entrance was built.
9. The article refers to wood in many locations on the first floor. The first-floor pictures in the chapter house dedication program show dark wood beams in the living room but paneling on the walls is not evident unless very light in color as described for the library.
10. The French doors on the west side of the fireplace (left side when looking at the fireplace) are not evident in the living room photo included in the house dedication program. The reconstruction drawings show a solid brick wall in this location. This door was apparently bricked-in when the patio was converted to a suite. Evidence of this brickwork can be seen from the patio.
11. Thus the need for the now unused kitchen chimney.
12. To this point, the configuration of the kitchen, pantry room, rear hall, refrigerator room, and “servant” bedrooms is difficult to understand given the current configuration. The description of the dining room exit states that the exit connects to the rear hall. It’s likely that the other rooms described in the Service Area were in what we now call the pantry/commissary that runs along the west wall of this wing. Apparently, the pantry room ran along the east wall of the kitchen. This would explain the described pantry room window and sink for filling water glasses. Both the window and glass filling station remain today. This conclusion regarding the location of the pantry is supported by the reconstruction drawings which state “Remove Part.” This partition apparently separated the cooking area from the pantry. Based on this understanding, in order to enter the kitchen from the dining room, one had to first enter the pantry room or the rear hall.
13. A continuous vertical opening along the fire tower stairs from the basement to the third floor still exists but is obstructed by a pipe run.
The house is included, with a photo, in the Farmers High School listing of the National Register of Historic Places, along with Phi Gamma Delta, Alpha Zeta, Sigma Chi, Phi Delta Theta, and Beta Thea Pi.
The chapter house was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours of February 23, 1966. A report of the fire appeared in the June 2000 issue of the Delta Delta.
“The Day of “The Fire”, by Robert J. Niznik, ’68, ΔΔ855
It was a cold day on February 23, 1966, but then again, aren’t they all cold in State College at that time of the year? I was trying to stay awake in my E. Mch. Class in one of the engineering buildings on the southwest part of campus. I was wondering why I was still in mining engineering, being on the verge of flunking out after two consecutive terms on the dean’s list. (The dean has two lists, you know, and the one that I was on was not the one your parents normally brag about.) I kept getting interrupted from my drowsy state by the background blare of sirens and bells from fire engines. Something, not good, was definitely going on.
As class was over and I was walking up the mall, I heard murmurings about a fire on campus. Rounding the corner heading back to the house, I could see smoke billowing in the distance. It was then that I heard some students saying, “Frat house on fire.” My pace quickened as I thought “It must be the ancient ratty-looking Sigma Chi house next door.” As I got closer, however, I realized that it was not Sigma Chi but someplace further up the street, and the next thing up the street was us. Now I was running, and then I saw it … smoke pouring out of all the windows, fire trucks everywhere, chaos on the ground, and all the spectators gawking.
I forced my way to the front of the crowd, pushing people out of the way, up to the police barricade where I was told to “move back.” When I told them that I lived there, their entire attitude changed, and they quickly ushered me in, eager to know who I was. As I saw some of the other brothers there, I saw looks of relief on their faces, as I had been put on the list of people who were “missing.” No one had known of my whereabouts, nor those of my roommate, Bud Hirshberg ’66. We were the only two residents of the “little dorm” and had not been seen that day. I knew for certain that Bud was at the ROTC building – of course, where else would he be – and sure enough, his Monza came zooming into the parking lot shortly thereafter.
My recollections of the events of the fire were as follows: early on that morning, John Hoyt ’67 (a.k.a. the “Rochester Flash”), Don Bain ’65, and some of the others guys were having breakfast in the kitchen while most of the others were still asleep. When they left the kitchen and entered the foyer there was smoke beginning to billow from the basement stairwell. They knew it was a major problem and dashed back to the kitchen to get fire extinguishers. When they returned a few seconds later, there were flames shooting out of the basement stairwell. Hoyt ran up the stairs throughout the house sounding the alarm. Unfortunately, since most of the brothers were asleep, they did not really comprehend the seriousness of the event. Others said later that they thought John was an excitable guy and was maybe exaggerating the gravity of the situation. At this point, there was scant evidence that a fire was raging. The next thing you knew, bam, the fire had broken out from the walls, the ceiling, the floors, everywhere. For those who had not heeded John’s initial alert, it was now deadly serious.
Brian Circosta ’68 was in the second-floor shower when smoke started pouring in. He “barely” managed to get to the corner window, push it open, and push a six-pack of Pepsi off the window ledge. The Pepsi landed on the head of Don Bain, who was on the ground encouraging Brian to leap – which he did – au naturel, where Don Bain and others broke his fall to the snowy terrain below. They quickly provided Brian with a jacket to cover up.
Lew Powell ’66 had a worse time from the third floor, jumping all that way and landing in the hedges in front of the house, miraculously escaping serious injury. Bill Kirschner ’66 got on the roof of the house mother’s room and debated going back in and taking the stairs or leaping to the ground below. Wisely, he chose to jump, and he too avoided injury. Most of the guys scrambled down the back stairs known as the fire well (or fire tower). All in all, the brotherhood was lucky … all of the guys got out. It was not so fortunate for our housemother, Mrs, Margaret Yungerth, who perished in the fire.
[Editor’s Note: According to the news account, the correct spelling is Margareath Yuengert. She was 67 and died at the Centre County Hospital in Bellefonte as a result of second and third-degree burns.]
When the alarm was sounded, Mom Yungerth also was in bed but awakened, and assured the person who alerted her that she was on her way out. When she did not come, she was summoned again and was even told that she should exit out of her first-story window. No one is sure what happened next. Speculation was that she, being a proper woman, did not want to exit out the window. Another version is that she did leave the house but could not find our cook, and went back inside to assure that she also escaped. Mom probably may have glanced into the living room, seen what she construed as safe passage, and started to make her way to the front door. The smoke was then so thick there that she overshot the front door, walked into the dining room, and was overcome by smoke. That is where she was discovered, a victim of the lightning-fast fire.
We were shocked and saddened. We cried. It was not possible to believe. I can still see her playing cards with Bobbi and Bob Spinelli ’67, the Bains, Brokenshire, John Ruland ’65, or Tom Boyd ’66. I’ll always remember her impeccable appearance, always a lady. There was speculation about what caused the fire, but as far as I remember, they always had two theories about the reason. The first was that the electrical wiring, which was old, shorted out and started it. The other theory was more intriguing. For years everyone had been tossing cigarette butts into the fireplace in the study. It was thought that the trap in the floor had a breach in the opening. A cigarette butt went down, landed in the false ceiling above the chapter room [Ed Note. Now the north basement or bar room], ignited and, literally burned internally, all night long, suddenly bursting out all over the place.
Whatever the cause, the effect was devastating: one life lost and scores of others inextricably altered for years to come. We were lost, homeless, and depressed. Ironically, it was Ash Wednesday.”
The fire destroyed all of the brothers’ possessions, the House furnishings, and the vast majority of the Chapter’s memorabilia including its extensive and prized trophy collection. However, the Chapter’s charter was saved.
Immediately after the fire, a number of fraternities provided housing and meals for the displaced brothers. Over the next several years, the brothers lived in the Nittany Garden Apartments at 1006 South Pugh Street, a large stone house on the northwest corner of Beaver & Garner Streets, and the old YMCA building that stood on West College Avenue. Led by Brothers Wilbert F. Hobbs, Dave Girard, and Harold R. (Ike) Gilbert, the alumni responded to the challenge and rebuilt the Chapter House which reopened in the fall of 1968.
Because of building code requirements that had changed over the previous 40 years, many of the original features could not be rebuilt, including the open front staircase. Other fire safety features had to be added, including a metal fire escape for the bedroom floors on the north side. Other fire safety design features included poured concrete floors, concrete block interior support walls, and a front staircase enclosed in concrete blocks. Metal fire doors were added to this staircase and the rear “fire tower.” The renovated kitchen included state-of-the-art fixtures with the exception of the stove and griddle which were previously used.
The rebuilt House Mother’s Suite (although never again used for this purpose) consisted of a full bath, small bedroom, closet, and large living area. An exterior door and a door to the living room provided access.
The former house steam heating system (with steam supplied by the university) could not be replaced. Because electricity was relatively cheap at the time, the new heating system consisted of ceiling-mounted electric heating panels, allowing both room-by-room and zone temperature adjustments.
Some unfortunate rebuilt features included parquet wood floors on the first floor, asbestos-containing vinyl tile in the bedrooms, bedroom hallways, front stairwell and basement, and a poorly designed roof for the House Mothers Suite. The former was very difficult to maintain. The roof did not allow proper drainage and was not properly sealed. It definitely was not designed for repeated foot traffic. The asbestos-containing tile prevented removal without very expensive asbestos abatement.
Later capital improvements (not mentioned elsewhere) have included: a whole house sprinkler system; replacement insulated windows in all locations; vinyl plank flooring throughout the first floor; removal & replacement of all basement vinyl tile; renovated main bathrooms; gas-fueled water heating system; water softener; wall mounted and baseboard heating units where ceiling heat has failed; a foundation drainage system for the north basement, and a front brick walkway. Major equipment replacements have included the oven and dishwashing machine. With the exception of the sprinkler system, all improvements have been completed without a loan of any type.
Our current tenant, the Evans Scholars Foundation (ESF), recently completed extensive renovations to our Chapter House, all at ESF’s expense (totaling approximately $350,000). Interior renovations included: painting of all the walls, ceilings and trim following plaster and drywall repairs/replacements; painted most interior doors; applied touch-up stain to library trophy cases and trim; installed new LED lighting fixtures throughout; installed ceiling fans in all of the bedrooms; installed wall-to-wall carpeting in all of the bedrooms and vinyl plank flooring in the bedroom hallways; replaced second and third floor doors with hollow core metal doors and metal frames; replaced all window, door and closet trim; installed ceiling trim in the bedrooms; installed frosted glass dividers in both shower stalls and new bathroom vent fans; replaced the circular window in room 311 with a custom design; installed vinyl base trim in the bedrooms, bedroom hallways, and front stairwell; filled-in the well in front of the basement fireplace, including a ceramic tile surface; installed pull-down shades on all windows; and renovated the kitchen bathroom. Exterior renovations included new vinyl shutters and painting of the front entrance handrail. All of these renovations became part of our property and are now owned by the Property Association. For a photo tour, CLICK HERE. Note that the house includes residents of both genders. The second-floor bathroom is the women’s bathroom in which the urinals have been covered in an enclosure. The third-floor men’s bathroom is identical except for the urinal enclosure. Both of these bathrooms were recently renovated by the Property Association.
House Mother’s Suite (HMS)
This project has had a long history dating to the mid-nineties when Brother Dave Parker, ΔΔ1206, an architect, prepared preliminary drawings for a variety of potential uses. The Association chose to restore the HMS to its rebuilt configuration (a living area, small bedroom, and full bath). To financially support this effort, then Association President Robert Leyburn,
ΔΔ597, (since deceased) raised approximately $15,000. In 2003, the roof was replaced for a cost of approximately $9,000 using funds raised by Brother Leyburn. The HMS fund was later replenished with a gift from the estate of Joseph Colone, ΔΔ530.
In 2005, design specifications for this configuration were prepared with renovation consisting of three phases: roof replacement (which had recently been completed); exterior weatherproofing; and interior renovation. In support of Phase II, a scoping estimate was obtained to repair the deteriorating brick and mortar on the north exterior wall. This estimate was more than $20,000. With the east and west walls in similar condition, it was clear that insufficient funds were available to even complete Phase II. The project was tabled.
In 2015, the Association sent an assessment of the physical condition of the HMS to all alumni for which we had either an e-mail or snail mail address. In addition to an assessment, we included comments on renovation alternatives (including the plans previously approved by the Association’s Board of Directors (BOD)), possible sources of funds for these alternatives, and recommendations for moving forward. Seventeen alums responded and opinions varied. Most agreed with demolishing the HMS and replacing it with a patio when funds became available. The BOD approved this approach and authorized funds to obtain design drawings from an architect. By 2016, an architect had been selected, design drawings were prepared and then reviewed and approved by the Centre Region Code Administration (CRCA). Bids were solicited and received ranging from $88,000 to $130,000. This wide variation was not explored because the project was placed on hold (again) by the BOD in response to impending financial difficulties resulting from the mass move-out of the collegiate chapter that occurred in the spring of 2017.
As a condition of extending its lease by five years to 2028, our tenant, the Evans Scholars Foundation, agreed to convert the HMS to an uncovered patio at its expense, covering all administrative costs and all construction costs up to $150,000. Above this $150K cap, construction costs would be evenly split between ESF and the Association.
Using the 2016 plans and using the same architect, the plans were updated in the summer of 2020 and again submitted to CRCA for a building permit. The 2016 plans had been approved by CRCA as a “repair.” This time, CRCA (a new reviewer) categorized the repair as an “improvement.” As such, CRCA requires 20% of the project cost to involve improvements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This required numerous changes to the plans including a ramp (rather than steps) for access to the patio from the outside, a concrete sidewalk leading to this ramp, and modifications to the door from the living room to the patio. Approval from the Borough’s zoning office was also required. Anticipating approval, asbestos removal was completed during the summer at ESF’s expense. This process involved the removal of the flooring, flooring adhesive, and the two custom windows. All approvals were finally received in January 2021 after a long and frustrating process complicated by the pandemic.
The project was completed in the summer of 2021. The total construction cost of the project was $159,532 with our tenant, the Evans Scholars Foundation, reimbursing the Association $154,766. The new (uncovered) patio features a new metal fire escape, a new concrete slab with drain, three-foot brick walls with capstones (using the lower portion of the existing walls), metal railing at each of the four current archways, a new door from the living room with emergency exit bar and push-button combination lock, and emergency lighting, in addition to the ADA additions mentioned above.
To view these updates, please click HERE.