By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Commissioning fraternities was a bold move, one that was funded in part by a federal grant and in smaller part by the fraternities themselves, which were asked to contribute a whopping 6 percent of the frat houses' construction costs.
Each of the buildings is designed very much like an especially well-fashioned motor lodge, with rows of single-room dwellings often grouped around a common area or courtyard, and always an adjacent parking lot. Seen collectively, the frats stand as a tribute to the pinnacle of Mid-Century design.
Alpha Epsilon Phi, designed by Fred Guirey's firm, is the least interesting of the lot, although one suspects that's because Guirey, Srnka, and Arnold had been working for ASU since its inception and appear to have attempted to match the rather somber classroom buildings they'd already designed for the university. Its low-slung red brick construction is drab, and its dirt-level casement windows are the frat's only showy touch. (Lockley wonders whether this building, the cheapest of the 10, hasn't been altered in some way over the years; whether it was once less modest than it appears today.)
The most expensive of the ASU frats, contracted at $264,000, is the James Pleinart house designed for Sigma Nu. It's also the most ridiculed of the Alpha Drive houses, probably because of its simple, faux-futuristic paneled design (Lockley calls it "the TraveLodge frat") or perhaps because it was the location of a notorious porno movie starring ASU student government VP Brian Buck a few years ago.
John Sing Tang, the first Chinese-American architect in Arizona, went on to become a celebrated designer of Modernist homes. At the peak of his career, he designed what was then the Alpha Tau Omega house (and later home to Phi Kappa Alpha), an oddball, squarish two-story that was gutted by fire 12 years ago and has been closed ever since.
Kemper Goodwin's Phi Sigma Kappa house is the most ASU-centric of the frats — and for good reason. Goodwin designed most of ASU's original Tempe campus (his Memorial Union building introduced Modernism to ASU in 1955), and his frat house mirrors the school's traditional box-like forms, but wrapped in curvilinear canopies with goofy, space-age cutouts and geometric overlays.
Arguably the most significant of the buildings is the Tau Kappa Epsilon house, designed as the Phi Delta Theta house by Taliesin Associated Architects. It's a classic Frank Lloyd Wright design, with neither front nor rear façade, its exterior breezeways bordered by a scalloped railing surrounding a colossal red-brick chimney. Built only three years after Wright's death, the house is now vacant, fenced off, and in immediate danger of being knocked over.
That, according to Nielsen, is because it's just another old pile of bricks. "The Phi Delta Theta house is the only property anyone deems historically significant," Nielsen says, "and only because of its connections to Frank Lloyd Wright."
He offers as proof the fact that Phi Delta Theta offered to sell the building to ASU, which wasn't interested. Neither was Taliesin, which has apparently divorced itself from the property. There's reportedly a private owner who's exploring the possibility of getting the building put on the historic registry, then relocating it.
If this man exists, he'd better hurry.
Most of the remaining fraternity houses remain in decent shape, although several have no central air-conditioning, relying on window A/C units to cool bedrooms. At Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Ethernet cables and some of the plumbing are mounted on the outside of the building's walls, but the bathrooms are new and its communal kitchen is the best on Alpha Drive.
"The other frats want a kitchen like ours," Slayton says. "But no one wants to put any money into fixing stuff if the school is going to seize the houses and knock them down."
Slayton has become a Greek Row advocate of sorts, devoting himself to collecting old photos of the houses in their heyday and documenting reasons the Greek system works. One of his favorite platforms is the free labor that he says fraternity brothers gladly give to their homes.
"You have, like, a whole group of guys who live there who take care of the place for free," he says.
Former Tempe mayor Neil Giuliano remembers pitching in to maintain Sigma Nu when he lived there in the '80s. "We were able to keep the fraternities in good shape," he recalls, "and the alumni would step in and provide extra money for new tile or a coat of paint every couple of years."
That era has passed. "Today's students have zero influence," Giuliano says of the Greek system, "and the already small groups of alumni who care are dwindling."
So are the people, Lockley says, who care about old buildings. "Architectural significance is a dying idea, like the Stereopticon or the paperback book. There's no vision or concern regarding the beauty or importance of architecture."
This would all be a lot more disconcerting if the real estate market hadn't tanked, a fact that's certainly stalled the wrangling of these properties from their various owners. But Greek spokesman Jeff Abraham swears the project has never been on hold, nor has the dreary real estate market slowed its progress.