The Beta Chapter of MIT’s Chi Phi Fraternity recently received a very singular honor, one rarely associated with a college fraternity. This past June, the New England chapter of the Victorian Society in America awarded Chi Phi its 2016 Preservation Award for its stewardship of the historic John F. Andrew Back Bay Mansion. The award recognizes the great care taken by Chi Phi in maintaining the numerous Victorian facets and details of their magnificent building, located at the corner of Hereford Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay, which the fraternity has called home since 1950.
The mansion was designed for the son and daughter-in-law of Massachusetts Governor and abolitionist John Albion Andrew. John Forrester Andrew, a Massachusetts politician, as well and his wife, Harriet Thayer Andrew, moved into the home in 1884, where their descendants would reside until 1950. The house was designed by renowned architects McKim, Mead, and White—the firm responsible for New York’s Pennsylvania Station and the Boston Public Library—and built by the prominent Norcross Brothers. Since purchasing 32 Hereford Street, over seven hundred Chi Phi brothers have resided in the historic home, which has been deemed an architectural masterpiece.
This ten-year project has included renovations to necessities such as the heating, electrical, and sprinkler systems; a new, complex roof; and bathrooms and showers. Additionally, the house has added exterior and interior aesthetics and artwork, such as brickwork, a balcony from the Tuileries Palace, a ceiling painted by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and a portrait of the Andrew daughters. The forty current MIT student residents also benefit from a parking lot, front yard, and new study equipped with computers and printers. The work was spearheaded by a number of alumni who still feel a strong attachment to the home. In addition to contributions of about $2.5 million, several alumni contributed manual labor to the house as well. David Neuburger ’75, for example, crafted a library table with Chi Phi inlays and worked on the intricate woodworking on the house staircase. Other major players included Beta Foundation officers Bill Frezza ‘76, former president who led the fundraising campaign, and Tom Holtey ‘62, current treasurer overseeing project management. Additional support came from nonprofit Society for Preservation of Greek Housing and MIT’s Independent Residence Development Fund (IRDF).
This project has strengthened the bonds of the fraternity and renewed alumni interaction through the shared warm sentiments of their previous residence, facilitating interaction between current students and alumni through an ongoing alumni presence at the house. Due to the prominence of the building, Chi Phi students and alumni always seek ways to demonstrate responsibility and respect for the local community. The students frequently participate in the neighborhood clean-up days, called Back Bay “Alley Rallies.” They have also served as a host for meetings and special events of the Neighborhood Association of Back Bay. Given the history, this respect for community and tradition is not surprising. Chi Phi is America’s oldest national fraternity, founded in 1824, and the Beta Chapter became the first national fraternity at MIT when it was established 1873.
Words by Sarah Goodman, with additional contributions from Isabella Dionne.