“The work of Alpha Theta chapter of Sigma Chi demonstrates the power of history, legacy, and tradition and the importance of the physical manifestation of that past has a statement and actor upon our current culture and life experience.”
These words from Greg Galer, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, described the extensive renovation of the residence of MIT’s Sigma Chi fraternity. After deliberation over relocation and renovation options since the 1960s, the chapter recently completed an architectural overhaul, and its engineering ingenuity and commitment to historical integrity earned the building a Preservation Achievement Award. 532 Beacon Street now keeps company with landmarks such as the Trinity Church and Fenway Park.
The Back Bay Townhouse has been home to Sigma Chi since 1919. The building had MIT roots even before it was occupied by the fraternity, having been built in 1900 by MIT-educated architect George A. Avery. Avery left his mark with fifteen other residences in Back Bay, including Sigma Chi’s next door neighbor Phi Kappa Sigma.
As the oldest continually operating fraternity at MIT (1882), it makes sense that Sigma Chi would value its history. The goal of the renovation was to build a “first-class living and learning environment” while still feeling like a home according to Dan Craig ’03, SM ’05, current President of the MIT Sigma Chi alumni house corporation.
532 Beacon now has new plumbing, electrical, air conditioning, heating, lighting, and life safety systems, computer networking, a five stop elevator and extended central stair, new kitchen and bathrooms, and an entirely new addition of a fifth floor.
These changes and their preservation requirements created some engineering challenges for the firms of Oxbow Partners, LDa Architecture and Interiors, and Sea-Dar Construction. The teams had to find the intersection between preservation, accessibility, and safety. In order to keep the grand staircase but make it to code, LDa installed hidden fire doors and smoke baffles. The firms installed a rainwater capture system to direct rainfall into the ground and any excess into storm drains to stave off rot in the wooden pilings of the house foundation. The fifth floor was even built during the record-snowy January to finish the renovation in only eight months.
The Beacon to the Future initiative and campaign chairman Doug Bailey ’72 spearheaded the fundraising efforts. Support was solicited from Sigma Chi alumni, families, and friends through this platform and MIT’s Independent Residence Development Fund (IRDF). “The IRDF is an incredible resource for FSLIGs at MIT and was instrumental to our project. IRDF provided long term debt financing, short-term bridge financing while donors fulfill their pledges, and grants for some portions of the project related to educational or accessibility features,” said Karl Büttner ’87, Administrative Chairman of the Beacon to the Beacon to the Future Capital Campaign, member of the Building Committee, and former Sigma Chi house corporation President.
Sigma Chi was founded on the principles of friendship, justice, and learning, and now the building’s new features facilitate a sense of community, friendship, and support within the fraternity. For example, the face-to-face interaction enabled by the open central staircase promotes connections among the brothers. Not only does 532 Beacon bring residents together, but it serves as a tangible and concrete unifier across generations of Sigma Chis.
As Craig described, “All of the homes in Boston’s Back Bay were originally single family homes. Many of them have long since been carved up into condos or apartments, but ours remains a single family home, albeit a family of 32 young men who call each other brothers.”
For photos of the finished renovation visit Sigma Chi’s photo gallery.