Frat scats

Chico State’s now-unrecognized Beta Theta Pi clears out the house it occupied for two decades

EMPTY NEST<br>The Beta Theta Pi fraternity has occupied this house on East Third Street for nearly two decades. The front of the house is shown at left; the back, below.

The Beta Theta Pi fraternity has occupied this house on East Third Street for nearly two decades. The front of the house is shown at left; the back, below.

Photo By Andrew Boost

Big Greek letters have always been absent from the front of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on East Third Street. Now there is another defining element missing from the house: the resident fraternity members.

The large, two-story home that sits on 1 1/4 acres has been vacant since May. The sparkly white house with blue shutters sits imposingly, surrounded by big trees near the Bidwell Park end of East Third. And despite seemingly fresh paint, broken windows are visible, leaving a bit to be desired of what was once a Decorators’ Dream House.

The decision to vacate was a mutual one made by current fraternity members and alumni who make up the Beta House Corp., Chico, according to Mike Murphy, a Chico State student and member of Beta Theta Pi.

However, alumnus and founding member of the fraternity John Cooper said Beta House Corp., of which he is a member, alone made the decision. The house no longer suited the fraternity’s needs, he explained, because it is in the wrong area of town. Although the house stood occupied by Betas for almost 20 years, it’s not located within the zone set out by the city and university for Greek organization chapter houses and is generally not a central location, Cooper said.

Beta Theta Pi’s departure comes in the wake of something more significant than zoning rules. In April, the fraternity’s charter was revoked for two years by its national organization due to hazing allegations brought against several members, including Murphy. Beta Theta Pi has been keeping a low profile since then, and members have generally refrained from talking to the press.

The charges brought against the fraternity were particularly alarming considering the men were the first in California to be charged under Matt’s Law, named in memory of Matthew Carrington, who died in February 2005 as a result of a hazing incident while pledging Chico State’s Chi Tau fraternity.

The Betas’ case is currently in the pretrial stages. Defense attorneys argued earlier this month that they cannot properly defend their clients because the charges neither name the acts that constitute hazing nor the victims of the alleged crimes. The charges have since been amended, and the case is due back in court Oct. 29.

Many of the Beta Theta Pi members who lived in the chapter house graduated or currently live the in the fraternity’s unofficial annex house on Fourth Street and Normal Avenue.

Photo By Andrew Boost

Although the Beta House Corp. organized a cleanup of the East Third Street house and surrounding property on Saturday (Sept. 22), there are no immediate plans to sell. There have been a few offers on the house, but they so far have been “insulting,” Cooper said.

The group is in no hurry to sell both because the real-estate market is on the decline and the mortgage is mostly paid off. Instead of selling or renting the house right away, the Beta House Corp. plans to renovate and repair it before putting it on the market.

“We’re not going to sell a dead house,” Cooper said.

Beta Theta Pi acquired the house in the late ‘80s, and fraternity lore holds that the house is particularly special because it was built by the Enloe family in 1912, Murphy said.

However, this story cannot, as of yet, be confirmed by the Chico Heritage Association. A study of historic houses on East Third Street was conducted in the early ‘80s, before the Betas owned the house, said Liz Stewart of Chico Heritage Association. In order to be included in the study a house had to be at least 50 years old. That house was not included, so it was most likely built more recently, probably in the 1930s.

In fact, the only record of the house in the association’s archives is that it was a Butte-Glenn Medical Association Decorators’ Dream House in the early ‘80s and may have, at the time, belonged to a Richardson family.

Fraternity lore also held that because of the building’s historical significance, it would have to be restored upon new ownership. The house, however, is not listed in the city’s Historic Resource Inventory.

Because the house is not considered to be of historical significance, it could be renovated to become individual apartments instead of a single-family home, or even knocked down to build an apartment complex.

“It’s a shame that such a nice house looks pretty trashed at the moment,” said Bob Summerville, senior planner for the city of Chico.

While Beta Theta Pi’s university charter was only revoked for two years, the fraternity has no plans to use the house as a chapter house in the future.

“That will never be the Beta house again,” Cooper said.