The following is a summary of information about the formation and development of the Caltech South Residence Houses based on information available in the Caltech archives. Some information may be of particular interest to Blacker Hovse.
During the late 1920's, approximately 110 of the 500 Caltech undergraduates were housed in five fraternities around the Caltech campus. The remaining students either lived at home or with a family in a house close to the campus (which the administration usually helped find). The fraternities also had a few graduate members and faculty advisors. The fraternities appear to have been members of their respective national fraternal societies and were officially recognized by the Caltech administration.
The administration decided that the scientists who were receiving bachelor degrees from Caltech were, for the most part, not ``well rounded'' due to the lack of social interaction available at the campus -- the students were well dispersed among isolated living arrangements, except for the fraternities. The administration determined that on-campus residence houses would allow for fraternity-like social contact. The administration sent a group of students on a junket to East Coast and British universities so that they could make recommendations about how the design and operation of the houses. Four interconnected houses were designed and construction was completed in 1931.
It was decided that campus-sponsored residence houses should be the only group housing available at Caltech and therefore the fraternities should dissolve. The administration did not want the fraternities to simply relocate into the Caltech residence houses but did want members of the fraternities to act as the nuclei around which a beneficial social atmosphere would develop. At the request of the Caltech administration, the fraternities did not rush (recruit) new members during their final year of existence, though a few students appear to have sought out membership on their own. Through some unknown process a sub-group from each of the fraternities was allowed to occupy each of the new houses; the remaining fraternity members seem to have either joined the Throop Club or remained unaffiliated (some also left Caltech). It is unclear whether the number of fraternity members who could move into Caltech housing was somehow limited. Most of the house members were not previously members of the fraternities, though the ratio varied among the houses. The Throop Club was a social club with a lounge and game room where student who were not affiliated with any of the South Residence Houses could congregate for some social interaction.
The amount of information in the archives about each fraternity varies widely. Some alumni of the fraternities later wrote brief summaries of their histories and collected personal anecdotes; these are available in the archives. In these histories, the alumni usually mention the name of the South Residence House their fraternity helped to establish. For the remainder, the house must be inferred by comparing the 1931 fraternity membership list in the Big T with the 1932 and 1933 house membership and graduating senior house affiliation list in the Big T.
The transfer appears to be as follows: Gamma Sigma populated Dabney; the Gnomes (pronounced no-mees), Kappa Gamma, populated Ricketts; Sigma Alpha Pi populated Fleming; and the Pharos, Phi Alpha Rho Omicron Sigma (Phi APO Sigma), populated Blacker. The fifth fraternity, Pi Alpha Tau, was the smallest and appears to have had a schism among their ranks: two of the three members from the graduating class of 1932 joined Blacker and two of the four members from the graduating class of 1933 joined Fleming (the remainder did not join any house).
Jack Chambers('32), the first president of Blacker Hovse, was a member of the Pharos. The other Blacker members who were previously members of the Pharos were William Kent('32), Paul Parsons('32), and Lee Carleton('33) (for a total of three out of eight members from the class of 1932 and one out of seven members from the class of 1933). The two Pi Alpha Tau members were Thomas Anderson('32) and William Thomas('32).
Neither Pi Alpha Tau nor the Pharos have local histories on file in the
Caltech archives; Pi Alpha Tau has almost nothing on file. A copy of the
``neophyte'' initiation process for the Pharos, including a history of their
national organization to be read during the initiation, is on file. One part
of the initiation included measuring the Colorado Street bridge with a
foot-long ruler, at night. Another part required the neophyte to be placed in
a storm drain in a canyon running south from Arden and Lake across from a
reservoir; without any light, the member needed to find his way out. The
instructions commented that the member should be checked for matches, that
noise by full members at the exit could make the challenge too easy, and that
the fastest escape time on record was 25 minutes.
- David Edelsohn / email@example.com
Original Caltech fraternity names, date local chapter founded, and addresses:
|Comments from alumni|
Dave McCarroll (Astronomy `66)|
Fri, June 7 1996 - 12:10 pm
Did the Lounge Run still exist, Purity Tests, 8 man lifts, San Marino walks, the Ride during finals? I might have an old Freshman initiation procedure from the Church of Blacker. Pretty gross.
Tim Hochberg (APh `89)
When I was Hovse secratary (87-88?) I collected all of the old secretary's log books into one place for safekeeping. This turned out to be a mistake as I believe they were promptly lost by one of the next few secrataries. Sigh! They went back nearly to the founding of the house and were true treaures.
In any event here are a few of the highlights (modulo my faulty memory):
In the early days of the house alchohol was not allowed and it was strictly enforced by the hovse. Ricardo Gomez (old physics prof, is he still there?) was declared persona non grata when he handed the students shots o' whisky and quick had his picture taken with them. This was a billion or so years ago, and last I heard he was still smashing up the ath and causing trouble.
The hole in the tunnel wall has been reapearing for 40 years or so.
There's been talk of how the house needed a constitution ever since its founding. The talk was most serious in the late fifties or early sixties, but the next journal is missing. The next entres are 10 years later, and there is some offhand mention of the burning of the constitution. Did Blacker briefly have a constitution or is it a myth? The world wonders....
There were lots o' weird rules about when and were women could be.
I don't have anything interesting enough for a formal submission, but I would be curious to hear if any of the old journals were ever re-found.