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Sigma Chi Finds Permanent Home on Mass. Ave

By Andrew C. Esensten, Crimson Staff Writer

Sigma Chi, a fraternity that lost its home in 2001 but continued to assemble in dorm rooms, classrooms and church basements as it searched for a permanent meeting place, has bought a house near Harvard Yard.

The house—a gray, three-story, late nineteenth-century Victorian building located at 1124 Mass. Ave.—sold for $940,000, according to former owner Walter G. Guffey. When the house went on the market in April, it was listed at $1.495 million.

Matthew B. Salzberg ’05, president of Harvard’s chapter of the national order, announced Monday that Sigma Chi negotiated the deal with Guffey through an alumnus member who lives in Boston.

“This is a huge triumph for all of us,” said Salzberg, who added that he was impressed with how quickly current and past members of the fraternity were able to raise the money to buy the house.

“I’m very proud of how everybody stepped up to donate so much money in such a short time,” Salzberg said. “We had some big donors, but it was a very large, broad, grass-roots donation campaign which really exceeded everyone’s expectations,” he said.

Over 100 undergraduates and alums donated to the house fund, according to a statement released by the fraternity.

Of the selling price, Guffey said, “I would love to have ratcheted it up some, but we didn’t have any leverage.”

The sale seems to contradict statements made by both Guffey and the fraternity earlier this fall. In November, Guffey told The Crimson that Sigma Chi had lost out in its bid, and that he hoped to finalize a deal with a local scientist.

Then chapter president Jean-Pierre R. Jacquet ’05 said that “neither the undergraduate chapter nor the alumni of Harvard Sigma Chi are currently planning to purchase or lease any property.”

The high bidding scientist was Shailesh R. Sahay ’02, the Sigma Chi alum who ultimately brokered the deal, according to Guffey.

At a ceremony on Monday, Guffey said he presented the house’s title and keys to Sahay.

Guffey, who is co-owner of his own real estate firm, Charles Associates, said he had mixed emotions about selling a house that has been in his family for 100 years and was previously owned by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Class of 1829.

“It was the best thing for myself and my siblings,” Guffey said. “But I certainly miss it. It had a great history.”

In 1904, Guffey’s grandmother moved into the house with her husband. As janitors at Harvard, Guffey said the couple managed Brentford Hall, an undergraduate dormitory.

He said his grandmother detested her daily task of shining the shoes of every Brentford Hall resident and would withdraw to her home on Mass. Ave. to “escape from bondage.”

Guffey’s late mother also lived in the house.

“I would have liked, if I didn’t really need the money, to have held onto it forever,” Guffey said. “But that wasn’t in the cards.”

Myra McCoy, a friend of Guffey’s mother who lived in the house with her while she was alive and stayed after she died, moved out on Monday.

“What’s to be is to be,” McCoy said from her new residence at 2 Mt. Auburn St., which is in the same neighborhood as the Sigma Chi house.

For the fraternity, the buy ends a two-year period of homelessness, prolonged by high real-estate prices in a notoriously expensive market and a shortage of money, Salzberg said.

In 1996, Sigma Chi obtained partial ownership of 43-45 Mt. Auburn St. with the Pi Eta Speakers Associates on behalf of the now-defunct Pi Eta fraternity. The club shut down in 1991 following allegations by a Northeastern University alum that she was raped at the club in 1989.

When Pi Eta forced Sigma Chi out of the house over a political dispute in 2001—25 years before Sigma Chi was to take sole control of the building—a legal battle ensued.

In the summer of 2002, Pi Eta agreed to pay Sigma Chi an undisclosed amount of money and sold the house for a reported $2.75 million to the Foundation for Civic Leadership.

Without a regular place to congregate, Sigma Chi “traded volunteer work by its members” at churches and homeless shelters “in return for meeting space,” according to the fraternity’s statement.

Although Salzberg said there is much work to be done on the house—the weeks following winter recess will be devoted to renovations—the members of Sigma Chi are content to have a place to call home and its alums are pleased to know that Sigma Chi will continue to be a presence at Harvard.

“I’m proud to say that Sigma Chi is here to stay as a permanent fixture on the Harvard campus,” Andrew Stoll ’99, president of the alumni association, said in the statement.

Salzberg said the fraternity is not the only organization that has had trouble carving a niche for itself at Harvard.

“It’s really tough, particularly at Harvard, for the Greek scene and for all new organizations in general,” Salzberg said. “If you’re not a final club you don’t have a property, you don’t have a house, you don’t have a place to meet. And we have always desired to have a place even from the beginning,” he said.

The new house—which will be dedicated in January and will house some undergraduates—will “serve as a permanent home for our traditions, our history, our operations,” Salzberg said.

Ali Partovi ’94 helped to start the Harvard chapter of Sigma Chi with a group of friends. Reached at his home in California, Partovi said the success of Sigma Chi’s real-estate venture should give more students the courage to start their own organizations.

“Generally most students look at the menu of opportunities and pick and choose what they think is available to them,” Partovi said. “For us to create something from scratch and then not only start it but also build it up into something that’s really successful and becomes part of the establishment for students to come down the line, is a really exciting thing.”

—Staff writer Andrew C. Esensten can be reached at esenst@fas.harvard.edu.

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