620 South State Street, has been home to the Chi Psi Fraternity since the Fall of 1915. Over ninety years old now, the building still retains many of its original features on the exterior. The building, dubbed "the lodge" by Chi Psi's, is classified as Georgian Revival architecture. Walking up to the all brick facade of the building a pedestrian will notice the centered entrance. This classical entrance is framed by two receded pillars and a ornamented entablature. The Palladian symmetry of the facade is typical of the Georgian Revival style; as are the chimneys at both ends of the building. Looking up at the cornice one can see the detail hiding seamlessly. From the cornice, the hipped roof guides the eyes to a flat top. Unseen is the 18 by 18 flat copper squares which completely cover the flat portion of the roof.
Declared October 30, of 1915, the design of the Lodge took great consideration in the fire proofing of the building and for its time was an idiosyncratic example of fire safety in the region. Every part of the building, with the exception of the rafters, was formed from poured concrete with reinforced steel. This was a significant movement away from the typical all wood buildings. In its entire ninety plus years of existence the building has only had one significant fire, which as the story goes occurred in 1954 and erupted on the 1st floor from a cigarette on a couch. The fire was so hot that it caused the paint on the second floor to bubble up and peel off of the walls. Luckily, because of the high ceilings no significant damage was done.
The property was formerly owned by the Jones Family and was purchased by Chi Psi for the grand total of $10,000. The original parcel extended from State Street back to the middle of what is currently, The University of Michigan's South Quad Residence Hall. The Lodge was originally designed by York & Sawyer an architecture firm out of New York. They also designed The University of Michigan Law Quad, and, in the same year they designed Chi Psi they also designed the Martha Cook Building. Later the contract was transferred to the George A. Fuller Company who has built significant structures such as the Lincoln Memorial, The Flatiron Building in New York and thousands more. In the 1940s the Fraternity began collection for an addition to help house returning brothers who had gone off to war. In 1958 the addition was realized. For a period in Lodge history their were callow young men of eighteen years old living with adult men returning from war; some even in their late thirties.
The symmetrical facade serves multiple functions for the building, most importantly it establishes the order called for by classical architecture. But perhaps another significant function is the ability to project the interior symmetry of the building from the exterior. In doing so it provides a person with an expectation of the experience of the interior space; so as one walks into the large open lobby one has already acclimated oneself for the experience. This serves the building well, as it allows for more attention to be paid to the interior details: the all wood framing for example.
The lobby is of all wood flooring and serves as the center of the entire building. To one side of the lobby is the fireplace room; perhaps the most impressive room in the entire building. Restored to its original condition, the room is in great shape to handle the small get togethers required by the social calenders of Fraternities. On the opposite end is the large dining room with the fire place centered in the back end wall. This room is attached to the kitchen with multiple doors on either side of the hearth. The current kitchen is the first significant sign of variation from the typical Georgian Revival style; as part of the addition the kitchen was designed as an exact replica, including window placement, of the former kitchen, which was located in the basement.
From the kitchen a set of stairs mediates between the basement, the exterior, and the kitchen’s Steward closet. The basement space is much more segregated into smaller portions than the main floor. In total the basement holds ten rooms, including a large room comparable in size to the dining room directly above. Another large room is the tap room with all brick floors. This room is also part of the addition, it lies directly under the kitchen and is the keeper of an old copper top bar. The bar originally comes from a famous old bar by the name of Joe’s Bar. From the famous Michigan song, I want to go back to Michigan, "Back to Joe’s and The Orient." Joe’s Bar later became the beloved Pretzel Bell. The bar was acquired by brothers in 1984 when The Pretzel Bell went out of business. Moving away from the two larger rooms in the basement one will find the inner workings of the building. The rooms consist of storage mostly, initially it appears that the rooms may have served as storage for the old kitchen. The boiler room is another large room is accessible through the long corridor of storage rooms. Through the boiler room one may access an old and now unused portion of the building, the coal shoot. This coal shoot once connected with the exterior in order to receive coal for the furnace without having to travel through the rest of the building.
Up to the second floor via the centered stairs at the back of the building one experiences the efficient use of the corridor and again the symmetrical plan. Originally the second floor plan was in the form of an “I,” however, with the addition of the kitchen and four extra dormers the plan is now in the form of an “I” connected to an upside-down “L” at one end. The second floor was once only used as a bedroom by the two double suites at each end. The suites were connected by a bathroom and were typically only lived in by Senior brothers.
Unlike the other floors the third floor remained unchanged by the addition. The plan is a near perfectly symmetrical “I” plan. At one end it is met with three dormers and at the other end a single large lounge area. This floor functioned as the dormer. It was where all the brothers slept. Originally their were two large rooms at each end and all the brothers, with the exception of those in the four suites, would sleep in these areas and only use their rooms for storage.
The Lodge remained basically the same physically from the time it was first built. The addition was designed in great consideration to preserve the original materials and style. With the exception of updated wiring and Land-lines the Lodge has not undergone drastic technological changes. What is ephemeral in the lodge is not the physical building but the way in which it has accommodated the generations of students for nearly a century. Well preserved Fraternities, like Chi Psi, are always interesting as they pertain to preservation. The building must change with the young residents, inevitably endure moments of neglect, and yet, retain its history and tradition. The most interesting part of my investigation into the Chi Psi Fraternity at 620 S. State Street was the discovery of portions of the building that many times get over looked, which makes it even more surprising that these aspects were preserved in their original forms. For example, the gutters remain functional and in original form. This I believe is a testament to repair as a economically viable way to age a building as opposed to continually renewing the broken or the worn portions of a building.