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County commission moves to preserve frat house

SAN JOSE -- Santa Clara County's Historical Heritage Commission voted Thursday, July 18, to recommend designation of the Beta Chi Chapter House of the Sigma Nu fraternity at Stanford University as a Point of Historical Interest.

The house, more recently known as Synergy House, was designed and built in 1913. It was severely damaged in the 1989 earthquake and is scheduled for demolition.

Phil Williams, director of planning at Stanford, said repairing Synergy and two other damaged houses could cost as much as $4.5 million. The university at first planned to repair the houses (the others are Delta Tau Delta and Phi Psi) but earlier this year decided to build faculty housing on the sites.

That decision, Williams said, will save the university about $2.8 million, with which modern student housing could be built in more appropriate areas of campus.

The effect of the county vote is not yet known, said Barry Lake of the Committee to Save the Hill Houses, which argued for the historical designation. Neither the county nor the state, he said, has the authority to halt demolition. The state Historical Resources Commission is scheduled to consider the committee's petition on Aug. 2.

"We think the university might reconsider if the houses receive Point of Historical Interest status," Lake said.

"We believe the state commission will follow the lead of the [county] but we don't know what effect that will have," said Paul Baer, also a member of the committee and, like Lake, a university staff member and Stanford alumnus. "Obviously, we would like them to delay demolition plans until after the hearing. Perhaps that way we could raise the funds necessary to repair [the houses]."

The Sigma Nu house was designed by John Bakewell Jr. and Arthur Brown Jr., university architects from 1913 until 1941. The Sigma Nu house was their first known campus building, with Hoover Tower their last project at Stanford.

Stanford Planning Director Williams told the county commission that using the Historic Values Index (HVI), the university gave "moderate" ratings to the Synergy and Delt houses, and a high rating for the Phi Psi, or Cooksey House.

"The HVI group and the Stanford Historical Society concurred in the rating of the relative importance of these houses and accepted the conclusion that we could not save the Synergy and Delt houses," Williams said in a prepared statement for the commission. "We will be conducting further study on ways we can keep and repair the Cooksey House and use it as part of the faculty housing project.

"We do take very seriously the restoration and repair of our heritage buildings, but our resources are limited and we must concentrate them on our most important needs," he said. -pr-


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