Preservation Fail: Beta Theta Pi House

There is an interesting (sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, but generally always disastrous) site called Preservation Fail that I have been following for a while.  Apparently, no geographic area holds dibs on preservation failures, and every time I would see one of the dooseys posted on the site, I would be reminded of some of the less than historic remodels I have come across around Mississippi.

Entry preservation failTake for example, the Beta Theta Pi House on the campus of the University of Mississippi and their 2011-2012 renovation.  (And yes, I am trying to stop myself from saying “take for example, please…” but I just can’t).  From the letters to the editor of the Beta Theta Pi Summer 2012 magazine:

…blown away by the house renovations at Beta Theta Pi–Ole Miss.  I barely recognized it…No more fish bowl…

The descriptors “amazing” and “great work” were also utilized.  Really?  I do get the ‘barely recognized’ part–for comparison, check out the  Before building.

Rear entry preservation fail 3The back of the building (yet to be “renovated”) remains in keeping with the 1964 design by architects Harold C. Brumfield and James C. Lee (Mississippi Department of Archives & History, Historic Resources Inventory).  The angled roof and large expanse of glass offered contrast to the low height and the small windows of the original structure.  The current juxtaposition just seems to call attention to the incongruity of the mash-up.

What’s your take on it, MissPres? Prefer the mid-century original, or the new Greek facade?

Categories: Historic Preservation, Oxford


14 replies

  1. did not realize that the facade was newly added, as i had not seen the original before. guess Ole Miss is trying to match things up too much. it is definitely incongruent with the tall and square windows on the new piece.maybe without the greek portico and columns it might have blended better.


    • My guess is that eventually they plan to put a Greek-like facade on the entire building since this is Phase I of the planned renovation. That seems such a shame, as this mid-century building was striking in the midst of all the variations of Greek on the street.


  2. all it needs now are a couple of giant garage doors on the front and it will be perfection!


  3. Since the1980’s, Ole Miss (alumni) has virtually banned anything not recognizable as Greek Revival…red brick and light trim. They really tie up architects’ hands. The resulting campus (minus the old campus) seems to me a bit soulless. (My husband will strangle me for saying this)


      • It is just a personal opinion of course, but I see a distinct difference in regulating new construction to fit with the image they wish to project, as opposed to turning existing structures into cookie cutter replicas. I am reasonably sure that no one forced Beta Theta Pi to remodel to said cookie cutter replica, and that it was most likely out of a desire to look like all the rest of the bros that prompted the design. Granted, it would be less jarringly incongruent if the facade was painted the same color as the brick.


  4. What a tragedy! The loss of a wonderfully unique 1960’s interpretation of the Greek temple front. It was being distinctly modern all while paying homage to the traditional forms that the campus celebrates. The original design looked towards a future that was open(hence the large window) and showed inclusiveness towards all students in the time immediately following James Meridith’s graduation. The re-muddle may very well speak of today’s values; everything is plastic, emulate others just to fit in, and pretend to be something you are not. It already looks like a cartoon, maybe this is a post modernist joke?

    What does the magnolia marker in front of the structure say? “Here on this spot once stood…”

    FAIL indeed!


    • I love your description/interpretation of the original design. The marker recognizes the merger of the Temple of the Star, established at UM 1859, with Beta Theta Pi, and says it is one of the oldest fraternities on the campus.


      • Thank you for the language from the marker. Despite being older organizations sadly these groups do not have a longer institutional memory. I guess I should be kinder. Bless their hearts. I’m sure they are a very worthy and noble organization.


        • Well, as you know, lots of folks around these parts don’t care much for mid-century modern. :) I still have to go with “preservation fail” so if you are going to go with the Greek flow, I think you should go all the way!


          • Please don’t mistake me calling this anything but a fail. Didn’t Dolly Parton say “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”? These are only kids, but are not the baby boomer alumni who would have lived in this building when it was new the ones paying for this re-muddling?


  5. This is a preservation fail, in my opinion. While I love the traditional, classic architecture of the campus it does seem like the mid-century building was sensitive to those traditional elements. Now it has lost its individuality and is not so appealing. I wonder what they were thinking….


  6. The back deck has been renovated for almost 2 years now…


  7. I know this comment is way after the fact but- as a former Beta Theta Pi House Manager I can tell you with certainty that the former design- the vast expanse of windows in the front and back in particular- were a misguided call for the design of a fraternity house. While I was there we had to replace one of those large windows in the front due to various incidents that you could expect at a fraternity house at least once a year- and they were prohibitively expensive. Not to mention the obscene heating and cooling bills we had to pay as a result of how thermally inefficient the design was.
    I agree with all of the comments on the new conversion, however, I hated the original design for the same reason I hate the new one. I am an architectural design purist. If you want Greek Revival- then build Greek Revival. Interpretations and blends of styles- like you would find in most new middle to upper end single family neighborhoods all over the South (and the Ole Miss campus) are deplorable from a design point of view, in my humble opinion.
    Aaron B. McEwen
    Ole Miss 1997
    BA Art History/Art.


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