The Beta Theta Pi house is one of 77 fraternity and sorority chapter houses located on or around the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the first decades of the twentieth century, university administrators across the country were adopting a more laissez faire attitude towards student life based on the model of the German university. Students were encouraged to exercise their freedom as a means of developing personal responsibility, and extra-curricular activities grew in importance.
As a result of these changes, administrators began to see Greek letter societies as allies in overseeing the physical, moral, and social development of students. The University of Illinois was the first university to create the offices of Dean of Women and Dean of Men, removing the responsibility of overseeing student affairs from the faculty. The first Dean of Men, Thomas A. Clark (1901-27), encouraged the growth of Greek letter societies as a means of keeping in touch with students and establishing norms of conduct.
The construction of chapter houses at the Urbana Champaign campus was driven by housing shortages resulting from the antipathy of the German system towards providing room and board to students. Dean Clark thought that the construction of chapter houses assisted in the socialization process of younger members and the training of future leaders.
The Beta Theta Pi house is part of the first wave of chapter house construction on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, lasting from 1906 to 1917.
The architecture of chapter houses was seen as a way of educating students by exposing them to classical design. On the Urbana-Champaign campus, the majority of chapter houses were built by local architects in revival styles (e.g. Classical Revival, Gothic Revival, etc.)
The Beta Theta Pi house was designed in the Classical Revival style by Frederick Klein, with input from chapter member J.E. Henry. The landscaping was planned by Professor Ralph E. Root, and some original plantings remain including the roses, dogwood tree, and lilac. At the time of its construction, it was the largest fraternity house on campus.
The Classical Revival style is meant to imitate the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. Notable exterior features include a large entry porch with columnns supporting the porch and windows placed symmetrically around the central door.
The Beta Theta Pi Sorority at Urbana Champaign:
Beta Theta Pi was founded as a literary society in 1839 at Miami University (Ohio). The Urbana-Champaign chapter, Sigma Rho, was established in 1902 as the 66th chapter.