Beta Rho


University of California at Los Angeles [Golden Bear South Domain]


Founded and chartered as 65th chapter, Beta Rho of Phi Kappa Tau - May 12, 1950
Ceased operations - 1959
Recolonized by Phi Kappa Tau – October 1980
Rechartered as 65th chapter, Beta Rho of Phi Kappa Tau - June 3, 1984
Ceased operations - 1987


Three jolly Phi Tau's sat, down at Dusty's Tavern.
Three jolly Phi Tau's sat, down at Dusty's Tavern.
There they decided that; there they decided that;
There they decided that they'd —-.

(Variation on "Three Jolly Coachmen")

Charter members of the Beta Rho chapter of the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity will never hear this tune and fail to feel the tug on their heart-strings. The years when this song had its greatest popularity were their first together. They faced a tremendous challenge: to build a fraternity. Their triumph will last forever.
Who would have thought that Vince Zimmer, Harry Hanbury, Al Hjerstedt, and Rod Mortenson would ever fall for the fat line that Field Secretary "Hap" Angelo spouted that spring of 1948 about the glory of starting a Phi Tau chapter at the University of California at Los Angeles? Stranger still that they could "con" respectable types like Dan Calvin, Bob Eichel, Jack Slaybaugh, George Ohanian, Charles F. Rogers, and even an experienced transfer student like Jerry Klein, Mount Union, into the plot. However, the idea caught on. By fall, the practice of holding meetings at someone's house or the neighborhood restaurant had become impractical and the university, having recognized the group as a colony, granted them the use of a classroom in Royce Hall for Monday meetings.
Rushing netted a new crop of idealists, including Bob Woolsey, John Walden, Don Fogle, Jim McCormick, Bob Rithner, Joe Hitzman, Gabe Sirianni, and Ray Marbach. The idea began to acquire dimensions. They had only to gather in a few more good men, perform a few tasks for the dean and the Interfraternity Council, buy a house and date up all the sororities, and they would be tops on campus. What could be easier or more fun? And "think of the experience you'll get!" they told prospective members.
True, it took longer than they expected, but the reward was more exquisite when the obstacles were greater. Actually, it was years before they fully understood why an institution as large as the University of California at Los Angeles had only thirty-five active fraternities. Few realized then that to carve a niche for Phi Kappa Tau in Royce Hall was to be no mean chore for beginners, so we sent scouts out looking for a home.
The reports of the housing committee heralded the beginning of their troubles: “no place for sale within miles.” Obviously this would not do, so they all went out to look; they even eyed the few remaining cliff-type lots along the row and discussed floor plans. But building would take time and more money than they could hope to borrow; so they looked again. Since they could not find a place close in, they searched for a house on the beach. The old Clarence Darrow mansion in Santa Monica was for sale. They agreed it would do and applied to the national fraternity for a loan.
Four of them, Woolsey, Sirianni, McCormick, and Marbach, built a fire in the upstairs hearth and took possession on a cold, wet night in February 1949. Work parties turned to: floors were refinished, rooms were painted, garages and attics were ransacked, bunks were purchased, a stove was donated, dishes were acquired, orange crates were converted, and closets were filled. The downstairs areas soon looked almost presentable, but the dorms upstairs always retained some of the aspect of a refugee camp.
Accumulating furnishings for 403 San Vicente Boulevard was an unending program. The place seemed like a cavern to them at first. However, it had the advantages of requiring a minimum of reshuffling to hold dance, and the bare floors added resonance to any music source.
With the help of a small additional loan from the national fraternity and the decorator’s eye of Phyllis Rogers, several of them learned the upholstery trade and rebuilt two old easy chairs and a sofa into a matched modern set; sawed a round dining room table in half to make matched lamp stands; purchased drapes and blinds and made the living room and hallway look like home. Out of operating money, we purchased dinnerware and silverware, cooking utensils, and wood for new dining room tables. At a fire sale they purchased Swiss-made dining room chairs for one dollar each.
Their eager Mother’s Club helped fill out the furnishings with a new stove and a host of minor equipment. Whenever they saw that the fraternity lacked something, they put on a drive to help us get it. For example, they scratched up the money for Venetian blinds for the front dorm within three weeks after one mother was embarrassed by the view she got one evening as she came to their meeting.
Pledge projects put the finishing touches on the place. The greatest was the sun porch conversion. True, most of the credit must go to Joe Errico’s aunt, Mrs. Reardon, who stripped her den to give us virtually brand new furnishings, including a three-piece sectional, corner table, lamp, double bookcase, aquarium set, and a beautiful rug. The pledges painted the room, restyled a lamp, bought material, and borrowed a sewing machine, and, under the supervision of Don Lierow, actually made thirty running feet of floor-to-ceiling traverse drapes. When the Mother’s Club added the padded piano, they knew that they had the finest.
Then there was the Attic Project. They needed more dorm space and they had visions of a third floor for pledges only. Cobwebs were swept away and replaced with wallboard and soon they had their new room and the Fire Department on their heads. They had to admit their wrongdoing, so they installed an iron fire escape on the outside wall. Thereafter, they never were able to keep the pledges locked in at night as they had secretly hoped, except when necessity drove them to stand vigil on the roof.
Actually, they never really needed the extra space; indeed they scarcely could prevail on anyone to live so far—six miles—from campus, and their second floor capacity of fifteen sorely overtaxed their single tub shower and two stools. Only precise timing and infinite control kept them from bursting their seams. Perhaps this had added something to the relief felt by their first graduating class in 1950.
The pressure was off; the idea was a reality; they had done it. All the work and worry was over; the Audit Reports for Interfraternity Council on their progress were deemed satisfactory, the university requirements were fulfilled, membership was at the thirty-five minimum and their prospects looked good. A banquet was arranged at the Mona Lisa Restaurant, Roland Maxwell spoke, pictures were taken, signatures and seal affixed to the charter and the Beta Rho chapter of the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity came into being. But their cup of joy was laced with sadness. They had been together two years, two glorious years; they did not really want to leave. They had done their best, yet they wanted to do more; so, before they left, they created the “Brother of the Year” Award. This honor was first bestowed on John Walden, then on Gene Edmonds, Dick Johnson, Mickey McCoy, and Bob Jelley.
By the spring of 1952 it was obvious that they could no longer maintain the house on the beach. Indeed, three other fraternities which had located in Santa Monica about the same time as Beta Rho had already closed their houses. Membership had declined and their lonely location so far from campus had become a serious rushing handicap. They took the best offer and packed their bags. By the end of summer nothing remained of the house but the photographs and memories. In its place a new apartment building had been erected.
Fall rushing was conducted in a cabin at the end of a tortured road high in the hills above Beverly Glen, where the small remaining band guarded the flame that threatened to die for lack of proper hearth.
For the spring semester they took an apartment at 1001 Tiverton in Westwood, on the edge of the campus, and began again with encouragement from the national officers and the help of a couple of transfer students from Alpha chapter and hope for a new chapter house. The combination worked, and in March they went into escrow. On April 1, 1953, they took possession of the front apartment of the four-unit structure then known as 638-642 Landfair Avenue in the heart of Fraternity Row.
Admittedly, the impact of their arrival had created few ripples in the local pond; in fact, it was hardly noticed in the remaining apartments in the building. The tenants had leases with time to run yet and no amount of boisterous conduct seemed to faze them. Fortunately they got the idea one by one and their leases were gladly cancelled. By fall, they had complete possession of the empty house and once again concerned themselves with furnishings. Most of the equipment salvaged from Santa Monica was rounded up from its storage with parents and alumni and placed in their new house.
Immediately it was obvious that this place was more than twice as large as “403” and it was nearly four times too big for the membership that returned to school in 1953. Many of the rushes they entertained must have been frightened by the prospect of rattling around with them in their nearly empty house, for some never came back. The few courageous ones who did sign up with them that fall and the following spring had the rare opportunity of facing all the growing pains and pleasures that the charter members had endured—plus some new ones. Some of the founders had the good fortune to experience them again.
To deaden the reverberation in the rear apartment, it was necessary to take in a quantity of boarders and, since they outnumbered the house men, there were times when they almost lost control of their house to them. Keeping the organization intact was perhaps even more difficult under these conditions than ever before. The men could not ignore them or join them, and no one cared to have them join us. Nevertheless, great progress was made in developing the potential for eventual success.
The first major obstacle to be removed was a double closet wall between two bedrooms in the front apartment. With the two rooms unified and redecorated, we had a dining room adequate for the house’s capacity. Kitchen space was conveniently doubled by opening a passageway into the adjacent apartment’s kitchen. While this move isolated the front bathroom from the dormitory spaces it provided an ideal powder room for the social area.
Summer vacation in 1954 gave them the chance to do something about the living room which—originally designed to hold up to eight people comfortably—might be called upon to contain eighty. Even with the adjoining balcony there was little likelihood of accomplishing this feat. The wall separating the new dining space from the living room had to go even though it did hold up the roof. Skillful post and lintel construction bridged the gap and the plaster on the cantilevered ceiling never even cracked. A new vista opened up; the feeling of spaciousness belied the close quarters and it looked as if we could handle even one hundred. The now useless part of the hallway was added to the kitchen by removing another unnecessary wall and the front area began to lose its apartment look and take on the aspect of a proper chapter house.
Armed with the new aspect, but still plagued with the “Boarder Problem” a somewhat larger returning group solidified their gains, improved the organization, and began to make known the Phi Tau name. A smaller, more amenable bunch of boarders helped them break even financially, but—by their very presence—slowed our progress.
To put us on a more competitive basis, construction was started on the patio in the spring of 1955. By the end of the summer, the main concrete slab was in and the work of landscaping and providing adequate drainage begun. At last they were approaching full utilization of the building and with the furnishings they had added as they went along, they could now offer accommodations matching any on the row.
Then came the long-awaited break. In two glorious weeks of rushing they more than doubled their membership and the last obstacle to their progress began to crumble. With plans to double membership once again, the men of Beta Rho were truly on their way.
Struggles to maintain a membership adequate for the new house plagued the chapter off and on through the 1950s, and the chapter was forced to suspend operations at the close of the 1958-59 school year.
In October 1980, Chapter Consultant Mark Placenti (Ohio State, 1976) formed a new Beta Rho colony with fourteen men. In January 1982, the colony established 406 Kelton Avenue as a headquarters. When membership reached thirty-eight, the charter was returned to the university on June 3, 1984, and Beta Rho was a chapter once again. But inadequate housing never allowed the chapter to prosper. It closed for a second time in 1987.

Present Status

No longer in operation


Phi Kappa Tau Centennial Opening -
Phi Kappa Tau History (1 of 3) -
Phi Kappa Tau History (2 of 3) -
Phi Kappa Tau History (3 of 3) -
Phi Kappa Tau History Show -
Phi Kappa Tau Home Page -
Phi Kappa Tau Wikipedia Page -


From Old Main to a New Century, Charles T. Ball
The Golden Jubilee History of Phi Kappa Tau: Fifty Years of Fellowship, Jack L. Anson
Phi Kappa Tau Membership Manual: Centennial Edition

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