University terminates Sigma Chi lease of 550 Lasuen

Nov. 16, 2023, 3:39 a.m.

The 550 Lasuen house is under Stanford ownership and management as of Aug. 31, after the University terminated an 86-year-old ground lease held by a group of Sigma Chi alumni. 

550 Lasuen, Neighborhood Magnolia’s only non-theme non-Greek Row house, was home to the Sigma Chi fraternity since its construction in 1938. After the fraternity was de-chartered in 2018, the house became a self-op, and since then, both residents of 550 Lasuen and new members of Sigma Chi have sought to establish new identities on campus.

Although the building was owned by Sigma Chi alumni, they leased the land from the University, a common practice for Row houses in the 1930s. 550 Lasuen would eventually hold the status of the last ground lease on campus owned by a student group, after the University terminated the lease that Theta Chi held to 576 Alvarado in 2012.

In an unlawful detainer lawsuit, Stanford argued to end the lease to Alpha Omega Housing Corporation (AOHC) — made up of the group of Sigma Chi alumni who owned the house — early in 2019. However, a 2020 court ruling and subsequent settlement agreement in 2021 determined that AOHC could keep the lease until it expired in August 2023.

The lease contract stipulates that if Stanford ever does not renew the lease, they “shall make all reasonable efforts to provide alternative housing for [Sigma Chi] and [AOHC].” Chairman of AOHC, Bob Ottilie ’77, said the University has not done that.

“We believe there’s an implied covenant to extend the lease, just based on the founders’ wishes,” Ottilie said. “But even if it’s not — [if] the lease isn’t extended — there’s an absolute duty to make best efforts to provide an alternative house.” 

Ottilie said he anticipates a cordial relationship with the new University leadership, and expects the dispute will be settled to both parties’ satisfaction. However, he is prepared to defend AOHC’s claim to rights under the lease contract.

“We fully anticipate Sigma Chi is going to get housed by September of ’24, albeit in a University house,” Ottilie said.

Since 2021, Stanford has been moving towards a four-year application and allocation process to house theme and Greek groups.

The AOHC-Stanford settlement stipulated that AOHC remove all its personal possessions from the property upon the lease’s termination in August, including all furniture. Current 550 Lausen residents said this created challenges during the fall quarter move-in process. 

“There was definitely a bit of transition when the lease [was terminated] because they took a bunch of furniture out and redid some carpets and doors and things like that,” said resident Juna Nagle ‘24.

Resident Kieran Barrett ‘25 said the University “has done a very poor job managing the house now that it’s back in their control.” Some rooms were also not fully ready for students during move-in on Sept. 21, he said, and his own lacked a bookshelf.

“I had windows that had been broken since the beginning of the quarter and have yet to be fixed,” Barrett said. “They were very obviously ill prepared to get the house ready in time and it shows.”

R&DE spokesperson Jocelyn Breeland described this information as “inaccurate and unfair to the staff.”

“Several windows have broken hardware, that prevents them from opening/closing,” Breeland wrote. “Repair parts are on order. In the meantime, the maintenance team has manufactured temporary window crank covers.”

Regarding the bookshelves, Breeland wrote that “the last items installed were delivered and placed in rooms on Sept. 20.”

In addition to the furniture, AOHC has also withdrawn the roughly $1000 dollar weekly stipend they used to allocate to the house for Sunday dinners, according to Barret.

Current Sigma Chi President Danny Kim ’25 said that at the moment, the fraternity plans to apply for housing during the upcoming cycle next year.

“Of course, if we got 550 [Lasuen], that’d be awesome, but the application will put [the fraternity] in any house that Stanford sees fit,” Kim said.

He emphasized that while Sigma Chi hopes to get a house back, the current chapter is not directly involved in the conflict over 550 Lasuen. The original Stanford chapter of Sigma Chi ceased functioning after its de-chartering. In Spring 2022, an entirely new pledge class, including Kim, started a new chapter that is unaffiliated with the previous chapter.

Kim said they thought it would be “pretty funny and cool” to start a fraternity. “The opportunity to start something new — with all the conceptions about Greek life — we were hoping to bring a new light to it and be a representation of something different.”

Sigma Chi has been allowed to host some events at 550 Lasuen, with permission from the house’s residents, and plans to host more this year. Yet some current residents of 550 Lasuen say that for the most part, the house has lost its association with Sigma Chi, with no fraternity members living there last year and only three living there this year. 

As the only non-Greek and non-theme Row house in Neighborhood Magnolia, 550 Lasuen is a highly desirable house for Magnolia residents. For Barrett, 550 Lasuen is particularly valuable because since the unhousing of Sigma Chi, it has served as what he calls “a nucleus of non-Greek life on the Row.”

“There’s also lots of social programming that goes on that you really don’t find in other communities,” Barrett said. “As someone who’s not part of Greek life, it’s just really nice to have similar events without having to be part of that system as a whole.”

Stanford recently removed some themed Row houses, such as Casa Italiana, La Maison Française and Slavianskii Dom.

550 Lasuen is “a good example of how houses will be able to maintain identities despite the University’s attempt to strip all houses of their identity,” Barret said.

According to Nagle, 550 Lasuen doesn’t have much of an association with Sigma Chi anymore. Though it’s imprinted upon some that the house used to say “Historic Sigma Chi House,” it is “a pretty normal Row house now,” she said.

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