Frats, Dorms and the Housing Crunch

The expansion of the University's facilities had great impact on the city's appearance, necessitating the destruction or removal of housing and the closing and opening of streets. Houses on the hospital site were moved to University and Washington Heights while those from the stadium location were transferred to new locations off Main Street. Some of the existing houses on central campus were also placed on University and Washington Heights or on vacant lots throughout South University Ave the city. Many others were destroyed.

The expansion of the central campus destroyed much of the old rooming, boarding, and fraternity house district. Many houses were razed or moved so far from campus that under the zoning law, they were unable to fill their original function. The dislocation brought a proliferation of restaurants and the relocation of fraternities. The development of new alternatives in student housing followed, first in the growth of fraternities and apartments and then in the University program for dormitories.

Between 1920 and 1925 the number of restaurants nearly doubled to accommodate the larger student population. At first, many were cafeterias and tiny eating-places.My T-Fine Cafe, 1921 Greek-Americans began to assume a greater role in the ownership and operation of the new facilities. By the end of the decade, the growth in restaurants slowed, but newer ones were larger and offered better quality food at higher prices. By 1930 Greek-Americans were solidly established as local restauranteurs, just as German-American restaurants were making their appearance.

The golden age of fraternities and sororities in Ann Arbor was the 1920's. With the scarcity of housing, they increased greatly in numbers and membership among those who could afford them. By the fall of 1922, they housed some 20 per cent of the student body, and by 1925 their membership was double the prewar total. In 1926, about 3,000 students, 32 per cent of the men and 22 per cent of the women, lived in fraternity and sorority houses.

As they lost earlier homes to University expansion and as property values rose near campus, fraternities and sororities moved farther out. At first they bought former private residences whose previous owners moved off the main thoroughfares into the interior east of Washtenaw or Barton Hills. But during the second half of the decade they built larger and more magnificent houses of their own. Left to alumni control, without University or landlady supervision and located farther from campus, fraternities became a nuisance to their residential neighbors.

To help meet the need for moderately-priced housing for non-fraternity/sorority students, a group of alumni in 1923 constructed Fletcher Hall dormitory for 325 men. New nurses' and law school dorms also helped, but the severe crush on housing continued throughout the decade. As land values rose near the University, new high-cost apartments replaced older buildings. In addition to being higher priced, apartments were also free of landlady control, which further added to the increasing problem of student rowdyism and bootlegging at the end of the decade.

Capital improvements were not limited to the University. The Ann Arbor public schools also completed major improvements. In 1920, to upgrade overcrowded and outdated facilities unable to accommodate the postwar influx of young couples with children, the electorate approved $750,000 for new grade schools, and two years later passed an equal amount for additional facilities. That fall three new grade schools opened, and by the end of 1924 another new grade school and improvements to the two remaining ones were finished. At this time the junior high school plan was initiated. The new University High School opened in 1924. By the end of the decade, St. Thomas completed a new facility and the University Elementary School was almost finished.