'Animal House life?' not quite
Written by Josh Krane
Special to The Tribune
SLIDESHOW: Cal Poly fraternity houses
It's nearly impossible to talk about fraternity houses without at least mentioning the 1970s comedy "Animal House."
The film has cemented the reputation of fraternity houses as beer-infested dumps, where residents throw raucous toga parties and charge up stairwells on their motorcycles. To test this perception, we visited three Cal Poly fraternities. Here's what we found.
Sigma Phi Epsilon
A stone and concrete pathway leads to an open brick courtyard at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house at 280 California Blvd. Two towering palm trees dominate the landscape, and glass-paned walls surround the courtyard on three sides. Barbecues and couches lie in wait for the next social gathering.
"There are always five or six people hanging out here," said fraternity president Brian Kim, a senior at Cal Poly. "People come here after school to see what's going on with the guys and just sit around the barbecue and talk. In a sense it's calming. It's a nice way to end your day."
Eighteen members share 10 bedrooms in the vaguely postmodern-style house, home to the fraternity for 15 years. Any of the 106 Sigma Phi Epsilon members are also allowed to stop by at any time.
Inside, couches and futons scrounged from relatives outline the house's open common area, where members can watch the game by the bar or play beer pong on the house's custom-built table.
Blue linen curtains shade windows in the recently remodeled kitchen. Hooks line the walls, though many pots and pans hadn't found their way up from the sink and countertops. (Wednesday and Sunday are cleaning days.) Occasionally, the house holds "Iron Chef" competitions.
"The stereotype that we get as fraternity guys is that we just drink beer and eat macaroni and cheese," Kim said. "But we cook a lot, and this house always smells great."
Alpha Gamma Omega
Near the San Luis Obispo train station sits the Alpha Gamma Omega fraternity house at 1700 Osos St., built more than a century ago as a boarding home for railroad workers.
Today, 16 members of the Christian-based fraternity occupy the three-story, 12-bedroom home where the fraternity has resided since 1994.
The first floor's common room, used for house dinners and worship meetings, is furnished with sofas and chairs left behind by past members. The walls are lined with pledge paddles, which over the years have evolved into stranger things, such as toilet seats and doghouses.
A collection of Bisquick, cereal and oatmeal boxes are scattered across the tops of the kitchen's four refrigerators because of a lack of cabinet space.
In the house's third-floor study room, which has a slanted ceiling and wood floors, skylights open to provide a view of Cerro San Luis and Bishop Peak. An open window leads out to a red fire escape on the roof, a favorite spot to watch sunsets.
"If you want to impress a girl, just show her the fire escape," said fraternity president Scott Waddell, a senior at Cal Poly. "She's a keeper if she actually wants to climb down."
Delta Sigma Phi
A slumbering St. Bernard lies on a brown suede couch in the chapter room of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house at 240 California Blvd.
Jake, the 150-pound canine who shares the 18-bedroom, two-story house with 26 Delta Sigma Phi members, naps beside a foosball table and an old piano with sunken keys, hardly touched since a member who loved to play Journey songs moved out a couple of years ago.
Across the way, white mugs, left as mementos by past members, are neatly lined against the back wall of the dining room, which is fitted with tile floors and wood tables.
Members can usually be found at all hours of the night in the hot tub, set up on a newly renovated deck outside. They can also cook s'mores in the nearby fire pit or relax on the hammock, swing and benches.
Fraternity vice president Dan Oleson said the house, built in 1971, gets its best use during spring quarter, when members hold volleyball games or set up a Slip 'N Slide and bench press on the back lawn.
Bonding time is spent playing video games or watching sporting events in any of the house's six suites, shared living spaces with couches, a refrigerator and a microwave.
"If you get 10 guys in a room watching the game, heckling each other about who's going to win, it brings everyone together," Oleson said. "You go to another house, you might get two or three guys watching television, but here it's like a party atmosphere."