The atmosphere -- and the central location -- of Locust Walk is a relatively new creation. Less than 30 years ago, Locust Street was on the periphery of campus. And the atmosphere of Locust Street was far different from today's Locust Walk. Alumni fraternity members reminisce about routinely turning over the trolley cars as a prank. But in the past three decades, an attempt to expand the University westward has thrust Locust Walk to the center of campus more by luck than by planning. During the first five decades of this century, the campus was bordered by 36th Street. Several fraternities and sororities on Locust Street from 36th westward were as off-campus as today's Sigma Phi Epsilon and Sigma Delta Tau houses on 40th Street. But expansions in both research and enrollment forced the University to move westward in the 1960s, as the Trustees began to execute a comprehensive plan to make the University into a residential rather than commuter school. The University closed Locust Street east of 40th Street in the early 1960s -- buying out almost every lot west of 37th Street, relocating many fraterities and sororities which would be too close to the new center of campus and razing boarding houses, restaurants and rowhouses. And as Locust Walk was closed off, the University's campus took on a new air. Instead of tractor-trailers and trolley cars running through Locust Street, Locust Walk's traffic was confined to pedestrian and bicycle traffic -- a move which created a more peaceful campus, alumni said. "You always had to be looking where you were going," 1959 Class President John Murphy said. "Now it is a more relaxed center of campus." But the fact that the University relocated fraternities and sororities to expand campus in the 1960s has made several fraternity members claim they have second-class status at the University, and fight to hold onto their houses this time. Fraternity members point to their wholesale eviction from Superblock and the Book Store site as evidence of University discrimination. The University's removal of the West Philadelphia residents living beside the Greeks led the residents to feel the same bitterness. "Historically, fraternities have been given second-class property rights from the start," IFC President-elect Jim Rettew said last week. "When the campus was farther east, fraternities were moved to Locust Street. More recently, with the addition of Superblock, fraternities and sororoties were relocated once again." Despite the presence of several academic buildings on Locust Walk, its position as the center of campus action has also fluctuated with the popularity of the Greek system. From the middle 1960s to 1980, undergraduate interest in the Greek system was at a low. A majority of the undergraduates sought their social life elsewhere, and membership in Greek organizations plummeted. Some undergraduates in the late 1970s described the Greek system as a non-entity on campus and said that a Greek social life was only one option among many. Despite the fact that Greek organizations represented less of the student body than they do today, there was no significant push to diversify Locust Walk until the movement gained force last year.Comments powered by Disqus
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