Alpha Chapter, Tau Upsilon Leads Charge
While Alpha Omega was having a difficult time raising money on its own for a chapter house, Tau Upsilon and Alpha Chapter were moving on plans for a house. At some point in 1954, both of these chapters had saved $2,000 each toward a house, with Alpha Chapter being the first one to have its share of the down payment, and were in the process of looking for a piece of property. They subsequently put a down payment on a house at 1231 Harvard Street, without Alpha Omega’s participation. Asked why Alpha Omega didn’t participate at that time, Brother Wesley said, “They didn’t have any money. We didn’t bother with them. They didn’t want to be bothered with us.” The contract placed on the house by Tau Upsilon and Alpha Chapter was approved, but the chapters realized they needed some additional money to seal the deal. What the chapters did was apply to the national organization for a loan for $5,000, and this was what ultimately brought Alpha Omega into the partnership. Brother Wesley said that during their discussions of the house, Alpha Chapter and Tau Upsilon considered renting rooms and others ways to make enough money to maintain the property. “We needed some more money,” Wesley said, “so we applied to the conclave” which was providing loans up to $5,000 for graduate chapters buying houses.
At the Atlanta fraternity conclave in 1954, Brother Z. Alexander Looby, a former Grand Basileus and the then-head of the National Housing Authority, said, according to Brother Wesley, that the fraternity was willing to loan Alpha and Tau Upsilon Chapters the $5,000 they needed, but only if they could also bring Alpha Omega in on the deal.
Looby subsequently called a meeting in Washington, and all three chapters were present. “Alexander Looby talked them [Alpha Omega] into joining the project,” Wesley said. The national organization loaned the $5,000, signing a deed of trust with Alpha Tau Upsilon, the housing authority, on April 19, 1955. ATA was released from the deed on August 14, 1967, after paying off the loan on July 13, 1967. The deed of trust and the release were both signed by Jesse B. Blayton, the Grand Keeper of Finance, and H. Carl Moutrie I, the National Executive Secretary.
Alpha Omega’s Housing Authority opposed the purchase of 1231 Harvard, saying the asking price for the house was too high, given the location and neighborhood around it. “Practically all the members of the Housing Authority have seen the property and are unanimous in the belief that the property had been overdeveloped for the neighborhood,” the Housing Authority wrote February 19, 1955, in a letter to the chapter. “The Housing Authority feels that the price of twenty-eight thousand dollars ($28,000) or even twenty-seven thousand dollars ($27,000) is entirely out of line considering the location, type, and generally the conditions surrounding the location.” The Housing Authority, instead, favored the chapters’ purchase of a house at 3121 13th Street. N.W., which was listed at $23,000, but which the authority felt could be purchased for $17,500. Moreover, the Housing Authority, which included Dodson, J. Jack Ingram, Baisel Oliver, George L.P. Weaver, Parker, and Medford, said that as of February 19, Alpha Omega had $1,525 in its building association fund for the purchase of a house, and the authority recommended that the chapter increase this to $2,000 so that Alpha Omega would have the same amount on hand as the other chapters for the joint purchase of a property, but not for 1231 Harvard Street. The chapters, however, proceeded with the purchase, a house still held by the Washington Chapters jointly.
The story of Alpha Omega and Tau Upsilon, however, wouldn’t be complete without looking at the tie between the fraternity house and the revival of the Mardi Gras. To pay for the maintenance of the house and—according to one version, to repay money it had to borrow for its share of the down payment—Alpha Omega revived the Mardi Gras, an activity held first in 1923 and intermittently thereafter. In 1958, with P. Frank Bolden as its chairman, the Mardi Gras made a grand return at the D.C. Armory with 4,000 to 5,000 people present to welcome it back, including members of Tau Upsilon who had helped sell tickets. And to manage the house, the chapters set up a corporation, whose name encompassed some part of each chapter owner’s name: Alpha Tau Alpha, for Alpha, Tau Upsilon, and Alpha Omega chapters.
By mid- to late-1959, Alpha Omega and Tau Upsilon had made a de facto merger. The legal merger came at the 1960 conclave in San Antonio, when Ed Clement, a Tau Upsilon delegate to the meeting, retired the charter for Tau Upsilon, leaving a single graduate chapter in Washington.
For the 1961 Grand Conclave, one graduate chapter—Alpha Omega—joined the other Washington chapters in hosting the event, and Brother William D. Martin Sr., a former Basileus of Alpha Omega, was its Grand Marshal. The final twist to the story of Alpha Omega and Tau Upsilon was that the first brother elected Basileus after the chapters’ merger was Ed Clement, a former member of Tau Upsilon, who defeated John Plummer, a brother initiated in and a long-time member of Alpha Omega.