The Buildings of Sam Houston State University documents the changes of the SHSU campus in Huntsville, Texas from its inception in 1879 through tomorrow. The Brick and Mortarboard presents news and commentary about the buildings, the people, and the history of SHSU. Stay informed and impress your friends.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Building a Mystery: Pica House

We made a stop into the University Archives the last time we were on campus and while there we stumbled upon a copy of the minutes from a Board of Regents meeting in February of 1958.

Only two pages from the minutes survived this long but it’s apparent that one function of the February meeting was to obtain approval for the naming of a number of new housing structures (everything from Sorority Hill and other small houses to the Departmental Dorms and the now-recently demolished Frels-Wilson buildings).

The project dubbed “Unit H” on page 226 caught our eye, if only because the group of buildings within that section seems a bit scattershot. First off, though, “Unit A” is the eight houses on Sorority Hill and “Units B, C, and D” are the 9 Departmental Dorms. However, “Unit H” consists of the following:
M1 Esquire House

M2 Pica House

W1 Lawrence House

W2 Mitchell House
First, we’re not 100% sure on the “M” and “W” designation (we tend to think “men's” verses “women's” but then the eight houses on Sorority Hill – which you would assume to be all female – are numbered A1 to A8...and we doubt that means “all”...).

Second, Lawrence and Mitchell Houses are located at the southeast corner of University Avenue and 16th Street. The Esquire House, named for the men’s social group, the Esquires, which later morphed into local chapter of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, was one of four houses built west of main campus on 17th Street. The old Delta house is now named for Joseph Baldwin and about half a mile west from Lawrence and Mitchell.
This brings up a few questions:

Q: If the Esquire House mentioned in the minutes is the Baldwin House, what happened to the other houses (Crawford, Creager, and Mallon) that we thought we built for fraternities?

A: We’re not sure and the minutes help in no way at all: the next surviving page dated February 1958 is not numbered and jumps to “Unit J” (Adams Hall). So perhaps “Unit I” consists of those three houses.

Q: What exactly is the Pica House?

A: Well, the PICA club consisted of graphic arts students that met to promote social and educational activities and take field trips to locales in their industry. They were active for many years (at least up to the 1970s) but we find it surprising that they would get their own residence on campus.  But is the Pica House referring to Crawford, Creager, or Mallon Houses? If not, then we may have a stray building that we are unaware of. If the Pica House does refer to Crawford, Creager, or Mallon then we have an incomplete history on one of these three buildings and proof (...maybe...) that one wasn’t originally built for a fraternity as we always thought.

In short, the histories of some of these small houses are enough to make you want to hurl a brick through a window...but then that wouldn’t be nice.

1 comment:

buildingshsu said...

During some recent weekend cleaning I found, in my SHSU collection, an old folder of materials I was given back in 1997 when I first started this crazy buildingshsu endeavor. At the bottom of the stack were some photocopied documents that I hadn’t looked at in ages because it seemed basic information that helped establish what I was doing and after that it wasn’t needed.

One of the documents noted housing projects grouped by letter and H&HFA project number. The first group on this list (Sorority Hill) matched the Board of Regent minutes document. Putting two and two together, I moved down the list and was able to match what the BOR minutes printed as “Unit H, M-2” (“Pica House”) with the document I had (“Sigma Chi”) – today known as Creager House.

What else did we learn?

Q: If the Esquire House mentioned in the minutes is the Baldwin House, what happened to the other houses (Crawford, Creager, and Mallon) that we thought we built for fraternities?

We’ve already addressed the Creager House. Next, the document confirmed that the listing for the Esquire House (“Unit H, M1”) was the Delta Tau Delta/Baldwin House. Lastly, the Alpha Tau Alpha/Crawford House appears as “Unit K‐2” and the Kappa Alpha/Mallon House appear as “Unit K‐1”.

(Talk about jumping around: “Unit K-3”, the third and final unit in series K, is the Sigma Phi Epsilon/Adams House – over on Avenue I).

Of course, the document prompted a few more questions. It is titled Revenue Bond Buildings and refers to the “H. & H.F.A.” project number (“Housing and Home Finance Agency” – essentially the precursor to the Housing and Urban Development, or HUD). So were these buildings – essentially the slew of post-WWII housing at SHSTC built after 1956 – partially funded through moneys from HUD?

And what of these H&HFA project numbers? The project number for “Unit H” is “TEX‐41‐CH‐69(D)” - “TX” obviously denotes money for a Texas project, but what of “41-CH”?