Is it true that Fraternity Headquarters had a fire?
Yes, in the early morning hours of February 11, 1965, Fraternity Headquarters at 530 East Town Street in Columbus, Ohio, was severely damaged by fire of an undetermined origin. The fire was discovered by Elizabeth Brown Gallen, Ohio State, who rented an apartment in the building, but the fire had already gotten out of hand in the business portion of the building before detection. The catalog and office machine rooms were destroyed, as well as parts of the second floor in the back. The remainder of the building was badly damaged by smoke and water, but there were no injuries.
The previous 13 years in this building had shown how efficient and economical the office space and the ability to house Fraternity officers during meetings and conferences had been. Increases in office rental and hotel accommodations in Columbus far surpassed the cost of operating Headquarters, so the decision was made to restore the building.
In the interim, business continued under difficult conditions. An entire building across the street was leased for office operations and preparations for the 1966 General Convention. The charred and wet, but usable, supplies, books, booklets, and installation and Convention items were stored in a rented warehouse where they were dried, repackaged and sorted. Much of this work was done by loyal members of the Columbus Alumnae Association as well as the Headquarters staff. The valuable catalog files were not burned, but smoke had crept into the drawers. A portion of the cards were almost impossible to read. Eventually they were retyped. The stencil files for The Key mailing list were stored in the temporary building. Some had been damaged, and the spring issue was delayed because a new address list had to be compiled. Unharmed was the only known set of The Key since 1881. The four bound sets of Grand Presidents’ reports, the Constitution, Bylaws and Standing Rules, Proceedings and a complete file of songbooks were also rescued. The Reference Department file of articles and dates published in The Key since 1882 was saved with the captions and pictures. Stencils for the reprinting of the Ritual Book were saved as well as Convention verbatim minutes. The famous “Delta Red Book,” earliest existing chapter record, and other valuable chapter books were in a safe and survived the fire.
The lovely portrait of Tade Hartsuff Kuhns, Butler, Kappa’s first Grand President, was carried from the building along with 180 pieces of Victorian furniture. Thanks to the efficiency of the Columbus Fire Department, they were unharmed. These valuable items were stored in a furniture warehouse to be dried, refinished and reupholstered. Only two pieces were lost. The saturated carpeting was taken to a carpet warehouse for drying. All pieces of silver, glassware, lamps, dishes and metal office desks were placed in the temporary building and restored.
The one thing of historical value lost was a display case holding, among other memorabilia, the original pledge pins: a gold stickpin of the Sigma in Delta, blue enamel pledge stickpin and a combination of the letters KKΓ in silver. The article in The Key asked anyone who had one of these pins or other historical items to send them to Headquarters.
Excerpts from the February 2008 Historically Speaking by Kay Larson, History Chairman 2002-2008